Virat Kohli up close

Virat Kohli is almost always portrayed as an angry young man. But, in the first part of this comprehensive interview, he comes off as a level-headed individual who knows where he is going and what he is talking about.

Virat Kohli... a no-nonsense individual.   -  PTI

Kohli is so involved with the team that he always wants to contribute to its success.   -  PTI

Virat Kohli is almost always portrayed as an angry young man. But, in the first part of this comprehensive interview, he comes off as a level-headed individual who knows where he is going and what he is talking about.


Question: How much do you value the game’s history?

Answer: I value it a lot. You get to know how cricket has evolved and what the challenges were for the players from the previous generations. You got to learn from it. You have to appreciate the runs and the centuries and the wickets they took in their times. When you think of times when there were no helmets, no thigh guards, very average leg guards, and to face that kind of speed on pitches that were not properly prepared, I think you then learn to appreciate more. They have worked to make the game better.

Do you challenge yourself in the middle?

Yes. I always challenge myself. Obviously, the expectations are huge. I always judge myself upon my own performances rather than thinking about someone else judging me. That keeps me motivated to go out there and score as many runs as possible. That is why every time I get out I get very disappointed. I have set a certain bar for myself. And I back myself to perform every time I step on to the field and try and make sure that the team wins because of my performance.

Do you blame yourself for the team’s failure because you are the captain?

Not just because I am the captain now. There have been a lot of instances when I have spoken to Sir (coach Raj Kumar Sharma) also. And I have told him we have lost because of me. Or I should have stayed there. I remember a T20 game in England. It was the last game of the tour. I got 70 odd runs, but I played a pull shot and I got out. As soon as I got out I felt that the game is going to be a bit dicey now. Although every one was praising me that I had batted well, I wasn’t happy, not satisfied. Because deep down I knew the game was not over yet. Eventually we lost that game. A number of times I have sat down and blamed myself and colleagues have told me not to be hard on myself. But then I expect to finish the job by myself every time I step on to the field.

What pains you and what gives you joy?

What pains me is the negativity that floats around our sport. It pains me when people don’t understand the hard work that we put in on a daily basis. I think it comes from a lack of trust, lack of faith, all around in the system. After a series people are running after players to drop them. What gives me joy is when I see the team flourish in an environment that is relaxed and enjoyable. I remember before going to Bangladesh we had this discussion on why we enjoy the atmosphere in the IPL (Indian Premier League). Because there is no added pressure. We are just going out there to express ourselves. Even if you have an average season you have a chance to play 10 games. People back you there to play the whole season. We need to create that kind of environment in the Indian team where people enjoy and express themselves with no added pressure.

Do you remember your first day at a Test match?

Yes. The India-Zimbabwe Test match (in 2000) at the Kotla. I was sitting at the far end, opposite to the dressing rooms, the Ambedkar Stadium end. My brother took me. It was great fun. I saw Javagal Srinath at the boundary. I remember Ajit Agarkar hitting a batsman on the helmet. Kotla used to be an open ground and I could hear the sound of the ball hitting the helmet.

I always judge myself upon my own performances rather than thinking about someone else judging me. That keeps me motivated to go out there and score as many runs as possible.

What appeals to you the most in cricket?

The idea of having a team that has players mostly building their careers together and sustaining that for a long period. Such thoughts excite me. Most of us have started our careers together and 10 years down the line we would be great friends. We have played good cricket for India and built good careers to leave a strong legacy behind. On the personal front, watching Sachin Tendulkar win games for India single-handedly. I would dream of such moments. It is my cricket dream and theme. I like to chase such dreams.

What do you value more? Victory or the enhancement of the overall quality of the game?

Playing good cricket is important. If you play good cricket you obviously win. Sometimes it won’t work. Like in Adelaide in Australia. We lost but we walked with our head held high. We lost when going for a victory.

You can’t play bad cricket and win. It does not happen. For me it is all about being competitive, playing good quality cricket. If the other team is playing good cricket you have to play very good cricket in order to beat them or be at the same level. Sir knows that. I don’t like scratchy innings. I don’t relate to it. I have seen a lot of people who won’t get a boundary for 60 runs. Not me. For me it is all about timing the ball. Getting that nice feel on the bat.

My coach reminds me that there will be times when I won’t bat well and yet get runs. For me, batting well is middling the ball and then getting runs. It is a different feeling altogether. For me the quality of cricket is very important. Enjoy runs from a batsman or even watch a quality spell from a bowler.

As a spectator I remember that Wahab Riaz spell in the World Cup. We just sat there and saw that awesome spell. Those are the things that you look forward to. You may have some scratchy moments, but when you are striving for excellence you are bound to be rewarded with quality results.

Why do you look so angry on the field? I know that is not the real Virat Kohli.

