On a high after the maiden Test series triumph on Australian soil, India have been hit by an unsavoury off-field controversy due to Pandya and K L Rahul’s controversial comments on women on a TV show. The two are facing the prospect of being banned for a couple of matches. Meanwhile, on the eve of the 1st ODI against the hosts, Kohli in a press conference said that he is not stressed about Hardik Pandya as the side has already a replacement in form of Ravindra Jadeja.
“We played in India against the West Indies with a finger spinner and a wrist spinner. So it’s good that we have someone like Jadeja who can do the all-rounder’s role if a scenario like that occurs,” Kohli said on the eve of the first ODI against Australia.
“So we are not too stressed as a team about the Pandya situation because you’ll always have things that you can do in terms of creating that balance for the side. And hence, we keep players who can provide balance with bat and ball as a backup anyway,” he added.
Kohli has distanced the team from the controversy by saying that the side does not stand by the duo on the issue.
“I don’t think we will have too much of trouble if we have to change our combinations. We are pretty comfortable as a side and any combination that we go in with,” he said.
Kohli said he is pleased with the current team’s combination and there isn’t too much room for tinkering with this squad in the build-up to the ODI World Cup in England starting May 30.
“The fact we have not many games left before the World Cup and hence we want to play the side that more or less will feature in the World Cup. The exceptional case of Jasprit Bumrah being rested is purely because of the workload in the Test series.
“But apart from that I don’t think combination-wise we are going to look to tinker too much,” he said.
However, Kohli did admit that form and fitness could be decisive for a couple of spots.
“A couple of spots which might need rectification will be looked at but apart from that the idea is to make that combination and that team play together for the whole period left before the World Cup,” said Kohli.
Pandya and Rahul might not be available for the start of this three-match series, and combined with Bumrah’s absence, Kohli said this is an opportunity to experiment with a few more pacers before finalising the preferred attack for the World Cup.
“What’s exciting is that Bhuvneshwar Kumar is coming back into the scenario. He’s been working hard during the Tests. Khaleel Ahmed has done well when given the opportunities.
“Mohammed Shami has the skill to provide you breakthroughs with the new ball. So he has the chance to establish himself as the member of the pace quartet or how many ever will go to the World Cup.
Kohli said even Mohammed Siraj, who has come in for Bumrah, has a chance to get the selectors thinking.
“Look those spots are up for grabs and we’ve been wanting to do that for a while. We’ve wanted to figure out who apart from Kumar and Bumrah are the two or three more guys we can bank on.
“And these games will provide an opportunity for those guys to firstly present their case strongly…I think it’s a great opportunity for all these guys who are going to step in to show what they have and seal a spot for themselves,” Kohli said.
The skipper said the team is buoyed with what it achieved in the Test series and the World Cup will only inspire it afresh for the challenges ahead.
“Just to see the relief on the players’ faces, and someone like Cheteshwar Pujara smiling and so happy about what he’d achieved, and Bumrah being content in his own space,” he recalled.
“You could feel a sense of total confidence, just those guys sitting around and feeling like they have their own identity as Indian cricketers and as a team, we have our own identity,” he said.
Kohli said he doesn’t consider the situation regarding Pandya and Rahul a distraction at this point.
“At the end of the day, we need to go out there and play cricket. And all these external factors are not going to derail our motivation or the preparation for the World Cup. And they are definitely not going to dampen anything that we’ve achieved,” he asserted.
“I don’t think anything can take away from what we’ve done as a team in the Test series. And anything should not be taken away from that because as I said, those are pretty much individual opinions,” he said.
Kohli said the team is enthusiastically looking ahead to the World Cup after the historic Test triumph here.
“After a series like that and a high like that, it’s good to have another big event like the World Cup in sight because that keeps you motivated…we’re pretty focused on what we need to do and we understand where we need to head as a team,” he said.
Australia have rested their frontline pace attack of Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins, and Mitchell Starc, but Kohli said this wouldn’t necessarily impact the series.
“You cannot take anything lightly. We got beaten in the first T20 game we played in Brisbane. “In Australia, you don’t take anything for granted,” he added.
(With PTI Inputs)