India's cricket captain, Virat Kohli addresses a press conference in The Grange in London on May 25, 2017, ahead of the ICC Champions Trophy 2017 tournament. Pic/AFP
Acknowledging the burden on his predecessor Mahendra Singh Dhoni lower down the order, India skipper Virat Kohli on Thursday said the side needed to strengthen the lower middle order contribution as India begin their ICC Champions Trophy title defence against arch-rivals Pakistan at Edgbaston on June 4.
Kohli may be the star of the team these days, but expects his seniors Yuvraj Singh and Dhoni to flourish in the tournament.
"We needed to strengthen our lower middle order contribution. Too much burden was on MS. He was not able to express himself," said the 28-year-old, who will be leading the men-in-blue squad for the first time in an International Cricket Council (ICC) tournament.
"But now we are balanced, we have good fast bowlers, depth in batting and the series against England (in January) sealed it for us."
"We are in a good head-space going into this tournament," Kohli added in an ICC statement.
India arrived in England and Wales as one of the favourites to lift the trophy and repeat their success from 2013 -- when they beat hosts England in a memorable final.
Kohli, who was part of the victorious India squad four years ago, believes his side is in an even better position to rule the world this year.
However, India have not played 50-over cricket since beating England 2-1 in a thrilling three-match series in January and there is no time to ease into the competition in a group which contains the dangerous trio of Pakistan, Sri Lanka and South Africa.
But recent history has showed that the team always rises to the occasion on the biggest stage, and the two-time ICC Cricket World Cup winners will be tough to stop.
Kohli expected great things from his squad, which comprises match-winners Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ravichandran Ashwin along with Yuvraj and Dhoni.
"I am very excited to be playing as captain in my first major ICC competition," he said.
"As far as the team goes, we won last time because our fast bowlers did very well, our spinners were strong and our opening batsman did well."
"They were the main three factors. This year the team is a lot fitter, the cricketers are a lot more mature because that was a very young group four years ago. It has gained a lot of experience in the last three or four years. I love the tournament because it represents a challenge from the (word) go," he added.
After a couple of warm-up matches against New Zealand and Bangladesh, India will take on Pakistan at Edgbaston in one of the most eagerly anticipated matches of the group stage.
Following that, India will tackle Sri Lanka and South Africa at the Kia Oval.
Kohli's 50-over form in the past 12 months is nothing short of exemplary, with an average of over 90 -- while he already has the fourth most one-day international centuries in history.
But he struggled to find his best form in England three years ago, averaging less than 20 across five Test matches.
"If you talk about the longer format of the game, then I did not do well here three years ago," he said.
"I was not able to contribute to the team and I want to succeed, although not to prove a point. It motivates me further to come back and do better."
"For me it is a game of cricket. From then to now, I have shown I am strong mentally. England brings a lot for challenges for a batsmen and I want to overcome them personally for my satisfaction at the end of my career.
"From that point of view, it is exciting for me," he added.
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