Playing Kiwis in New Zealand is biggest challenge: Kohli

With KL Rahul receiving accolades for his dual role against Australia, is Rishabh Pant's spot in trouble?

NZvIND, Virat Kohli, India, New Zealand, Kane Williamson, T20I, Rishabh Pant, KL Rahul, Shikhar Dhawan, Eden Park
India to lock horns with Kiwis on Friday in the opening T20I match at Eden Park in Auckland.

The loss still rankles the team but Virat Kohli on Thursday said he can’t bring himself to think of revenge when India take on New Zealand for the first time after the Kiwis sent Men in Blue packing last year in the ICC World Cup semi-final.

The Black Caps defeated pre-tournament favourites India by 18 runs in the semi-finals of the showpiece in England and Friday’s tour-opening T20I is the first clash between the two sides since then. Kohli has spoken repeatedly about how devastating the loss was for him personally.

“Even if you want to think of revenge, these guys are so nice you cannot get into that zone,” said Kohli at the pre-match press conference. “We get along well with these guys and it’s all about being competitive on the field. As I said in England, they are probably one side that has set the example for teams to play international cricket,” he reasoned.

Lauding the affable demeanour of the Kane Williamson-led side, Kohli said they are great ambassadors for the sport. “…they obviously want to bring out the best they can in every ball and every game, they are intense in their body language, they are not nasty, they are not doing things which are not acceptable on the field,” he pointed out.

Also Read: Prithvi Shaw to replace Dhawan in NZ ODI series, Sanju Samson gets T20 call

Williamson and his men had drawn effusive praise for their grace in the aftermath of a heartbreaking World Cup final loss to England, a game that was decided on boundary count after scores were tied. “It is not about any kind of revenge — it is two quality sides playing good cricket,” Kohli said.

The India skipper said the Kiwis are favourites in home conditions and he would not make the mistake of taking them lightly despite the recent injury setbacks. “They will have a slight home advantage but we have played a lot here in the past seasons. Every series is a fresh start and New Zealand in New Zealand is obviously a bigger challenge than playing them back in India. So we definitely have to be at our best game,” the skipper said.

Speaking about his team, Kohli reiterated that KL Rahul’s dual role as a batsman and wicket-keeper is providing better balance to the side. He said he won’t read much into criticism which may come his way by letting Rahul bat in top-order. “As I said him (KL Rahul) doing well with the gloves has opened up a scenario for us where it gives us a lot more balance in playing an extra batsman. This is something that we are looking to continue for a while, nothing taken away from anyone else and it is just what he brings to the side.

“And I know there will be a lot said about, talks around what happens to other players and what not, but the most important thing is what the team requires and the best balance we can create for the side,” he said in a veiled reference to the future of designated keeper-batsman Rishabh Pant.

Also Read: New Zealand tour: Rahul to continue dual role, Dhawan’s bid doubtful

Talking about Rahul’s ascendancy in the white-ball formats since the 2019 World Cup, Kohli said, “He’s open to accepting any kind of role, whatever the team wants. He is a total team person and you can tell the way he keeps as well. He is always looking for an opportunity and looking to make a play. He’s not nervous about it.”

Rahul replaced Shikhar Dhawan against the West Indies and partnered Rohit Sharma at the top. Dhawan returned to pair up with Rahul against Sri Lanka, but was injured against Australia and is missing this tour as a result. “If you talk about replacements, we have a lot of T20 players around and people who are experienced when it comes to playing T20 cricket. Having played a lot of matches in the IPL, on A tours and series, I don’t see an issue of replacement.”