India's Rishabh Pant (L) bats as Mahendra Singh Dhoni (R) and head coach Ravi Shastri (C) look on during a training session at Edgbaston in Birmingham, central England. Image Credit: AFP

Birmingham: The Edgbaston cricket ground was abuzz with excitement on Saturday as fans had come hoping to catch a glimpse of the stars before the crucial India-England match at the Cricket World Cup.

India supporters are hoping to give England a knockout blow to secure their place in semi-finals.

Though India are on a winning run, England are hopeful of upsetting the odds. Before the start of the tournament, it was England who were the top favourites, but after a few unimpressive matches, the hosts are now the underdogs.

So is India captain Virat Kohli surprised that England have struggled and are India ready to pounce as the hosts wobble? “Everyone is a bit surprised for sure since the general understanding was that England would dominate in their own conditions,” said the skipper. “But again, like I have been saying, the pressure is going to be a massive factor to handle and low scores need to be defended. I say it from my experience of having played two World Cups, and this usually happens in big tournaments where all teams are very strong.”

Then he quickly reminded that anyone can beat anyone in this World Cup. “We got a scare from Afghanistan,” he warned. “Then there was the low-scoring game against the West Indies. So one cannot take anything for granted. Fortunately, we’ve been professional in our approach and precise in pressure moments. So even though we haven’t lost yet, we cannot afford to be complacent. Other teams have outplayed England on occasions, and that can happen to any side.”

The big question, of course, was about the final Indian XI that he will field against England. Will Vijay Shankar be dropped and Rishabh Pant be included? Will Bhuvneshwar Kumar return? But Kohli kept everyone guessing.

“Shankar has had a decent game against Pakistan, and he looked assured against Afghanistan on that pitch,” he said. “Yes, we did discuss his shot selection a bit from that game. In the last game too he looked really good, but he was out for a beautiful ball from Kemar Roach. So he has looked solid ... one cannot really sit down and pinpoint things. And I don’t think there’s much that needs to be tinkered. In cricket, sometimes you need just that a bit of luck to get over from 30 to 60, and then you play a defining knock for the team. He’s very close to that, and we’re very confident he’s going to end up playing that kind of knock for us.”

On Kumar’s inclusion, his take was: “The great thing is that Bhuvi has been a world-class bowler, and he’s a permanent starter for us in the shorter formats. Shami, in the last year and a half, has come around amazingly well. I’ve never seen him fitter, more hungry to take wickets, and he knows how to pick wickets. Even in the last game, the way he was bowling with the new ball on a pitch that was dry, was amazing. And Bhuvi is recovering very fast. When he gets fit, it’s going to be a bit of a headache for us to see what we’re going to do. So we’ll take the best call for the team at that moment, and I’m sure everyone will understand.”

Despite Kohli hailing Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s contribution, he was again asked about the criticism over Dhoni’s slow batting. “Dhoni knows exactly what he needs to do. I don’t think that he’s been a cricketer who needs to be reminded of what he should be doing. While a lot of things may happen outside, what matters to us is what we experience and know inside the change room. We have total belief in him, and he has stood up for the team on numerous occasions. If you look at his performance this calendar year you will know what I mean. So it’s unfair to point fingers on the basis of one or two falters with the bat, which can happen to everyone. We’re not looking too much into it. After the last game, he went into the nets, worked hard, and then put in a performance that got us to a winning total, and we won the game. We got two points. Ultimately we’re very, happy and comfortable with where we stand as a team and how the batting is going at the moment.”

Catch the match

England v India

Venue: Edgbaston, Birmingham

Start time: 1.30pm UAE

Broadcast: OSN Sports