Instead of calling it pressure, India skipper Rohit Sharma said on Saturday that he wants to see it as a “challenge” of facing arch-rivals Pakistan in their opening match of the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup on Sunday.
In the background of debates between those running the game over whether India must travel to Pakistan for Asia Cup, the neighbours meet on Sunday at what is expected to be a packed Melbourne Cricket Ground. There is also a question mark over the game with some fluctuating predictions of rainfall.
“I don’t want to use the word ‘pressure’ because pressure is constant, I would like to take this as a challenge,” Rohit told reporters on the eve of the blockbuster clash.
India have lost two of their three previous matches including last year’s T20 World Cup group game in the United Arab Emirates.
India, ranked number one in the T20 format, have also not lifted a world title since the 2013 Champions Trophy and missed the final of the recent Asia Cup despite being favourites.
Forecast rain looms large over Sunday’s big match with regular showers in Melbourne this week and more wet weather predicted.
“We need to come here thinking that it’s a 40-over game. We will be ready for that,” said Rohit. “If the situation demands that it’s a shorter game, we will be ready for that as well.”
The cricket boards of both nations are at loggerheads over next year’s Asia Cup after BCCI secretary and Asian Cricket Council chief Jay Shah suggested the tournament be shifted out of Pakistan to a neutral venue.
The Pakistan Cricket Board in return mentioned the possibility of pulling out of next year’s 50-over World Cup in India, but Rohit played down the controversy.
“My take is let’s focus on this World Cup because this is important for us,” said Rohit. “Whatever happens later, the BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) will decide.”
The Indian captain spoke about arriving in Australia early and how that was the plan right after the last World Cup, how Shami is shaping up and more.
Here’s the transcript of what Rohit Sharma had to say in the press conference:
Since the last year’s World Cup, India has played 35 matches. Would you say it’s been a good learn to find what all you wanted as a captain? You played about 29 players during this time period.
Yeah, look, we obviously had a good run. We wanted to change a lot of things, and we addressed what went wrong for us in the last World Cup and keeping everything in mind whatever happened in the last World Cup and leading up to it. We wanted to address all the situations, all the problems, all the issues. But we managed to get some of those right for sure.
So pretty much standing in good position right now, having played 35 games. Understood what we need to do as a team, what we need to do as a bowling group, batting group and fielding group, as well.
Coming into this World Cup, we’re very well prepared, as well. We wanted to address a lot of issues, and I think we managed to do that.
Now it’s time to execute those ideas, those plans that we’ve been discussing about what are the issues and everything. We’ve tried to manage – see, no team will be 100 per cent right, but as a team we want to do as much things as possible right.
I think coming here into the World Cup, we feel confident that we can achieve what we want to achieve as a group.
Are you happy with the inclusion of Mohammed Shami, and against the warmup game you called him to bowl in the 20th over and in the first 19 overs he was not used. Was it a plan or just came out of the box, that we can use Mohammed Shami?
Speaking of Shami, I think the guy has got so much experience playing for so many years for India and has played World Cup, as well, before. We all know the quality that he has.
When Bumrah got injured, we always wanted to have someone experienced in the lineup, and Shami was the right choice for us.
Looking at what has happened with him in the last 20, 25 days, obviously he got COVID back home, had to miss the home series that we played leading up to the World Cup, but again, with the kind of experience that he has, we know that he will not be short of match practice.
Obviously speaking of the game against Australia, that first warmup game, that was always the plan. We know he’s very good with the new ball, so we just wanted to give him a bit of challenge to come and bowl at the death and see what he can do.
Most importantly, his body was something that we had to look at because he just recovered from COVID, and we wanted to give him enough time, and we wanted to play him in the next warmup game full 20 overs, but unfortunately it was tough [washed out].
We didn’t get a chance to play him there, but in terms of preparation, I think he’s very well prepared. He’s been training with the team for a while now. He came to Brisbane quite early and had a few sessions with the entire team.
