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Focused Kohli blocks out the intrigue

Upon entering the field of play at Edgbaston, Virat Kohli dropped his kit bag a few yards from the pitch and went up to make his first assessment of the surface. Moments later, Kohli was joined by Anil Kumble, the India coach. Kumble had his hands in his pockets as Kohli spoke to him. Kumble then folded his arms as Kohli continued speaking. Later Kumble spoke and Kohli nodded his head - initially, with his hands in his jacket's pockets before clasping them behind his back. Kumble then tested the hardness of the pitch by pressing his hands against the surface. After that brief chat, both men dispersed to begin training.

This picture of the captain and the coach converging to discuss the nature of the pitch would hardly get a mention under normal circumstances. But the heightened intrigue over the future of Kumble in his current role, following the BCCI's decision to not renew his one-year contract, has created a fog, where the focus on cricket has become unavoidably hazy.

On Sunday, India play Pakistan - an encounter that Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur described as the biggest rivalry in cricket. A match in which if you succeed, you become a hero, according Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed. For Kohli, too, the match is significant - it will be first time he will lead India in a global tournament. However, the nature of this cricketing fixture has become "too boring" for him to hype the contest any further.

It is Kohli's way of detaching himself from the tension. Just like he has opted to switch off over the growing speculation about his relationship with Kumble, which, he says has been "really good". He sees no point in getting touchy about an issue that he has no control over. If he gets distracted, it would affect the whole team.

Kohli is aware that being the captain, and the team's best batsman, who has previously beaten Pakistan on his own in Dhaka, Adelaide and Kolkata in three global tournaments, he needs to stay strong. And calm.

"You have to handle stuff when you're thinking about it. When I choose not to think about something, I don't have to handle it. I carry on with my normal life," Kohli said, explaining how he has ignored reports on discontent in the Indian dressing room over Kumble. "On the field I'm captain. Off the field, when I have my own time, I choose to get away from things and relax as any normal human being would do. So, I don't take so much pressure on me all the time. It's very important to switch off and switch on at important times."

The pressure, as Sarfraz cleverly said, is on India. The advantage Pakistan have is that at least a handful of their players have never played India before. Oblivious to the pressure a high-voltage match like an India-Pakistan contest brings, these youngsters have been told to go out and enjoy the game on Sunday.

Kohli, on the contrary, having played Pakistan sporadically over the years, is aware of the "surprise" factor. "You cannot ever take them lightly. And not being familiar with the way they bowl or bat, I don't think it's going to be a massive factor for us because we, as a team, like to focus on what we can do. And if you play good cricket, that works against any side, whether you play them regularly or you don't, you still have to play good cricket."

For Kohli and Kumble, the biggest challenge is to identify the right bowling combination considering they are spoilt for choice. In Mohammed Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah and Umesh Yadav, India have a fast bowling quartet that could be the best in the tournament. With scattered clouds expected to hang over Edgbaston for the most part of Sunday afternoon, Kohli and Kumble might be tempted to include both Bhuvneshwar and Bumrah along with Shami. Kohli, on his part, has already said that the pair of Hardik Pandya and Kedar Jadhav provides balance to the lower-middle order.

By Kohli's own admission, figuring out the right combination has been "on his mind" for the past week, more so, after his fast bowlers comprehensively dominated New Zealand and Bangladesh in the two warm-up matches. "There are all kinds of possibilities - two spinners, two fast bowlers, three fast bowlers, Hardik and a spinner," Kohli said.

Kohli, however, will not have a sleepless Saturday evening. "The team looks really balanced. We're feeling really confident as a team. And that's showing on how we're playing in the warm-up games. The intensity was right up there, and that's something that was really nice to see for me as a captain. It's a good headache to have."