I have been asked this question a lot of times. My simple answer is I play to win. I do joke around on the field, but not all the time. Now that I am the captain I can’t be fooling around with the players all the time. I have to think for them. I am always focussed on what is going on. I think it is my focussed face that is seen more. I have never made a conscious effort to go out and validate who I am or what kind of a person I am because people who are not close to me don’t need to know that. It is not for the whole world to know who I am. It is not important. If I give credence to it then I am making myself weak in terms of going out there and validating myself. It doesn’t matter people judging you because inside you know who you are as long as you are working hard as you can in your profession. Nothing else matters. I play to win and I am always intense on the field. That is the reason why it comes across to people I am angry, but I am not. I do get angry but not all the time. It is my focussed or intense face.

Do you dream of playing one shot that you would have seen someone else play?

Oh yes. There is one. By Sachin Tendulkar at Sharjah (in 1998) when he hit Michael Kasprowicz. He hit a six with a straight bat that went on to the kabanas in front of the dressing room. I used to try and emulate that in tennis ball cricket, but it used to fly off the bat. And the cricket ball is not that easy to hit with a straighter bat without any follow-through. That shot has remained special in my head. I have tried it, but obviously my bat doesn’t come as straight as Sachin’s. I end up hitting in different places but his was pin-point straight. That is one shot etched in my memory.

What goes on in your mind when you walk to the middle?

I try to motivate myself. I try to pump myself up. Honestly, every batsman is nervous while walking in. There are all sorts of things in your mind, It is important to get rid of those nerves very quickly because the heart rate can go up very quickly. And then you can’t make a decision. I talk to myself, motivate myself, and then I am calm, ready to face the first ball. Sometimes I would tell myself to be ready to get hit. Or pain is nothing. The first ball could be a bouncer, yorker, you don’t know what it would be, inswinger, outswinger. You have to block negative thoughts. Good thoughts at that moment can be the trigger to keep you calm. When you are calm you react very well. I try to tell myself things that help motivate me and stay calm.

What have you lost and gained after assuming the responsibility of being the captain?

Everything has become so hectic. It is difficult to find peace at times. It’s a very confusing phase because you are so used to being on the road all the time and so used to being spoken about, seen all the time, that when you have the off time you ask yourself if you are wasting your time. To understand that aspect is very tough. I am losing some aspect from my everyday life like going to a place, having a nice meal, people not bothering you all the time, people not speaking to you with an agenda, asking for favours. Everyone wants to meet you to get something done. They don’t meet me as a normal person, call me home for a normal chat.

I don’t relate to fame and admiration as gains. It can be an incentive. It does not amplify my life. I have not changed as a person. It is an incentive that you appreciate. It is not something you get addicted to. I am grateful when people love me for what I am doing for the country. They love you more when you play well. I am grateful to them.

I don’t relate to fame and admiration as gains. It can be an incentive. It does not amplify my life. I have not changed as a person. It is an incentive that you appreciate.

How much do you get involved with technique?

Sir (coach Raj Kumar Sharma) keeps speaking to me on technique. If there is a correction to be made we speak about it. The good thing is that I can have a nice debate with him about many aspects of my batting. We debate and conclude what is best for me. We try it in the nets and stick to it or else find another option. Nothing has been imposed on me by my coach because he understands that I am also constantly thinking about my game. He lets me think about my game along with his inputs. We work on a fault, if there is any, constantly. Like in England he pointed out now my front toe was opening up too much. I told him my hop is opening up too early. We worked on those things and found a solution. He watches closely and not for the fun bit. He is only looking to correct me.

How close do you come to reading the pitch? We go by what the curator tells us or former greats comment. Lala Amarnath was said to be the only cricketer who made an impeccable assessment of the pitch.

Now that I have become the captain I have to obviously go and look at the pitch from a strategic point of view but he (coach) knows that I never would look at the pitch. Never. It doesn’t matter because if I do then it puts a thought in my mind that I have to play this way. You are playing cricket and you are not going to go and play a forehand cover-drive. I try and stay away from those things. I rather like to focus on how I prepare, face the bowler and see how the pitch is behaving at that stage rather than putting thoughts beforehand. If the pitch behaves differently then I am stuck.

Do you attract attention individually because of your batting?

I have heard from people that the camera follows me most of the time. As a viewer it is for you to watch your favourite. Every player is doing his job. My way of expressing things might be different from someone else’s method. It could be one of the factors. It is not something I make a conscious effort to do. It is my nature. I like to be energetic on the field. I like to run for every ball. Things that come naturally to me. It has been so from my childhood. Some find it attractive. Some may find it irritating. There is always a positive and a negative side to everything. (Raj Kumar Sharma : As a kid he loved to throw the ball at the stumps. If the ball came to him, he had to throw it.)


Do you believe you have evolved as a batsman?

