India captain Virat Kohli says his team are not focusing on the opposition ahead of their Cricket World Cup showdown with Pakistan on Sunday – a game that is expected to draw a TV audience of up to 1 billion people.
The fierce rivals meet at Old Trafford in Manchester for their group stage match, with India favorites after a strong start to the tournament in England.
The two-time World Cup winners have also never lost a match at the competition to their neighbors, although Pakistan did beat them in the prestigious ICC Champions Trophy final in London two years ago.
Ticket demand for Sunday’s match was the highest of any game at this year’s World Cup, with a reported 500,000 applications for the match at the famous 26,000-seater stadium in the northwest of England.
Despite the magnitude of the occasion, India skipper Kohli said his team were treating the match – and the opposition – like any other.
“We are not focusing on the opposition, so for us, no one is a threat. For us, for no one player matters more than the other,” Kohli said at a pre-match press conference.
“It’s about going into the park as the Indian cricket team and taking on whichever team there is in front of us. If we play well, we can beat any side in the world.
“If we don’t play well, teams are going to come out and beat you. That’s how simple the game of cricket is and it should be. In our minds, nothing changes according to the opposition.”
“We’re only focusing on playing the cricket we are known for. Not singling out from the opposition, or focusing on one player more than the other,” batting star Kohli added.
India are unbeaten at the tournament so far, having opened with a win against South Africa before seeing off Australia. Their scheduled game against New Zealand was a no result after being rained off.
One-time World Cup winners Pakistan, led by wicketkeeper-batsman Sarfaraz Ahmed, recovered from a heavy opening defeat to the West Indies to beat hosts England in a surprise result in their second group game, but then saw their match against Sri Lanka rained off and subsequently lost to Australia.
The rivalry between the two cricket-obsessed nations is among the biggest anywhere in sport, and was cranked up a notch ahead of the match when a World Cup advert in Pakistan provoked anger by parodying a video of captured Indian airforce pilot Abhinandan Varthaman, who was shot down when tensions flared over Kashmir earlier this year.
Pakistan can also count on the strong support of Prime Minister Imran Khan, himself a legend of the game.
The biggest threat to the proceedings in Manchester could be the weather, however, as rain is forecast for much of the day.
Any disruptions to the game – or a worst-case abandonment – would leave millions of fans disappointed, or at least praying that the pair could meet again during the knockout stage of the tournament.