Southampton: India captain Virat Kohli said South Africa are a "dangerous" side and starting the ICC World Cup 2019 campaign late was an advantage for the team.

On the eve of India's opener against South Africa, Kohli spoke at length about the team's World Cup plans. Here is what Kohli said at the pre-match press conference on Tuesday (June 4).

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Question: South Africa is hit by injuries, many of them. And also they are coming from two defeats. So how do you approach such a team? And is it an advantage? Or what kind of an approach would it be?

Virat Kohli: Well, firstly, we are very happy that finally we are going to start playing. It's been a while since we have been here.

Secondly, look, injuries are a part of the game and these things can't be predicted and I'm sure any team that gets hit with injuries is never a good thing, but still South Africa is a very talented, a very dangerous side on their day and even with the replacements, they will be a very strong side.

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So we never take anyone lightly and whether a few key players get injured or not, if a youngster is stepping in and he has the right mindset, he can really perform on the day, so I think we need to maintain respect for that and really approach the game, focusing on our strength and what we can do as a side.

Q: How does that work for you? Is that a problem? Is that an advantage that you have seen some of the other teams? How do you look at that?

Kohli: I think it is a bit of an advantage, I have to say, in terms of understanding how the games have gone, what the conditions have to offer, what the overcast conditions bring into play when the sun is out.

It's a totally different ball game altogether what the conditions are at 10.30 in the morning compared to afternoon. And what is the pace of play, when you see other teams playing and what the approach is. So I think from that point of view, we have a lot to absorb. We have a lot to learn from, looking at the other teams play, the teams that have done well, what have they done well and in what phases?

From that point of view, we would say that we have a lot of positives that we can take out of starting after everyone else.

And look, whether a team has played before or not, it really wouldn't matter on the day. It depends on how the side turns out, what kind of mental set-up they have and we have to be mentally and skillfully stronger than the opposition whoever we play to win on the day, so I think our focus will be that.

Q: I want to know how Kedar Jadhav has been shaping up, he has been practicing, and like after Ravindra Jadeja's performance in the two warm-up games, what do you think about the spin combination? What do you think about it?

Kohli: Look, we selected a side that gives us all kinds of options depending upon the conditions we are going to play in. Somewhere you might see three seamers, somewhere two wrist-spinners, somewhere you might see a wrist-spinner and a finger spinner playing together.

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That is why we selected the most balanced side we could have selected and Kedar is doing well, he is back to full fitness. Kedar is batting in the nets now, he is hitting the ball well, so it is always nice to have him back in the mix because of the variety he brings into the side.

Jadeja has been outstanding as well. Understanding his abilities fully, really grabbing all the opportunities that have come his way, especially in Test cricket also, the way he is batting with a lot of maturity is a great sign for the team.

So whenever he steps into the team, we know we have a guaranteed template of performance that Jadeja brings to the side in the field, with the ball and with the bat as well. So I think we have all our options covered.

Looking at the pitch we will have discussions over what the balanced combination will be, but I think we are equipped to handle all kinds of conditions here.

Q: This is your third World Cup, the first World Cup as captain of the Indian team. How does it feel leading India in the World Cup?

Kohli: It is a matter of great pride for me honestly. Playing the 2015 World Cup, I never imagined this day because a World Cup is too far off, to think or predict anything, so I think I'm just feeling grateful that I'm in this position to have the opportunity to lead my country in a tournament like the World Cup.

It's always going to be a time to remember and a very special feeling so I'm really looking forward to the challenge. It is a different kind of responsibility. You need to be able to absorb a lot more.

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So I think from that point of view it's something that is really exciting me to have this kind of a challenge at this stage in my career.

Q: What have you made of the first week of the tournament from the sidelines? And also what lessons do you take from the Champions' Trophy here two years ago?

Kohli: Lessons from the Champions' Trophy... I think the lesson is basically to play the cricket that we know how to play. We didn't try anything drastically different in the Champions' Trophy. We just stuck to our strengths and in the final the better side beat us.

