Relaxed captains rub shoulders and trade laughs one final time before cricket takes over the world


Rohit Sharma pursed his lips and furrowed his brow. Sitting cross-legged on a white sofa in the banquet hall of the Gujarat Cricket Association Clubhouse, he threw up his hands to take issue with the line of questioning. “That’s not my job, sir,” he said. “Declaring all this is not my job.”
He had been asked, four years too late, on his view on the result of the 2019 World Cup final: a tied Super Over, which saw England lift the trophy by virtue of hitting more boundaries than New Zealand. The reporter in question asked if the teams should have been declared joint winners; Rohit, perhaps unsurprisingly, was not hugely fussed.
On the other side of the stage, Babar Azam leaned forward and stifled a giggle. Jos Buttler could recognise from the reaction from the assembled media in the room that something funny had happened, but needed a translation; Babar, sitting next to him, obliged, and the pair of them shared a laugh.
Two seats down from Rohit, Temba Bavuma was sitting quietly as other captains answered questions. With his hands crossed across his lap and his head bowed, it briefly looked as though he had fallen asleep. “I blame the camera angle, I wasn’t sleeping,” he later clarified on Twitter.
Welcome to Captains’ Day, a panel event hosted by Ravi Shastri and Eoin Morgan and staged by the ICC on the eve of the 2023 World Cup. Six of the ten captains had flown into Ahmedabad immediately after a warm-up game on Tuesday night, and eight of them will head straight to another venue for their opening match.

If this was an elaborate excuse for a photoshoot, it was also a rare chance to see ten international captains in the same room, interacting with one another and sizing each other up ahead of a tournament that could define each of their legacies, both as players and leaders. There were light-hearted moments, but also moments of recognition of what is at stake.

“There’s always a level of expectation and pressure that comes naturally with representing your country in a World Cup,” Buttler said. “That’s why the room is so full: people have an interest, especially here in India where cricket is revered more than anywhere else in the world. But you should enjoy that, and accept that: I’m a fan of other sports, and know what it’s like to be a fan watching.”

In Babar’s case, captaining Pakistan in India is a role that transcends sport and towards diplomacy: after all, he was speaking at a stadium named after Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister. His squad were welcomed warmly on arrival in Hyderabad: “The way people are responding towards our team, everyone enjoyed it,” he said.

“Since we came to Hyderabad, the hospitality we got, the way people welcomed us from the airport to the hotel, the crowd in the ground and in the last match, we liked it a lot.” Then, another nod to diplomacy, and Pakistan supporters’ issues securing Indian visas: “It would have been better if we had fans from our side. We will try to get such support in every match, in every stadium.”

For Rohit, there is the inevitable pressure that comes with leading India on home soil – not least with host nations winning three 50-over World Cups in a row, and India’s trophy drought in men’s ICC events now stretching more than a decade. “I know what’s at stake,” he said.

“For us, it’s just about taking everything out now and just focusing on what we want to do as a team. Not worry about the expectations, because that’s always going to be there; not worry about who we’re playing; and not worry about what is happening elsewhere. It’s time now for us to be secluded a little bit, and then focus on what we want to do as a team.”

He anticipates a wave of interest in the tournament over the coming days. “Any big event that is supposed to happen in the county, people get really excited,” Rohit said. “And cricket being the biggest sport in India, I’m not surprised by the excitement that people haveā€¦ it is spread across the entire country. Anywhere you go, the talk is about the World Cup.”

All that is left is for Buttler to walk out for the toss on Thursday afternoon – though he will be joined by Tom Latham, with Kane Williamson watching from the dressing room. The talking is done, and for the next 45 days, the cricket will take over.

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