Indian captain Virat Kohli predicted that the upcoming World Cup in England and Wales will be the “most challenging” of his career so far ahead of the team’s departure to the United Kingdom from Mumbai on Tuesday.

Speaking to media at the BCCI Headquarters, Kohli stressed the need for his team to be at their full intensity from the time they step onto the field for their first game in order to avoid any upsets.

“Personally, it will probably be the most challenging World Cup I have been part of because of the format and also the strength of all the teams. If you look at Afghanistan from 2015 to now, they are a completely different side,” the Indian captain said, welcoming the round-robin format which he felt allowed teams time to regroup between games.

Talking about his side’s first four games, “That sets the tone nicely for us. Everyone will have to be at their best and maintain intensity from the first match onwards. You don’t have any room for complacency and that is why it is the World Cup and the most important tournament.

“We expect that kind of pressure from the first second we step on the field. We are not going to let ourselves think that ‘first week onwards we will get into it’. You have to arrive on the day match ready with hundred percent match intensity and start building from there. This is the challenge.
“If you look at all the top clubs in football they maintain their intensity for three-four months whether in Premier League or La Liga. So why not? If we get on a roll and we maintain our consistency we should be able to do it for the length of the tournament.”

Kohli feels the early departure will help his team gain control of their nerves.

“It’s always good to go to any place in advance. It helps in getting rid of the nerves. I think handling pressure is the most important thing in the World Cup, even more than the conditions,” Kohli said.

He added: “As I said the pitches are going to be very good. It is summer and the conditions are going to be nice. We expect high scoring games but a bilateral series can’t be compared to a Word Cup, it is very different.

“So we might also see 260-270 kind of games and teams defending it because of the pressure factor. We expect all kinds of scenarios in the World Cup.”

‘Kuldeep, Chahal are pillars of Indian bowling’

Not overtly worried about Kuldep Yadav’s lack of from during the IPL, skipper Virat Kohli said the young wrist spinner and Yuzvendra Chahal are “pillars” of India’s bowling attack, going into the World Cup.

Kuldeep was dropped from the Kolkata Knight Riders team during last month’s Indian Premier League because of poor form but Kohli felt it was a good reality check for the 24-year-old.

“In hindsight, if you look at it, someone like Kuldeep who has had so much success, it is important to see a period where things don’t go your way. We are glad that it happened in the IPL rather than during the World Cup,” Kohli said, firmly backing the spinner.

“So he had time to reflect and correct things and come into World Cup even stronger. We know the kind of skill set he possesses alongside (Yuzvendra) Chahal. They are two pillars of our bowling line up,” Kohli said at the World Cup pre-departure press conference here.

Since Yadav and Chahal’s arrival on the international arena in 2017, the two wrist-spinners have made tremendous contribution to the Indian team in limited overs cricket.

Chahal has 72 wickets in 41 ODIs at an average of 24.61 while Yadav has taken 87 wickets in 44 matches, averaging 21.74.

Apart from the two wrist spinners, the pace trio of Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar makes it probably India’s best ever attack going into a World Cup.

Yadav and Chahal were well-handled by Australia when they toured India but in the English conditions in summer, the wrist spinners may have to play a lead role.

Kohli also did not seem worried about all-rounder Kedar Jadhav, who too missed the latter half of IPL after hurting his shoulder.

“Kedar also, we understand the kind of pitches they got playing at home. We are not worried about him. He was looking in good space. Yes he did not get runs but Twenty20 is such a format in which you don’t get runs and it can go on like that for a few games.

‘Flexibility will be key’

India’s head coach Ravi Shastri stressed the need to be flexible to tackle conditions in England and felt the team are ready to deal with that challenge.

“Our mantra will be to be flexible according to conditions. Anywhere else in the world, overcast conditions don’t matter much, but in England it does. So you’ve got to be ready for that,” Shastri said.

“As you go north of London, it will be overcast, so you have to be ready to deal with that. I think we are prepared for that,” he added.

The coach also highlighted the importance of Mahendra Singh Dhoni in the squad.

“Mahendra Singh Dhoni is someone who’ll be right there. His communication with Virat has been fantastic. There is no one better than him when it comes to keeping and also dealing with those tight situations in matches. It was great to see the way he was moving in this IPL. He will be a big player in this World Cup,” Shastri said.

With PTI inputs