Captain Kohli's chance to step out of MS Dhoni's shadow

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World Cups define the legacy of leaders. Some of the greatest have tasted success at the biggest tournament in cricket: Lloyd, Border, Imran, Waugh, Ponting and Dhoni.

Like those giants, Virat Kohli is his own man. He has set an example first, and then asked others to follow him. His men swear by him. yet there remains a perception that Kohli's success as a captain owes a lot to MS Dhoni, who has been the guiding force in terms of tactics and controlling the pace of the game. This World Cup offers Kohli the opportunity to walk out of Dhoni's shadows.

And he's been working on it.

Kohli sowed the seeds of change at The Oval, the day India lost the Champions Trophy final in 2017. The key issues he identified included fitness and fielding, and, significantly, an inability to take wickets in the middle overs.

To this end India left out the experience of R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, and brought in a pair of wristspinners in Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav, who have become integral to India's success.

Kohli has always had a vision as captain. While Dhoni might take charge at different points during a live game, Kohli is in control of the team, and has shaped it in his image. This World Cup will be his ultimate challenge. The squad is full of the men he wanted, fought for, and kept his faith in. He got all the resources he wanted and asked for. He even got the latest start of all teams, with India's first match coming against a team playing its third game in a week. Now it's for him to put all this to use, smartly.

The long format of the tournament, where every match is important, will no doubt test Kohli's mettle as a leader - not just his man-management skills, but also how flexible he is in his thought processes, how quickly he can conjure up plans in tight situations, which will pile up fast as the tournament moves towards its business end.

A day before India's World Cup opener, Kohli seemed at ease. He addressed a 22-minute-long media briefing without getting restless. Wearing his prescription glasses and white team T-shirt Kohli looked relaxed, and sounded confident and clear.

Asked whether tomorrow, his first day as India's captain in a World Cup, would be any different to all his other days on the cricket field, Kohli said no. "Honestly for me I have this feeling before every game I play. I can't differentiate," he said. "Obviously if you just say the word "World Cup" it brings a different kind of feeling to your mind and heart. Apart from that when you step onto the field as a cricketer you really think like you are stepping into a World Cup game.

"Eventually you go and play the game of cricket. And that excitement and anticipation and bit of nerves is the right combination I have always had before every game that I play. 2011, 2015, similar kind of butterflies in your stomach. Even when you walk in to play in a Test match and you walk in at 10 for 2 you have the same kind of butterflies in your stomach. So that is a very consistent factor. I am just glad and it is going on."

India are favourites to win the tournament along with hosts England. Yet Kohli knows India can easily come second. Take the recent home series against Australia where his team led 2-0, and yet were surprised 3-2. Reviewing the series Kohli said the reason Australia won was because they played like one unit, poured more passion and energy in every situation, and showed the belief that they could win in any situation. India did not.

Like any upcoming captain Kohli has made his own mistakes. Six months before the World Cup he said, with an air of certainty, that Ambati Rayudu would be his No.4. Against Australia, Rayudu was dropped eventually, and then the selectors left him out of the World Cup 15. Immediately after KL Rahul scored a century in the warm-up game against Bangladesh last week, Kohli said he would be the No. 4.

Kohli can get excited. He admitted that leading at the World up is going to be his most challenging assignment. "Looking at the length and format of the tournament, yes, it will be tough for any captain including me, playing nine games. It is a long tournament. You are playing every side once.

"And you have to think on your feet, you have to adapt very quickly. It is not a bilateral [series] or you are not playing a team twice where you can play them once and plan again and come back and play again. So you have to be precise, on that day make good decisions, stay ahead of the 8-ball. So from that point of view, yes, it will be a very, very challenging tournament."

To his advantage Kohli has a group of proven matchwinners. In Jasprit Bumrah he has possibly the best bowler in cricket today. In Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan, he has two openers who can score big, blazing centuries. In Dhoni, he has the best glovesman in the tournament and a master strategist. In Hardik Pandya, he has an instinctive and ruthless batsman, who can turn the game in matter of a dozen deliveries. Then there are the two "pillars", Kuldeep and Chahal, who can choke teams in the middle overs.

But it is on days when these men are struggling that Kohli will need to bring to the fore more than just his intensity. He is only 30, but Kohli has a wealth of experience to fall back upon. "It is very gradual," Kohli said on his growth as a captain. "The errors you would make when you are not that aware of game situations, they will slowly start to taper off as you play more and more cricket. What happens also is, when you have experienced people in your team, who have also grown with you as cricketers, eventually you all start making good decisions, you have discussions, you think of the right things.

"Sometimes instinctively I would want to do something, which I will stick to, sometimes you go and discuss. It is important to find the right balance. It is important to try and make the right decision, but own up to your mistakes and accept the errors as well. Gradually, with time, everyone sort of understands that process well, which is happening to me slowly."

On every occasion he has spoken in the past month, Kohli has acknowledged the pressure every match in a World Cup will bring. The only way India can stay ahead, Kohli has repeatedly stressed, is by working as one and staying composed.

In the past week India have managed to blend training with recreation - they have had team-bonding sessions involving paintball. Some might scoff at it, ask what adults are doing playing a child's game. But sport is best enjoyed while invoking the inner child. Kohli understands this.

Remember the unforgettable line Kohli delivered moments after Dhoni sealed the 2011 World Cup with a six? As he and his team-mates lifted Sachin Tendulkar onto their shoulders, Kohli said it was only fitting since Tendulkar had carried the burden of a billion dreams on his shoulders for more than two decades. Today that burden has moved to his shoulders.