We have plugged a few areas that we needed to since then, we have brought in wrist-spinners to take wickets in the middle overs and that has been a reason for a lot of our success in the last couple of years.

So, from that point of view, we are a stronger side when you compare it to the Champions Trophy side. And I think the first week has been a gradual sort of progress, I would say. A couple of really exciting games, a couple of one-sided games. But there is a lot to learn in terms of composure. The teams that have been more composed are the ones that are winning games and have better chances of doing well in pressure situations. The teams that try too much or make bad decisions are the ones who are suffering and that is the pressure the World Cup brings.

So, as I said, we need to bring all our experience to the play tomorrow to be able to make right decisions under pressure situations compared to the opposition. And the team that makes better decisions is going to win in a high pressure tournament like the World Cup.

Q: You played with Dale Steyn a couple of weeks ago. What shape was he in? How was he bowling? Are you sad that he has gone home from the World Cup?

Kohli: I'm really feeling bad for Dale because he looked really happy. He was bowling really well and then suddenly, we find out that he's not going to be able to continue. So I feel bad for him because he's been a friend for a long time and he's a very motivated guy.

He's been very happy to come back and play for South Africa. He has been doing really well and he has that hunger and passion in him still. Those niggles and injuries are not going his way and I can understand his frustration about that.

I wish him a speedy recovery, but off what I saw of him he was looking in a great mental space. He was very happy. He was enjoying his cricket, bowling really well, getting along with everyone so I can understand he must be feeling gutted and I'm feeling bad for him.


Q: The World Cup has started, but what does this day, the day before India's World Cup campaign begins, what does it feel like for you personally? You have experienced it a couple of times in 2011 and 2015. But is it any different to say the start of a big Test series in England or Australia? What does this day feel like?

Kohli: Honestly, for me, I have this feeling before every game that I play honestly and I can't differentiate. Yes, if you just say the word 'World Cup', it brings a different kind of feeling to your mind and heart.

I don't think apart from that when you step on to the field, as a cricketer, you really think like you are stepping into a World Cup game. Eventually, you go and play the game of cricket and that excitement and anticipation and a bit of nerves is the right combination that I have always had before every game that I play.

(In) 2011, 2015 (tournaments), similar kind of butterflies in the stomach. Even when you walk into play in a Test match and you walk in at 10/2 you have the same butterflies in the stomach, so that is a very consistent factor and when that starts going down, you know what comes next.

I'm glad it's gone on and it is going on and I'm feeling excited, anticipation and a bit of nerves as well which is always good for any sportsman to have, so it's pretty similar to the past.

Q: You began the 2011 World Cup with a century in the first game. In 2015, another century in the first game. Pressure on you because people are also talking about a century here in the first game?

Kohli: Look, when you perform and you perform for a long time expectations are always there and I sort of understood how to go along with the expectations rather than saying I'm not — you don't go out there to prove anything to anyone, which is a fact, but you have to accept that expectations are going to be there.

When I walk out to bat, come down the stairs, people will say we need a hundred and all those kinds of things will happen. So, for me, that's just a part of the process now. It's not something that I don't want to hear, or something that I think people should not tell me because when you do well, people obviously want to see you do well again and again because they want to see the team win.

So my focus is again, if I'm in a position to be able to do that again, but more importantly make the team win, that will be my goal. And if it takes a hundred runs, 150, 50, 60, 70, 40, whatever it is, I'm ready to do that and that's the frame of mind I'm going to be in.

Q: A 10.30 am start and there is so much talk about conditions which keep changing throughout the duration of the day, so what are the challenges of arriving at the right combination, especially the bowling combination when you sit down at the start of the match to decide?

Kohli: Look, if the conditions offer you a lot in terms of the pitch... Yeah, cloud cover is -- we know it's a different situation in England when there is a cloud cover and when there is sun out. With two new balls, if the pitch has something to offer, then an extra seamer comes into the play big time.