In terms of his readiness, I think he is very much ready, and it’s just about going out and now executing what Shami is known for.
Watch: Mohammed Shami bowls superb 20th over in India’s T20 World Cup warm-up win vs Australia
India has often gone into these tournaments almost after a series or after an IPL, for instance. This is the first time you’ve had a long 15-day period going into the World Cup. What have you gained from this 15-day period, and how has the preparation gone coming into the tournament?
That’s something we’ve been talking about for a while, like when you go on big tours, you need to prepare well, especially when you travel outside India. You need to have time in hand to prepare the way you want to prepare, because it takes time.
A lot of the guys are not used to playing in foreign conditions, be it Australia, South Africa, England, New Zealand, and all those countries. It’s always nice to have time in hand, and this was a conscious effort from the team management, BCCI, that come the big tournament, we want to have time in hand to prepare ourselves, and the talk of having time in hand started right after the last World Cup.
We said, we know where the World Cup is happening, and we made a very conscious decision of going to Australia a little earlier than expected because we were supposed to play the series against South Africa [ODIs] which unfortunately we all had to miss to prepare for this big event.
That is something that was happening in the background right after the [last] World Cup. We know how key the preparation is. A lot of the guys who are part of this team have not been to Australia, so that was also one of the reasons we wanted to come here early.
We had a great time in Perth. We were there for nine days, and then we came to Brisbane. We prepared, we played a couple of practice games in Perth just to get used to the conditions, the pitches. Obviously you can’t travel all around Australia and play on all pitches, but we could get whatever we could get.
I thought Perth was the right time for us to start. Obviously, the time difference is not too much, also, so you can easily get acclimatized to the time zone, and that was also one of the reasons.
I thought the way we went about the entire Perth leg was good for us. We could specifically focus on certain things when it comes to batting, and the bowlers could work on certain things for all this unique time, and we were lucky enough to get those time in hand to prepare ourselves and come here in Melbourne.
You often hear in T20 cricket about match-ups. As a captain, how much do you believe in specific match-ups, and how much do you believe about instinctive decision making?
To be honest, it’s a bit of both, actually. You’ve got to be instinctive, as well. Sometimes you just have that feeling that this is the guy who will do the job for you.
Yes, you have to look at the match-ups, as well. We’ve been going through a lot of numbers all these days about how people have been successful in Australia. Although it’s a different time, not a lot of cricket has been played during this month in Australia, but it was important for us to get some kind of data around what happens in October-November in Australia and who are the kind of people who have been successful here.
We saw a lot of things about how you need to be successful firstly as a team and then as an individual, as well.
We went through all of it, but obviously, like I said, it’s a bit of both. Sometimes you just feel that this guy is bowling pretty well, you need to just get him to play the game; he’s in good form.
On the other side, you will look at the match-ups, as well. On that given day, whatever we feel is the right playing 11, we will go by that. I certainly want to keep my mind open on that when it comes to playing 11. We don’t want to get stuck with one particular way of making your playing 11. We want to be open about it. If we have to change one or two players in every game, we’ve got to be ready for it.
That’s how we have prepared all our guys, as well. The message was given long way before we came here that if we need to change one or two players for the matchups for what sort of conditions we are playing in, guys will be ready for it. So it’s not a last-minute thing where we are changing the players. This is the talk that has happened in the team long way back, and guys are ready for it.
With this match in particular where there are threats of rain, do you think the toss becomes all the more crucial considering the fact that overs might get reduced, and if you get a chance to chase, the target keeps getting revised. Do you think it becomes all the more crucial especially when the rain threat is there?
In the hindsight if you look at it, yes, it does become a little important. But again, I’ve been hearing about Melbourne weather for a while now, and it keeps changing. In the morning when I woke up, a lot of the buildings when I opened my hotel were in clouds, and now we certainly see the sunshine.
You don’t really know what is going to happen tomorrow. The things that are in our control, we’ll try and control that, which is we’ll have a good training session today, go back, relax ourselves and get ready for tomorrow. As simple as that. We need to come here thinking that it’s a 40-over game. We will be ready for that.
