With the amount of talent at India’s disposal at the moment, skipper Virat Kohli had already said the team management was in a tight spot regarding whom to select in the playing eleven for the tournament opener against Pakistan on Sunday (June 4).
The India skipper had hinted that the team would consider the conditions before choosing the playing eleven and he was absolutely spot on, as the defending champions dropped their spin spearhead Ravichandran Ashwin to include pace-bowling all-rounder Hardik Pandya in the team. Ashwin was not the only one to miss out as Mohammed Shami, Ajinkya Rahane and Dinesh Karthik were also warmed the bench.
But India’s team selection was absolutely brilliant, as the defending champions kick-started their Champions Trophy campaign with a magnificent 124 runs win over arch-rivals Pakistan. Speaking after the match, Kohli explained the reason behind the team selection.
“The combination was something that we spoke about. We had named 12 yesterday, and then we decided in the morning that the surface was hard enough for the bowlers to keep hitting good, hard length and use the bouncer every over as well to create a bit of pressure,” Kohli said.
“And we decided to play an extra seamer against Pakistan, purely because of the fact that he becomes a wicket-taking option. Throughout the innings, if you hit your areas well, in a place like England, fast bowlers always come into play with wickets,” he added.
Kohli, while admitting that he would have also chosen to bowl first, spared a thought for Pakistan for the way their chase was made tough because of the rain. After India made 319 for three in 48 overs, the third rain stoppage of the match left Pakistan with a revised target of 289 in 41 overs. The Men in Green never looked in contention and their innings was eventually finished on 164 for nine, with injured last man Wahab Riaz unable to bat.
“Honestly, we wanted to bowl first as well, in the morning. But seeing how quickly they opted to bowl, we felt like they’re not necessarily wanting to chase a total down,” Kohli said.
“And if we can get anything over six and a half runs an over, whatever overs we play, we’ll be able to create some pressure and get wickets in the middle overs,” said Kohli. “But to be fair to them, when Duckworth-Lewis comes into play and you’re chasing a big total, you want to create momentum and then wickets can fall pretty quickly. If you play dot balls then the game doesn’t go anywhere, you try a few shots and you lose wickets. That happens usually in shorter format games.
“It’s not something that’s happened for the first time. Teams do tend to try to attack and get out as well. So it’s a pretty normal thing, but I would say a very clinical performance from our team,” he added.
The skipper further lavished praise on Yuvraj Singh who changed the course of the innings with a brilliant 32-ball 53 runs knock. After a 136-run stand between Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma, India failed to up the ante because of disruptions caused by the frequent rain but Yuvraj gave the innings the much-needed impetus as soon as he arrived at the crease.
Kohli, who was batting on 29 off 37 balls when Yuvraj joined him in the 37th over, said that the southpaw not only took the pressure off him but also gave him the time to settle in and the 28-year old fully capitalised on it, as he scored 81 off just 68 balls.
“I think I was pretty okay till 40. After that, you know, seeing how shortened the game was, me and Yuvi decided that we were going to take it on. He started striking it really well. I couldn’t get it away.
“I think until 40 I was easing into the game, taking my ones and twos like I always do. I could not go for the big ones because it was tricky. We went off about four times. And we came back in, and so as a player who likes to play the long innings, till the end and usually plays like that for the team, it becomes very difficult to find momentum every time you come back. And all you’ve gotta do is play yourself in again,” said Kohli. “Yuvi came in and just took all the pressure off me.”
“And the way he batted, the way only he can strike the ball, hitting low full tosses for 4s and 6s, and even digging out Yorkers for fours, was outstanding. I think that really deflated the opposition and that gave me a bit of time to settle in from the other end. When he got out, I took over. But I think his innings was a difference in the game.
“If he plays like that, you know, the team is always in a good space because you can really rely on him to come in and just play a match [changing] innings, more often than not. And he ended up doing it three out of five times.”