I feel I have. I can vouch for that in the one-day format where I have definitely evolved as a batsman. In Test cricket I haven’t reached a stage where I can say I feel like things will run in auto mode. I still need to get to that stage in Test match cricket. I feel I will get to it. I want to because you want to be sure of your Test game. You should be able to go out there in any condition and start reacting to the situation. I think that has started happening to me in one-day cricket. I get to 0-40 without really planning the innings. I have done those things over a period of time again and again and again. It becomes muscle memory because you start reacting to what you have done in the past and things follow. In Test cricket I am still not there yet honestly. I want to go out there and play according to the situation and mould my game. I do that in the one-day situation. I have certainly improved as a Test batsman, but to get that mindset I need more time.

How were your early growing years in cricket?

When I told my father that I wanted to join an academy (at 8 years) he got me enrolled at the West Delhi Cricket Academy. I signed the form and my journey began. Things fell into place by God’s grace. I was so used to playing with elders that I started going to that group. My coach guided me to the junior group. I learnt the technique, the finer points. It was a lovely process. I am grateful I practised on matting pitches because I learnt to play bounce and pace very quickly. I used to bat without helmets so the fear factor was never there. When I batted on turf pitches I found things easy. The bounce and pace were so less. It made me a better cricketer.

I faced some tough bowlers in the seniors’ nets. I would end up with bruises and my mother would be worried, but my coach knew what was good for me. He groomed me very well. His role has been massive.

Do you fear anything?

I used to have a fear of failure until the England tour last year. After that phase I learnt a lot of things. You can’t be attached to anything for life. Be it your friends, family, even children. You can’t be attached to the extent that you can’t let go. I used to put a lot of pressure on myself. I felt the failures. I learnt a lot. To enjoy the pressure. Why allow it to impact your life? Getting rid of the fear of failure is hard. I did it by not worrying about the result. At times it still creeps in, but I am learning to conquer it. I don’t throw stuff around anymore if I get out cheaply. I appreciate the opportunities life has given me because I see many people who have not been able to get them. I respect the fact that I have been lucky to get opportunities.

The influence of your family?

Big. I am very lucky I am the third child (the elders are sister Bhavna and brother Vikas). I never had any pressure on me. My brother had to handle the responsibility of the family. My father was a very independent man and worked very hard for what he had in life. Being ignored for the Delhi under-14 squad was shattering for me. You know well how the system works in Delhi. The option was to do someone a favour and get me into the team. That option was presented to my father and was promptly dismissed. Next year I got into the team on my credentials. We have been honest to each other of what we have been doing. My mother (Saroj) never pampered me and never spoke about my cricket, never pressurised me about what came in the media. We have had some tough times along the way, but my family support has been priceless for me.

Do you get scolded?

Yes. By my coach if I have not called him for a while. I would get scolded when I was off-track. Not anymore. I am on track. He knows I am not wasting time on trivial things. But I get scolded by my mother. She thinks I am too thin. I should get more healthy. She wants me to have parathas. Her scolding is from that point of view. She wants to feed me well. I don’t eat home butter. She will understand the difference later I am sure.

Your world outside cricket?

Come back home and sit in peace. Just be myself. These days I just sit and give time to myself. There is so much to think and I want to be with people who are close to me. I try and spend time with my family.

Your views on the media? Do you feel it is intrusive, ill-informed, aggressive? Media gets the feeling it is unwanted…

Respect is in one’s hand. If I behave unethically I don’t have anyone else to blame. Trust is important. You can’t expect me to smile if someone has let me down. It is important to be ethically right. Hard thing to do I know. I feel things get irresponsible at times. Look at the recent series. We have played some good cricket, but all that has been written about is the pitch. How the Indian batting is not doing well. Not about how well the bowlers have performed. They are climbing on to players off form. In Australia, England, South Africa, if a batsman is out of form, the only thing you see on the big screen and in the programme during lunch and tea is that guy’s hundreds to motivate him. They support them. And how tough they make it for the opposition! Telling how the home team is going to intimidate them! Here our own players are blamed. We are nice to the touring side. You don’t have to slam them, but appreciate your own. Don’t run down your own players. If you want to give space to negativity then don’t expect the players to be nice to you in return. Can you keep writing bad things always? I won’t ask you not to criticise us when we are doing badly, but when we play well please say good things also. Why do you judge a player on two games or two innings? You don’t give the chance to improve and prosper. If he has done well at home you then say we shall see how he will do overseas. Why is this ‘we will see next’? When we beat Sri Lanka we were told South Africa is the bigger test. Now that we have done that you say let’s see how they play overseas. That is not responsible work. We just don’t seem to enjoy an Indian victory. We are a new team and need support. No one is appreciating that everyone is looking to pull the team down. Not at all justified.

How would you like to be remembered?

As someone who made a difference to cricket. I am never satisfied with average thinking or performances. This game has given me so much. I must give back something very positive to motivate youngsters to take up this sport. Get Test cricket back to where it belongs. At the top. I have watched Test cricket at stadiums full of spectators. It was an honour to go to a Test match. I want to see that happen. If I can finish my Test career with strong friendships with players I have played with that would make me very happy. That would be the most special thing.

(To be continued)

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