But even on a good pitch, on a batting-friendly pitch with two new balls, I foresee the first 10 overs to be challenging if there is cloud cover. Because we are playing in England and the ball does a bit more than any other place in the world.

So, I think it will definitely be challenging, starting at 10.30 in the morning for the batsmen and that is something that we have discussed and we have recognised how to go about it, what are the plans heading into being a bit more solid in that particular phase.

And from the bowling point of view as well, even if you play with two spinners, two seamers or three seamers, they are going to be in the game in the first half if you start at 10.30 (am). The dynamics will change from morning to afternoon big time and the bowlers will have to adapt very quickly to that.

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Q: Can you talk about the growth as a captain since 2017? I ask only because I don't know if you will agree, World Cups define the legacies of a captain. Do you think this will be your toughest assignment as a captain?

Kohli: Looking at the length of the tournament and the format of the tournament, yes, it will be tough for any captain, including myself, playing nine games. It's a long tournament. You are playing every side once and you have to think on your feet and adapt very quickly. It's not a bilateral, you are not playing a team twice where you can play them once and plan again and come back and play them again. So you have to be precise. You have to think on your feet. On that day make good decisions and stay ahead of the 8-ball, so from that point of view yes, it will be a very, very challenging tournament.

And as I said, it's something that I'm looking forward to.

Look, it's very gradual. The errors you would make when you are not that aware of game situations, they will slowly start to taper off as you play more and more cricket. So I think what happens also is when you have experienced people in your team who have also grown with you as cricketers, eventually you all start making good decisions, you have discussions, you think of the right thing, sometimes instinctively I would want to do things I will stick to, some you go and discuss, so it is important to find the right balance.

No one can make all good decisions or right decisions all the time, so important to try and make the right decision, but own up to your mistakes and accept the errors as well, which I think with time everyone sort of understands that process well, which also is happening to me slowly.

Q: During the Australian series in January, you had said the overs between 30 and 40, especially when you are batting first, we are not getting 20 or 30 runs more, so that probably comes down to your No 4 or No 5. What are your plans and how are you addressing that 30 to 40 and No 4 and No 5 because you identified them slightly later than ideally. What of the communication you have you given to KL Rahul, and No 4?

Kohli: From a batting group point of view, it will be very important to understand which guy's on a role on that particular day and the other guy has to play second fiddle. I mean, that acceptance has to be there when you are playing for a team goal.

You can't try and match a guy who is striking at 120 if you are not striking it as well, so you need to rotate strike and play in a partnership and that's what partnerships are all about. Then if the other guy gets out or you get out, then you sort of understand and switch roles if needs be. So that will be key in the World Cup.

I don't think 30 to 40 is going to be such a big factor in a tournament like the World Cup. If you see, if you try and accelerate too much, people are losing five or six wickets in a bunch. The teams that play more solid cricket in the middle overs.

If the pitch allows you to score at 7 or 8 an over, that is a different thing. When the pitch is not as batting-friendly and if you try to take advantage of 30 to 40 and you lose four wickets, you are out of the game anyway.

I think the team that plays more solid cricket, more percentage cricket are the ones who will go a long way in the tournament and have better chances to succeed and as I said, it boils down to making good decisions with the bat and with the ball.

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Q: Kagiso Rabada had some disparaging comments about you personally. I don't know if you saw them. How do you use that as motivation for your battle against him? Now with Dale and Lungi Ngidi out, do you, are you looking to target KG tomorrow as the main strike bowler?

Kohli: What did he say?

Q: He said that you were immature. I think it was in the context of the IPL and your battles with him.

Kohli: Well, I played against him many times and if anything needs to be discussed, we can discuss it man-to-man. I'm not using a press conference to answer anything.

Q: On to the second question. With Lungi Ngidi out...

Kohli: Look whether Ngidi plays, or Steyn plays or not, Rabada is always going to be a world-class bowler and a threat to any side he plays against.

He has the kind of passion and he has a kind of skill-set that he can, on his day, go through any batting order, so we've played well against him in past and that is only because we have been respectful of his skills. But at the same time, we have been assured and sure of what we want to do as batsmen.

