Thinking straight

V.V. KRISHNAN

“There can’t be a better feeling for a batsman than going on a run chase and ensuring it is accomplished. I like it when I come back to the pavilion unbeaten,” says Virat Kohli in this exclusive chat with Sportstar. Vijay Lokapally listens in.

Virat Kohli is hot property. The Delhi batsman, once termed brash and impulsive, has grown into a composed and patient cricketer, setting new benchmarks and developing into a potential captain of the future. He has a mature head on his 24-year-old shoulders and is just about beginning to realise his assets as a Test batsman.

His brilliant run in the last one year has placed him among the top batsmen of the world. He senses the responsibility and is now looking to cement his place in the Test team after excelling in the other two forms of the game. He spoke to Sportstar on the eve of the two home series against England and Australia.

Question: How assertive are you? Do you believe in being aggressive?

Answer: Of course. I have been an aggressive batsman. It also depends on the particular situation for the team. Being assertive means you are positive. It is my natural style, to be aggressive and assertive. It works for me because that allows me to think about what’s going on around me rather than planning and discovering something different when I walk in to bat. I analyse what is thrown at me and then react to that.

What does leadership mean to you?

Firstly, a leader has to set an example. Gaining the respect from your colleagues is the most important thing for becoming a good leader. That comes only by performing consistently under pressure situations. You must make them feel that this is the right person to lead the side. You need performance to gain the trust of the people and once you get that trust you only grow.

When do you know you are ready for challenges?

It is important to analyse when you need to train and when you need to rest. A lot of people go into extra training mode and forget the importance of rest. You can actually tire yourself mentally if you train too hard before a game. You have to strike a balance for sure. It is about analysing your body. Have to stay fresh before a game. A relaxed practice session before the game can make a lot of difference.

What sort of performance gladdens you?

Anything that helps the team, the satisfaction of chasing a total for the team, returning to the dressing room unbeaten or helping the team reach a platform from where you can’t lose. There can’t be a better feeling for a batsman than going on a run chase and ensuring it is accomplished. I like it when I come back to the pavilion unbeaten.

What do you focus on when you are up against a stronger opponent?

To tell you the truth, it’s always fun for me to prepare against a stronger opposition because that way you keep setting new challenges for yourself, you keep scaling new heights. As a cricketer it always motivates you to do well against big opponents. As a batsman you want to excel against stronger bowlers. You know that they are going to out-think you and get you out in whatever way possible. So you have to be a step ahead of them. That’s the challenge I love. I really love being in pressure situations. Playing against stronger opponents makes you stronger too. It helps in bringing the best out of you. In the longer run, it only helps you grow and to do that you need more of mental preparation than technical preparation. If you are in the zone then you don’t need to worry about hitting too many balls in practice sessions.

What do you make of this talk of cricket being a mind game?

I don’t agree with it. Teams talk of mind games just to put pressure on the opposition. It boils down to how mentally strong you are to tackle such pressure tactics. It is best to ignore them and go out and do what you want to do. If you are subjected to a mind game it does not mean that you should just nick the first ball you face and get out. You have to go there and apply yourself, show your temperament, show your patience and skills and score runs. Mind game is just a ploy to get a team into an uncomfortable zone and I don’t give much thought to it. I don’t think by talking you can control the way someone is going to bat or bowl.

Do you visualise success? Do you prepare for it?

I do, I really do. What gives me a thrill is when I think about success and actually achieve it in the middle. Before the World Cup (T20 in Sri Lanka) I thought of playing that important innings for the team in a crunch situation. Visualise how I can script the team’s victory on my own... I would visualise myself in that situation. Pressure from all corners and batting my way to success... That gives me the biggest high. I don’t think for a cricketer there would be a greater feeling than crafting his team’s success. Play an innings that pleases you to the core and helps the team win is what I always visualise. It is a wonderful feeling altogether.

When is something gutsy for you and when is it risky?

Simple Sir. Taking on a good bowler in conditions that help him is for me gutsy. Getting runs on a dodgy pitch is always gutsy. Playing a shot when you know it is unlikely to work in those conditions is stupid. But risky can be looked at differently. Sometimes you take a risk with the backing of your captain because you want to push the run rate. Sometimes you take a risk to unsettle a bowler when he is in fine rhythm. It depends on how you look at it.

How important is training for a modern cricketer, with almost non-stop competition?

It is very, very important for any sportsperson. Training in general, training for the season, training before a game, it always helps you improve your reflexes, your speed and ability to react to a situation. It makes a huge difference. I have seen it during the last four months. I have trained in a very different way from whatever I have done all my life. It has been a strict regime and a very strict diet plan. I can feel the difference and I can see the results too.

Do you believe in setting goals?

I only set goals for myself and not for the team as such. I can’t set goals for someone else but yes, when in charge, I know I will have to set team goals too. I begin by setting training goals because regardless of the fact that I am playing or not it is something I have to keep doing without a break. I can’t become lazy, not hit the gym or train hard just because you are practising at the ‘nets’. I know how to manage my time. I also throw in challenges for myself before a series. Say, getting two hundreds in a five-match one-day series. I set small goals to go out there and fight.

Can you describe the role of your coach (Raj Kumar Sharma)…

He has been my strength for the last 15 years through thick and thin, always giving me the right advice. He’s someone who understands me very well and knows what kind of preparation I need before a game. If I appear complacent he lets me know that I need to string in a hard practice session to get back into the zone. He understands that by looking at me when I am batting in matches. I think he has been of immense help to me.

Virat Kohli, during his under-19 cricket days, flanked by his coaches Raj Kumar Sharma (left) and Suresh Batra at the West Delhi Cricket Academy.-RAJEEV BHATT

What sacrifices did you have to make to reach here?

I have been smart in my time management but of late, since the time I have been in the zone and playing full time all little things have begun to matter. Like not being able to go for a late dinner, getting enough sleep so that you are fresh in the morning. One session of complacent training can lead to another one and then you stack it up. You don’t know when you might lose the good form. So I don’t like taking chances at all. I don’t like making small compromises that might impact my cricket. I just look to ensure I am hundred per cent prepared for my job.

Have you been in touch with your childhood friends and school teachers?

Yes, I have. I am as normal a person as you are. How can one forget childhood friends? There is this friend, Piyush Nagpal. I have known him for 20 years. I keep visiting his house and spend time with his family. I don’t like to entertain new people because you don’t know what someone is coming to you for. I hang out with people I have known for long. I am not being discourteous but it is better to be cautious. There is my (Vishal Bharti Public School) principal (Geeta Sehgal). She never fails to congratulate whenever I do well. These people matter a lot to me.

What would you do if you were not a cricketer?

No idea. Honestly, I don’t know what I would do if there is no cricket tomorrow. Right now all I can think of is to play cricket and play it to the best of my potential possible. Work hard every day and that’s what motivates me really.