In the World Cup, pressure comes with the territory. That’s what makes victory sweet

Champions like Virat Kohli endure pressure and rise in its presence. They know how to block out the noise and when to let it lift your spirits

Sambit Bal

Virat Kohli against Australia: First he absorbed what they threw at him and then he gave it back AFP/Getty Images

Ahead of the World Cup, Rahul Dravid, whose press conferences are characterized by humor – often self-deprecating – and wisdom in equal measure, was asked about the inconvenience of the punishing travel schedule to India during the tournament.

Indeed, no other team will log more air miles during this tournament, undergo more airport procedures and play in more venues. Their World Cup began with a 2,500-kilometer stretch from Guwahati to Thiruvananthapuram, a route so thin that no direct commercial flights exist on it. After losing two warm-up games in these cities, this entire trip would prove to be an exercise in futility.

Over the course of the league matches, each played at a different location than the previous one, they will cover approximately 13,000 km, approximately 3,000 km more than second-placed England. In contrast, Pakistan will only cover about 7,000 km, mainly by playing warm-ups and the first two matches of the tournament in Hyderabad.

Of course, this is not the only difficulty during the home World Cup in India. As the class of 2011 can warn, the conversation will be relentless: from airport lounges to in-room dining, players will have no escape from their compatriots clamoring to win the trophy. From 24/7 newsrooms to millions of social media sites, the stream of opinions and advice will be constant. Unlike in 2011, when the team carefully avoided many forms of external aggravations – newspapers, websites and news channels – in 2023 it will be a hopeless task, calling for monk-like abstinence from mobile phones.

And the demand for tickets – what an absolute threat. Each team member is allocated three per game, but hundreds of friends are begging for one or more. This prompted Virat Kohli, who must be receiving more such requests than most, to post on social media: don’t ask me for tickets, please enjoy the World Cup from your homes. Another player posted the status “No tickets please” on his WhatsApp profile. Others avoid calls from the usual suspects.

Sachin Tendulkar waited around 20 years to become a World Cup winner. Shubman Gill, Mohammed Siraj, Shreyas Iyer and Ishan Kishan have this chance in the first attempt, in front of their own people

But it took Dravid just a few minutes to put everything into perspective. He replied in Hindi, so I’ll paraphrase. What a hassle, he said. What an exciting opportunity to go to so many different places, give fans the chance to see their favorite players, from airports to stadiums. We are playing in the World Cup at home, in front of our people. What could be bigger? What could be more exciting?

Should know. Despite a long and illustrious career, he never got such a chance. Neither do some of the other members of this golden generation, including Sourav Ganguly. VVS Laxman did not play in the World Cup at all and had been carrying this injury for years. Only Virat Kohli and R Ashwin in the current squad know what it’s like to play a World Cup at home. Rohit Sharma, who called this World Cup the biggest highlight of his career, knows how terrible it is to miss this opportunity: in 2011, he lost by a hair.

So what a blessing this is for those making their World Cup debut at home. Sachin Tendulkar waited around 20 years to become a World Cup winner. Shubman Gill, Mohammed Siraj, Shreyas Iyer and Ishan Kishan have the chance at the first attempt, in front of their own men. Of course there will be pressure. But pressure follows expectations. And expectations are placed only on champions.

Pressure, as Billie Jean King said, is a privilege.

King, winner of 39 Grand Slam tennis titles, won the highly publicized Battle of the Sexes match in 1973 after accepting a nasty challenge from Bobby Riggs, a former Wimbledon winner and serial harasser of female tennis players. Riggs was 55, 26 years older than King when the match was played, but earlier this year he defeated Margaret Court, another Grand Slam winner and ranked No. 1, in straight sets. The King vs Riggs match featured a winner-takes-all prize of $100,000, which was a fortune in those days. But there was much more at stake: King also came to the defense of liberals and feminists who were outraged by Riggs’ comments, which included this gem: “Women should be in the bedroom and the kitchen, in that order.”

And wherever players go, fans want a piece of them Getty Images

Among Indian players, no one knows pressure better than Tendulkar, and I once had the opportunity to talk to him about this burden. What was it like to struggle with knowing that 50 wasn’t enough when you were expected to be 100? His response was similar to King’s. “I never saw it as a burden,” he said. “I would rather people and my teammates expect certain things from me than expect nothing at all. It’s an honor. I’m lucky to be in this place. It shows that people care.”

Not only did Kolhi follow Tendulkar’s path in scoring runs, but he also inherited the universality of his mass appeal. Being at the MA Chidambaram Stadium for India’s World Cup opening match meant being exposed to the full force of Kohlimania. His very presence on the border was electrifying: wherever he appeared on the pitch, it resulted in immediate and spontaneous cheering and chanting of his name, which stood out for its authenticity against the commentator’s constant and grating attempts to orchestrate the crowd’s reactions throughout the match. sound system.

When it mattered, Kohli returned the favor in equal measure, first absorbing the blows dealt by Australia – they reduced India to 2-3, a score from which no team has won in the ODI chase – and then slowly and inexorably gaining the advantage in the away match.

That’s what champions do. They take the pressure and rise in its presence. They know how to block out the noise and when to let it lift your spirits. They know how to ride the wave of emotions and how not to get carried away by it. They also accept defeat as inevitable and know how to put it behind them, just like playing after the last ball has been bowled. Kohli bowled and missed, missed the stumps and fell for 12. Unfazed, he took the full toll.

He knew what it was like to win the World Cup at home, having been fortunate enough to experience it in his first world championship. Now he has a chance for an encore in his last World Cup. And with one missing, what couldn’t Rohit have traded to get on board? The World Cup is held once every four years; For many, a World Cup at home comes once in a career. This is a chance to create memories that will last a lifetime.

Pressure? Who won the World Cup without enjoying it?

Sambit Bal is the Editor-in-Chief of ESPNcricinfo @sambitbal

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