So against guys like Rabada, who can turn up on their day and bowl outstandingly well, you have to be respectful but have that self-belief in yourself as well and that balance will be crucial. Whether he plays with Dale and Ngidi or by himself, he is going to be a skilful bowler. We always need to respect that and find ways of scoring against him.

Q: You have spoken about the importance of wrist-spin going in the tournament. So, specifically, how are you seeing the progress of Kuldeep Yadav following that horrible outing in the IPL? Do you think the second spell he bowled against Bangladesh in the warm-up game when he took 3/22 is going to be very important for his confidence?

Kohli: Look, personally, I would tell you something. I have had great IPL seasons and I have entered playing for the country and I have felt like, I feel like I'm going to dominate this tournament so much and you can't put ball to ball.

So every tournament, every game that you play has no connection to what you have done in the past. You can only take out the positives and the learnings and take it to the next tournament or game that you play. Whether you have done well in the IPL or you haven't, you still have to work hard. And to me, IPL has no connection to the World Cup.

Mentally, skill-wise, yes. If you have played well, you want to stay in the same zone and look to do the same things, but he's a guy who has done so well in the last two years. I don't think three or four games of a T20 tournament will do anything to harm his confidence, or hamper his confidence.

We know when he pitched the ball in the right areas the batsman has to make better decisions or you are walking out. That's been strength. And he's back to bowling at his best. We saw that in the second game. In the nets he is bowling well, attacking the stumps, his variations are spot on, he is pitching the ball in the right area. So I see batsmen having to take better decisions against Kuldeep rather than the other way around.

Q: Before the start of the tournament when all captains met, I don't know whether you meant that comment seriously, England is capable of scoring 500 runs. We have so far seen that 300-plus runs is almost a must. Have you discussed this matter with your teammates? Any target? Have you given 350 we have to reach for any game?

Kohli: Look, as I said, if the pitch allows you to do that, you will want that 20 or 30 advantage. If the pitch doesn't allow you to do so, we will have to respect the conditions also, which will be a very, very crucial factor. We can't say just because a few games have been high-scoring that we need to go out and get 350.

If the pitch demands us to get a solid, 260, 270, 280 or just get to 300 with our bowling attack. We know with our bowling attack any score is defendable with the kind of skill-set that we have and that is the kind of belief we have in our side. So we don't necessarily need to look at any other side based on the conditions, if you look at the last game, Pakistan got close to 350 and England couldn't chase it. So it is not like Pakistan couldn't get 350, only England got 350.

Any team is capable of scoring big. It only depends on the kind of wicket you are playing on. That will be a thing that we need to assess quickly.

Q: The 500 runs that you mentioned?

Kohli: It's quite possible. Why not? They have gone past 400. I don't know what the highest score was, I don't know the number. I doubt we will see that in the World Cup to be honest.

As I said, pressure is a big factor. Maybe in future, who knows. You see crazy things happening in cricket. Who imagined 400-plus in a 50-over game ever.

Anything can happen in this sport. It is evolving and there will be a lot of surprises.

Q: What are your thoughts about flexibility and set combinations in the team?

Kohli: The flexibility would matter in the bowling set-up is how we foresee things. The batting line-up will have to be consistent. In a long tournament, guys will get into a groove or guys who you think can win you games will and they haven't got off to the starts that we want them to. They will probably get there at some stage.

But I think with match-ups in terms of playing against, if there are more left-handers then the bowling combination can alter a little bit which we have discussed in the team, that is why we have kept a team that has balance and we want to be flexible in terms of what we play as a bowling combination on the day and everyone's mentally ready to make a mark.

So that sort of message has been given within the team and guys have accepted it. They understand that they will have to play certain roles at different stages in the tournament and I think that flexibility is going to be crucial, it is going to be key because you can't be rigid in what you want to do as a bowling group and then do everything accordingly against every opposition.

So I think we will have to be flexible in terms of who we play against.