MANCHESTER, England (AP) — Virat Kohli is the biggest superstar in cricket, in many ways the global face of the game, and the captain and 11-year veteran of the India’s national team.
He has been happy to eschew the limelight and work in the shadows at the Cricket World Cup in England, though.
Or the Rohit Sharma Show, as the tournament could easily be called.
Sharma, the 32-year-old India opener, has scored a tournament-high 647 runs — including an unprecedented five centuries and at an average of 92.42 — and is on course to post the most number of runs in a single edition of the World Cup.
With India’s other opener, KL Rahul, also weighing in with 360 runs from eight games, Kohli has regularly walked in as the No. 3 batsman with the team already well set and even nearing the victory target.
Kohli hasn’t needed to accelerate the innings, just be the understated sidekick for either opener or a big-hitting middle-order batsman like Hardik Pandya.
It’s the equivalent of soccer superstar Cristiano Ronaldo turning down the opportunity to score goals in a World Cup or Champions League final, instead playing a deeper-lying role to help out his team.
It means Kohli is learning a new role this World Cup as he prepares to take India into a semifinal match against New Zealand in Manchester on Tuesday.
“It’s been a different kind of role that I’ve had to play in this World Cup,” Kohli said. “As the captain of this team, I’ve been open to playing any kind of role that the team wants me to.
“I am controlling an end and holding it until the end. It’s been nice, a different challenge for me, and I really enjoyed it. Just rotating strike and understanding how to play in those middle overs, allowing other guys to come out and express themselves.”
Kohli, tellingly, hasn’t made a century at this World Cup — his highest score is 82 — and he is close to being overtaken by Sharma as the top-ranked batsman in one-day cricket. The India pair are a long way clear of anyone else.
That Kohli is still averaging 63.14 this tournament is being slightly overlooked, even downplayed.
It sums up just how good he is.
“Personal milestones, honestly, are something that no one ever focuses on,” Kohli said. “Rohit said the same thing the other day, he’s only trying to do the best for the team and then in that process special things happen, which is something that I’ve always believed in in my career so far. I could never have imagined I could get the number of hundreds I have. The only focus has always been the team.”
This will be Kohli’s third World Cup semifinal since entering the team in 2008. He has won one (2011, on the way to winning the title) and lost one (in 2015, to Australia).
The expectation for India to reach the final will be as huge as ever from the cricket-mad public back home and from people around the world, particularly as New Zealand is widely considered the weakest of the semifinalists.
But it’s nothing new to Kohli and his teammates. It’s the equivalent of the pressure the All Blacks rugby team carries in New Zealand.
“For the Indian team, every game is full of pressure,” Kohli said. “It never feels like any game has been easy for us at all, always. I can’t remember the last time I stepped onto the field and thought, ‘It doesn’t really matter what happens in this game.’
“For the Indian team, there are always full stadiums and people expect you do well. There’s always pressure, as well as opportunity.”
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