India face rivals Pakistan at The Oval on Sunday in the final of the Champions Trophy
VIRAT KOHLI can cement his position as a one of the all-time icons of Indian cricket.
He will follow a dynasty that in the past 25 years was pioneered by Sachin Tendulkar and inherited by MS Dhoni.
These are the men who are idolised in a nation of 1.2 billion people that is obsessed with cricket. It brings untold adulation and suffocating attention and pressure.
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Captain Kohli leads India into the Champions Trophy final knowing that victory over Pakistan will elevate his team to No 1 in the world rankings. They are already top of the pile in Test cricket.
Guiding his country to the pinnacle in two different formats would be cause for praise in itself. But throw in Kohli’s phenomenal batting and you have a legendary player.
So how does he cope – not only with the expectations of the masses but with the nuts and bolts of trying to win a global tournament?
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Kohli said: “I’ve been dealing with for quite a few years. You can’t think of those things when you step onto the field.
“I know there are expectations and people expect the team and myself to do well every time we play. But that’s not possible so it’s important to remain close to reality.
“You can’t live and die on what people back home are expecting. You have to focus on what to do on the field. It is part of being an Indian cricketer and, having performed for a few years, expectations on me obviously go up.
“You have to find a way to deal with it. You can’t ignore it. You have to maintain a balance and then focus on what you need to do on the field. I think I’ve been able to strike a good balance until now.”
Kohli added: “In this tournament, for me the biggest thing has been to stay off social media. Honestly, it sounds funny, but it’s important to stay away from those things and instead connect to things that matter, things a sportsman needs to take care of.
“You have to make that effort to stay in a good zone and a good mindset, to make sure we bounced back after the setback against Sri Lanka in the group stages.
“So I’ve learned a lot how to handle certain things. And that can only happen when you’re able to connect with yourself first. If you’re too distracted listening to suggestions or criticism, then you can’t focus on what you need to as a sportsman and captain.
“Staying relaxed is a good thing because you take better decisions when you’re composed and calm mentally.
“I also visualise a lot and see myself in different situations and convince myself I can pull the team out in those situations. It won’t happen every time but it will eight out of ten times because you’re so convinced about it. So I visualise and think positively about big games.
“I believe in my abilities and feel like I should be able to counter any bowler.”
India are firm favourites especially after beating Pakistan by 124 runs earlier in the competition. Pakistan have plenty of skill in their bowling, however, as they showed in their eight-wicket victory over England in the semi-final.
Pakistan fast bowler Mohammad Amir, who missed the England match with a back spasm, is fit again and will play.
Coach Mickey Arthur insisted: “I don’t think we’ve exceeded expectations at all. We came here firmly of the opinion that we wanted to win and that’s been our chase all the time.
“The way the players dragged themselves off the canvas after losing to India in the first game was amazing. On our day, we can beat anyone.”