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Virat Kohli’s form makes 2019 a ‘now or never’ affair for India

Though there are plenty of potential surprise packages at the upcoming Cricket World Cup, there seems to be near-universal confidence that England and India will be the two teams battling it out at Lord’s on 14 July. Fans, pundits and bookmakers alike appear united in this belief, but they would be decidedly less so if it were not for one man.

Currently favourite with all bookmakers to finish as the World Cup’s top batsman, India captain Virat Kohli knows that his form will be the telling factor in India’s overall performance. There is presently much optimism surrounding the man many consider to be the world’s number one batsman, and he has looked like a man possessed at times since the last World Cup.

July 2018: India dominate England in 1st ODI of tour.

Few rivals for India in 2019 – if any

A huge believer in advanced methods of training, Kohli is a born leader, who has taken the captain’s armband in a very meaningful way since the last World Cup. His desire to go above and beyond the call of duty provides much of the reasoning behind India’s lofty standing, as close second-favourites to win the tournament.

So too does the unique nature of his relationship with previous skipper MS Dhoni, whose presence as the elder of the team – and a World Cup-winning captain in 2011 – is just as vital as the fours and sixes Kohli is expected to land in every game. His calming influence is the perfect foil to Kohli’s boundless and unconditional ferocity, no matter how superior the opposition.

Arguably, there are perhaps only one or two opponents that could stop India from making it two World Cups in eight years. This is reflected by a range of in-depth World Cup guides, including the one currently available on AsiaBet. Curiously though, there is nothing especially new about Kohli’s phased approach to batting, which has given him the status as the bookmakers’ likeliest top run scorer.

Ranked in order of likelihood, these are the contenders to be the 2019 World Cup’s top batsman.

Kohli breaking the mould

Despite being seen as the face of a brave new India that fears nobody, Kohli stays relatively reserved in the early overs of ODI matches, maintaining a run-rate of around four runs per over across the first fifteen overs. Typically, that average leaps drastically thereafter, but by the time the 40th over has been played, his average typically doubles – and more.

Unlike so many other pretenders, Kohli is not a player who relies on confidence, and a number of significant early hits to settle his nerves. Instead, he bides his time, and by surviving the opposition’s initial eagerness to dismiss him, he forces them to change up their bowling methods. Kohli almost instinctively knows when this is likely to happen, and exploits any unfamiliarity with any alternate bowling methods, or fielding setups, that the opposition may feel compelled to use.

While his ability to get into the head of opponents is admirable, the physical aspects of his default game also come as a surprise to unsuspecting bowlers and fielders. Contrary to how countless Indians have been coached in previous generations, Kohli’s backlift prior to the strike is a relatively short one, as is the follow-through.

A quick wrist-flick at the point of contact ensures great power though, and catches even seasoned fielders off-guard. Additionally, by allowing balls to fly at him, he is able to maintain a hit rate that can only be described as ‘immense’ for a number-three batsman.

January 2019: India captain Virat Kohli hits his 39th ODI century.

Assessing India’s chances in 2019

India’s first two opening fixtures undoubtedly present a unique challenge, with several ‘danger men’ that have the capability of causing a shock.

First up is a match against a South Africa team that suffered heartbreak at the previous World Cup, setting a target of 298 for New Zealand to chase in the semi-finals, which the Kiwis miraculously beat. Quinton de Kock will certainly be one to watch in the opening round, with the South African power-hitter very much the ‘Kohli’ of that team.

Aidan Markram is also a dangerous foe for Kohli – and, indeed, any Indian – with a catch that is notable for its acrobatic qualities. A difficult opening trio is completed by reigning champions Australia and 2015 runners up New Zealand, but victory in the opening game should give them the momentum they need to press on in a positive direction.

Beyond this point, an India side that has won over half of its historic ODIs should win every fixture until the showdown with England, which unfolds in the seventh set of group games, and will likely determine the group winner.

Rameez Raja looks at India’s first World Cup opponents South Africa.

‘Personal’ mission redoubles Kohli’s threat

Entering May 2019 having hit 41 ODI centuries across just 227 games, Kohli is quickly closing in on Indian legend Sachin Tendulkar’s own tally of hundreds in that famously demanding format. This gives him a personal agenda, although his professionalism will ensure that it plays second fiddle to the team’s interests.

His all-power batting style consistently makes a mockery of even the greatest ODI fielders in existence, but Kohli’s own worshippers will do well to remember that he is just one man. Indeed, should anything happen to MS Dhoni, Kholi would be nowhere near as effective as he can be. So too would his effectiveness be severely diluted if vice-captain Rohit Sharma was to suffer an early dismissal.

Overall, India’s core of players have every chance of going all the way, but it would be foolhardy to totally ignore any team within the top-five of any bookmaker’s outright list.

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