Revenge can't be on mind when you take on Kiwis: Kohli
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By Chetan Narula
Auckland, Jan 23 (PTI) The loss still rankles him but Virat Kohli on Thursday said he can't really bring himself to think of revenge when India take on New Zealand for the first time after the Kiwis sent his side packing from the ODI World Cup last year.
The Black Caps defeated pre-tournament favourites India by 18 runs in the semifinals of the showpiece in England and Friday's tour-opening T20 International 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 really 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.
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. It is a challenge to beat New Zealand here and we are totally up for it," Kohli said.
On to cikcteing matters and 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 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," he 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 doing well with the gloves has really 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.
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 man 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 very 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.
"Look, whenever he (Dhawan) is back in the team we would love to have him back and have the balance in the team where we can really go in with the best batting line-up that we have," he said.
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