Virat Kohli also refused to get into any debate on the rationale behind his decision to quit national T20 captaincy
India captain Virat Kohli on Saturday said Hardik Pandya's prowess as a batter for the crucial number six spot is such that his replacement "can't be created overnight" and his place in the playing XI is non-negotiable even if he can't bowl full steam in the T20 World Cup.
Pandya underwent a lower back surgery in 2019 and since then has bowled occasionally, raising questions if he can be played as a pure batter in the premier event.
Kohli, though, on the eve of the Pakistan game, sealed the debate.
"Honesty, I feel, Hardik presently with his physical condition is getting better in terms of being able to bowl two overs for us at a certain stage in this tournament," Kohli said at the pre-match press conference when asked if the flamboyant Baroda man will be selected in case he doesn't bowl.
Kohli has himself bowled in the warm-up game against Australia and said that if need be, they have manageable options.
"....and we strongly believe that we can make most of the opportunity that we have at hand till the time he starts bowling.
"We have considered a couple of other options to chip in for a over or two. So we are not bothered at all. What he brings in at that spot is something that one can't create overnight," the skipper was crystal clear.
Pandya had played as a batter during the T20 series in Australia back in late 2020 and did considerably well.
"I was always in favour of backing him in Australia as a batter purely and we saw what he did and how he can take the game away from opposition when he is in full flow.
"These things (if he would be dropped) from a talking or discussion point of view feel very interesting that if he doesn't bowl, will he be left out? But we understand the value he brings to the team as a number six batter and in world cricket, if you look around, there are specialists who do that job," he asserted.
Kohli was categorical when he said that he believes in Pandya's impact as a batter and would not push him to bowl till the time he is fit enough.
"It's very important to have that guy in T20 especially, play an impact innings at that stage even when the chips are down and who can play a long innings in that way," he said.
"For us that is more valuable than forcing something on him for which he is not ready. But he is motivated and keen to start giving us a couple of overs and obviously then the balance becomes better but we are pretty confident as to how we are heading into the start of the tournament," the skipper settled it once and for all.
Suspense on playing XI against Pak
However, he didn't divulge much about the playing XI although he said the players are aware of their respective roles.
"We have spoken about our combinations but I am not going to reveal it right now but we have put in place a very balanced team that we feel covers all bases properly," he said.
"We are pretty confident in terms of execution as well. Guys have been playing a lot of T20 cricket in the IPL and everyone is playing well and that's a positive thing for the team.
"Now it's purely about execution out there in the middle which everyone is confident to do so. Role clarity is something that we have addressed already. We feel we are well prepared."
Unnecessary outside stuff on Indo-Pak rivalry doesn't matter
The Indian captain always had the same stand for every India versus Pakistan game and reiterated that outside noise does not bother him one bit.
"No, it does not as it is a very situational thing," he said.
"We are in a situation where we are in charge of what we need to do and for that we need to be in the most balanced space possible.
"It's also a thing to understand that as professional cricketers, you eventually start thinking about the situation we are going to be in as batters and bowlers," Kohli spoke about his team's mindset.
"In games likes these, some unnecessary stuff happens on the professional point from outside that. It's fine as long as it stays outside our controlled environment, we just focus on what we need to do as cricketers and hence it's no different from other games of cricket that we play.
"Yes atmosphere inside the stadium is different but our mindset is not different and our preparations are no different."
If people try to dig up things that doesn't exist, I won't give fodder, Kohli said on quitting captaincy
Virat Kohli also refused to get into any debate on the rationale behind his decision to quit national T20 captaincy after the ongoing T20 World Cup, saying he won't provide fodder to controversy seekers.
Eyebrows were raised when Kohli announced on his social media that he would relinquish captaincy after the mega event in the UAE.
With a lot of theories floating around about the reason for such a decision, skipper Kohli said that he is not ready to add fuel to fire.
"I have already explained myself a lot and I don't think I need to harp on that anymore," Kohli said when asked the reason to announce it before the T20 World Cup.
"Our focus is to play well in this World Cup and do what we need to do as a team. Rest people are trying to dig up things that doesn't exist and I am not someone who is ever going to give fodder to that," Kohli, who was a visibly irritated at the question, said.
"I have explained myself very honestly and openly and if people feel there's more to it that what I have already told, I feel pretty bad for them. That's certainly not the case." BCCI president Sourav Ganguly in his conversation with a TV Channel that there was no pressure on Kohli to quit leadership role and it was his own decision.
"I was surprised (that Virat Kohli decided to step down as T20 captain). This decision must have been taken only after the England tour and it is his decision. There was no pressure from our end. We didn't tell him anything," Ganguly said.
"We don't do things like that because I myself have been a player so I understand. It is very difficult to be a captain in all formats for this long.
"I was a captain for six years, it looks good from the outside, there is respect and all that. But you get burnt out on the inside and it happens to any captain. Not just to Tendulkar or Ganguly or Dhoni or Kohli but to the captain that will come up next as well. It is a tough job."