Manchester: On a hot and humid February afternoon in 2008, the Kinrara Academy Oval in Kuala Lumpur saw two teen captains shake hands in the middle of the ground ahead of the U-19 World Cup semifinal. One, chubby, spunky and sporting a rough stubble, the other, wiry, composed and clean-shaven; their personalities too were as different as chalk and cheese. Fast forward 11 years. The youngsters — Virat Kohli and Kane Williamson — have grown up to become two of the finest batsmen as well as captains of modern-day cricket, but the contrasting personas — fire and ice — remain unchanged.
It will be hard to not recall these memories of their formative days when Kohli and Williamson walk in for the toss ahead of the World Cup semifinal here at the Old Trafford. The U-19 World Cup was a seminal moment in Kohli’s career. His all-round effort — two wickets and 43 runs — helped India down the Kiwis and reach the summit clash.
When reminded on Monday that one of the wickets that he took against New Zealand was of Williamson’s, Kohli couldn’t stop laughing. ‘Did I? I don’t know if that can happen again now,’ he said as another round of laughter reverberated the packed press conference room.
Not just the two captains, Ravindra Jadeja, Trent Boult and Tim Southee who had all featured in the 2008 edition of the junior World Cup will be in the mix on Tuesday. ‘We have spoken about it before. A lot of players from that whole World Cup, from our batch and from their batch, from other teams as well, made it to the national teams and are still playing, which is great,’ added Kohli.
As the Met office here has predicted a cloudy day with chances of light showers, India have to be wary of left-arm pacer Boult who could swing the contest in Kiwis’ favour with his lethal opening spell. Not long ago, Boult had rattled the Indian top-order in a warm-up game in similar conditions. If not Boult, New Zealand’s most successful bowler of the tournament, Lockie Ferguson (15 wickets), could pose a threat to the top-order that thrives on the roaring form of Rohit Sharma.
Ferguson was rested in their last league game against England as a precaution following a hamstring strain, but he is expected to be back fit and firing.
India have lost only four wickets in the entire competition in the first 10 overs. The major chunk of India’s runs (1,347) has come from the willows of Rohit (647), KL Rahul (360) and Virat Kohli (442), while frailty of the middle-order remains a subject of hot debates.
India’s pacer attack is equally outstanding. Spearheaded by the yorker king, Jasprit Bumrah, Indian fast bowlers have picked 51 wickets at an impressive average of 23.50, the best of the tournament.
Teams batting first have won each of the five games played at Old Trafford in this World Cup and considering the pressure associated with the knockout match, both captains will look to bat first. Kohli, however, is not worried about the toss. ‘It is uncontrollable. We have to be prepared both ways and we are quite open to do that. It’s a stat which I think is connected to pressure and not the pitch, to be very honest,’ said Kohli.