If the situation demands that it’s a shorter game, we will be ready for that, as well. A lot of the guys have played such kinds of games before, and they know how to manage themselves in a situation like that where you are getting ready for a 40-over game and then suddenly it’s a 20-over game for both sides, 10 overs each or 5 overs each.
Luckily, we played one game in India against Australia which was an 8-over game.
I think in terms of where the guys stand, I don’t think it’s going to make much of a different, but we just certainly need to come here very well prepared and thinking that it’s going to be a 40-over game.
On the issues of touring Pakistan
My take is let’s focus on this World Cup because this is important for us. We’re not worried about what is going to happen later. There’s no point in thinking about it. The BCCI will make the decisions on that. We are focused on how we need to be very well prepared for tomorrow’s game.
If you look at India’s schedule in this World Cup, in some of the matches you are playing the second game on the day. Playing on a used pitch, do you see a role of spinners in this World Cup?
Yeah, it’s something that we have discussed about because, except the first game, which is tomorrow, we are playing on all the pitches which has been used in the previous game. So, we will be keeping a close eye on what happens in that game, which luckily for us starts before us. We will have a fair idea of what sort of pitch it is, what is the right score and things like that.
It does make a difference, but eventually I feel whatever the pitches are, you’ve just got to play good cricket, get the right players in and try and win that game. But definitely it will help us in knowing what will be the right tactics for that particular game.
Are all the players fit and available for selection?
Yes, all 15 are available.
The last World Cup has been a turning point of sorts. After that a lot has changed. As you’re talking about, you’ve walked in the dressing room, you’ve become captain. But the last World Cup keeps getting talked about because that’s the first time Pakistan beat us in a World Cup. Now you’ve lost to them, as well, in the Asia Cup. Does that put extra pressure on you? This Pakistani team is not looking like one that India can easily dominate. Do you feel that extra pressure that this team is certainly not the team of the past, not that inconsistent, and how do you take that challenge? What do you think is the biggest challenge facing this team?
Yeah, look, I don’t want to use the word “pressure” because pressure is constant. It’s not going to change ever. I would like to take this as a challenge. I want to use that word “challenge” a little more. This Pakistani team is a very challenging team. All the Pakistani teams that I’ve played from 2007 until 2022, they’ve been a good team.
It’s just that I believe on that particular day kind of a thing. On that particular day, if you’re good enough, you’ll beat any opposition, and on that day, you are good, you’ll take the win and you’ll go home. That is what has happened in the last so many years. Pakistan have been good in the last World Cup. They beat us. They were good in Asia Cup. We were good, too, but we won the first game and they won the second one.
But unfortunately, we were out of the Asia Cup because the important games that we didn’t win made us see out of the tournament.
They’ve been playing good cricket of late, and you know their brand of cricket. Luckily for us, we got to play them in Asia Cup twice, otherwise we don’t play them at all. So it’s very hard to gauge what sort of mindset they play with, and for those two games that we played in Asia Cup, obviously there were a few guys missing from their squad and from our squad, as well, so it’s important to understand – we’ve got to understand what is their strength, what is their weakness, so we’ve tried speaking about those kind of things.
Yes, in a World Cup, I don’t think you can underestimate any team, as you’ve seen in the qualifiers, as well. You’ve just got to be coming on that particular day with very well-prepared thinking how you’re going to beat that opposition and try and keep it simple really, not think about so many things because it can only add pressure, or it can confuse you a little bit.
I think the more you keep things simpler, easier for you to go and get the job done. That is what our focus has been and constant talk about how we can just relax ourselves a little bit and not worry about, oh, okay, nine years we have not won the ICC trophy and things like that. Of course, it’s there in the back of our players’ mind, but it’s important to just keep that away and just focus on the job at hand at the moment because it’s my personal belief that if you think too much of the past, I think you won’t be able to focus on the present. It’s important to focus on the present.