Maturing with age

Learning from the master… Virat Kohli (left) is a great admirer of Sachin Tendulkar. “It is a pleasure to bat with him and it is amazing how he speaks to the youngsters in the middle, discussing the game excitedly. He values the judgment of the youngsters,” says Kohli.-G.P. SAMPATH KUMAR Learning from the master… Virat Kohli (left) is a great admirer of Sachin Tendulkar. “It is a pleasure to bat with him and it is amazing how he speaks to the youngsters in the middle, discussing the game excitedly. He values the judgment of the youngsters,” says Kohli.

Every time he steps out to bat, Virat Kohli reminds himself that cricket is his only love. “I have learnt to value every game. It could be a local match, a first-class match or an international contest. I tell myself not to be complacent at all and never to be disrespectful to the game,” he says. By Vijay Lokapally.

His preparation is simple. Even as he pads up, picks up his helmet and bat and steps out to begin a new innings, Virat Kohli reminds himself of a pledge he has made to himself, his coach Raj Kumar Sharma, and, of course, his team: ‘Not to be disrespectful to the game'.

Kohli wanted to play cricket, and to play it with dignity, he knew he would have to perform, strive to make every innings count. And this is what marks his approach to the game.

Kohli is just beginning to come out of an image that has haunted him for some time. He had made mistakes in the past and is now keen to erase them. He knows a repetition of those mistakes will only shatter his childhood dream of becoming a big cricketer, a successful cricketer.

His career so far has been like a tough journey that Kohli has navigated with a lot of hard work.

“Only I know how much he has worked. He has worked silently, away from the limelight, in torrid conditions. He has punished himself for the mistakes that have impacted his cricket. But he has grown as a cricketer and an individual,” says his long-time coach Sharma.

“He is far more focussed now, more hungry for success,” says Sharma. “We both dreamt of Virat becoming a good Test cricketer. He was on the right course but then had some minor distractions. He is young and I could well understand. But Virat is matured now and I am not worried. Nothing will distract him from his goal. I am sure Virat will grow into a very good Test cricketer,” he adds.

The young Delhi batsman acknowledges: “I made a few mistakes as a cricketer. I played the wrong shots against good oppositions in big matches. I was trying to replicate what some of my seniors were doing. I was trying to hit my way out. I then realised I would have to find a way out by playing to my strengths. I was sure of what my game was and just decided to stick with it.”

Kohli, 23, is charged up now. “I said to myself that I have to believe in myself more. I have to understand my game and play accordingly. I was getting carried away by trying to copy others. I told myself, ‘I will now not do what others do. It is not happening'. And then playing with some of the greatest cricketers taught me a lot. It has done wonders to my game,” says Kohli.

What marks his new approach?

As Sharma explains, “Virat is a brave cricketer and has a very good cricketing brain. He gets pumped up when he sees a challenge. He is very aggressive at heart. But it suits him better to be selective when playing his shots. I just told him to restrict his shots, especially the leg-glance and the shots off his pads. He must not play shots initially.”

Kohli remembered the words of his coach and came up with a century in the recent ODI against England on his home turf in Delhi. When he returned to the dressing room at the Kotla, Virat hugged his coach warmly. Sharma incidentally was the local manager of the Indian team.

Kohli loses no time in picking the brains of the big names in the dressing room. “It feels nice that any doubt you have is so quickly removed by the seniors. Having them around is a sense of comfort that I am so privileged to be blessed with,” he says.

Kohli says he would love to imbibe some priceless qualities from the senior members of the Indian team.

“It will be great to control the game and the situation completely like Sachin Tendulkar. It is a pleasure to bat with him and it is amazing how he speaks to the youngsters in the middle, discussing the game excitedly. He values the judgment of the youngsters.

“Rahul Dravid is the ultimate. It is so difficult to bowl to him because he just doesn't give anything away. He has a tight defence and I have never seen him complacent. I would like to have his discipline and intensity in the middle.

“V. V. S. Laxman is so strong mentally. He can bat through the most difficult situations because he is so sure of his game. I want to learn this aspect of his cricket — to bat at your best when the situation is the most difficult.

“I don't think anyone can bat like Virender Sehwag. He is the only one who puts the opposition under pressure even before he has faced a ball. In his case, it is always the opposition that is thinking. He never has to worry about what the opposition is planning. I want to be like that, always ahead of the opposition.

“Gautam Gambhir is very, very strong mentally. Nothing can deter him, nothing. He has his game-plans in place and mostly they are perfect game-plans. The sense of surety that he brings to his batting is a great asset.”

To ensure a strong mental approach to the game, Kohli has set up some short term goals. “Actually, I like to play under pressure. It improves your game. In any case, at number three, you have to be sure of your game because your team is under pressure. I have taught myself to visualise situations and react. I love being under pressure,” he says.

So, every time he steps out to bat, Kohli reminds himself of his pledge and that cricket is his only love. “I have learnt to value every game. It could be a local match, a first-class match or an international contest. I tell myself not to be complacent at all and never to be disrespectful to the game,” he says.