Kohli wary of Archer and predicts pressure will curb World Cup run-fests

Ali Martin


The 10 World Cup captains assembled in east London on Thursday, taking the stage at a shabby chic warehouse that once hosted Dragon’s Den for a media conference in which the title of another reality TV show, The X Factor, was among the phrases that stuck out.

It was dropped by Virat Kohli in reference to Jofra Archer, England’s new fast bowler who, upon being named in his country’s squad on Tuesday only two months after becoming eligible for selection, cited his desire to claim the wicket of the Indian captain during this seven-week ODI tournament.

Related: India Cricket World Cup guide: gameplan, key player and prediction

Kohli, next to Eoin Morgan on one of the leather sofas upon which the full-kit captains sat, claimed to be unaware of his status as Archer’s target. “That’s news to me and Morgs as well. I don’t really focus on these things,” he said.

But just when the question was seemingly doused, Kohli suddenly burst into fulsome praise of the 24-year-old. “If Jofra said that it’s a big compliment as he is a world-class bowler and there’s a good reason why he’s been fast-tracked into playing for England. I’ve seen him the last couple of years at the Indian Premier League and it’s going to be really exciting to see him at the World Cup. I’ll be watching him. From what I’ve seen he has been really impressive. He has the X Factor. He has pace, he can be intimidating, he’s a great athlete; I’m sure England are excited to have him.”

This was in keeping with the tenor of the England chat overall, with Kohli and Aaron Finch, the Australia captain, citing the hosts as pacesetters. Both men lead sides with far greater World Cup pedigrees – the two most recent winners no less – and yet were very keen that England alone have the favourites’ tag.

It was much credit to Hague Primary in Bethnal Green – and a source of amusement for the assembled press pack and the host Mark Chapman – that arguably the best question during the session came from one of the local schoolchildren in attendance.

“Which player from the other nine teams would you like to have in yours?” It was a simple enough request, prompting some of the 10 grown men to squirm before being heckled into tackling the question.

Morgan went first, politically declaring his confidence in England’s players but admitting he would not mind Australia’s assistant coach, Ricky Ponting, in the set-up. Sarfaraz Ahmed would like Jos Buttler to be Pakistani – the recent 50-ball century at Southampton presumably still burned into his retina – while Finch, already blessed with Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins in his Australia squad, still wanted more pace in the shape of South Africa’s Kagiso Rabada.

Kohli opted for Faf du Plessis, interestingly, because of a personal desire to bat with him. The South Africa captain, in response, peeled off a veritable shopping list before finally settling on India’s death-bowling maestro Jasprit Bumrah, and perhaps Kohli as well. Mashrafe Mortaza of Bangladesh would love to lead Kohli, while Sri Lanka’s Dimuth Karunaratne fancies Ben Stokes in his ranks.

Jason Holder, the West Indies captain, and Afghanistan’s Gulbadin Naib both pled the fifth. Finally Kane Williamson, who admitted New Zealand are playing catch-up given their last ODI was in February, opted for Afghanistan’s Rashid Khan. Ish Sodhi, Williamson’s own leg-spinner, should not get too disheartened; Kohli piled in on this topic, praising Khan’s intensity and admitting it has taken him three years to read “90%” of his deliveries.

Not all the questions were so knockabout. Kohli was asked why Pakistan and India do not play each other outside global tournaments and, slightly miffed, replied it was a matter for the boards and “my personal opinions do not come into it”. Sarfaraz kept cool here, agreeing with his opposite number that, for all the hype that will precede their meeting on 16 June, it is just another game.

Finch was asked about a report in the Daily Mirror that David Warner, back in the Australian ranks with Steve Smith following last year’s sandpaper scandal, has requested extra security. Finch denied any knowledge of this before politely adding the pair had “contributed as much as they can and the morale has been unbelievable”.

Related: England Cricket World Cup guide: gameplan, key player and prediction

All 10 captains rather predictably stressed the openness of the tournament but it was Kohli who gave the most intriguing answer as to how matches may pan out. There has been talk of this tournament witnessing the first 500-run total – England’s world record score of 481 for six invoked a roll of the eyes from Finch – but the Indian captain fancies things will get tighter down the line.

“They [England] seem to be obsessed with getting to 500 before anyone else. They smash it from ball one and for the full 50 overs,” Kohli said. “It could be pretty high-scoring but I don’t see too much high scoring in the latter half of the tournament. Some teams might get on a roll, but you’ll see 250 defended as well because of the kind of pressure that comes with it.

“When you get closer to the knockout phases that is going to bring greater pressure and no one is going to go gung-ho from ball one. Generally teams will find a way but I see pressure playing a massive role.”

Kohli knows all about coping with this, of course. Whether England and the much-hyped Archer can remains to be seen.