Features and Interviews

Virat Kohli’s life between two World Cups

India’s batting sensation opens up about the victory that changed his outlook towards the game

Growing up, Virat Kohli had just one dream and that was to represent his country at the top level of international cricket. Ambitions, goals and vision have always been a part of his cricketing vocabulary and it has only grown manifold over the years.

In his teens, Virat led the India U-19 team to a World Cup victory. He was just 22 when he brushed shoulders with the cream of Indian cricket that lifted the World Cup four years back at the Wankhede stadium, and since then, he has been one of the faces of Indian batting that is touted for only bigger and better things to come.

Virat is 26 now, Test captain of the Indian cricket team, a run-machine and a batting sensation that is destined to achieve greatness. Introspection, realization and four years after that iconic World Cup victory, Kohli speaks about the victory that changed his outlook towards cricket, a win that gave him more clarity and made him work towards a goal that he had always dreamt of. This and a lot more in a chat with bcci.tv.

You were just 22 when you played your first 50-over World Cup. Four years hence, it’s the same stage. Do you still remember how it felt being a part of the 2011 World Cup team?

Yes, I do. Because it was my first World Cup and I was pretty new in the international circuit, it was a mixture of nerves and pressure since we were playing at home. When I saw all these people coming up to us all the time saying that we had to win the World Cup, it was pretty tough for me as a youngster. I had to cope with that and play around these big names in a World Cup where you knew that all of them desperately wanted to win. As a youngster you feel that you don’t want to mess up the situation or don’t want to play a bad shot in a very important game. So all those things go inside your mind as a young player and that is what happened to me then.

How did the 2011 World Cup victory change you as a cricketer?

I gained a lot of confidence from that World Cup. In my very first World Cup, I was part of the triumphant squad, and I was a World Champion already at the age of 22. It gave me confidence from the fact that we had achieved something special. When we ended up winning, it was a very special memory. I couldn’t really connect to the kind of emotion that all the other senior players had because they hadn’t won it for so long. To see all that emotion come out, I really understood the importance of a cricket World Cup. From that day on, maybe even before that, I always wanted to be the best player in the world. I wanted to be among the best players that people would speak about. I always wanted to be a player that will be known even when I finished my career as a cricketer. I never wanted to be on the sidelines or be one of the players in the side.

I had that vision of achieving that goal and play the way our former greats like Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid or VVS Laxman have played over the years. I always used to wonder and ask myself why can I not do that. They have been able to do it over a period of time and they had the vision. I told myself, if players before us can do it, we can achieve the same things. I thought in that direction and the World Cup victory gave me more assurance on that fact. I started working towards my goals with much more clarity and passion compared to before. As a cricketer you gain a lot from victories like those. I took that confidence forward into the IPL and in the years to follow it freed me up as a player.

Did it bring about changes in the way you approached your own game as well?

I certainly became very sure of my game at the international level and it has helped me be more consistent. I try and stick to the same routine and habits that I have developed in the last few years. I believe my game has improved over a period of time. It has been a constant process; it hasn’t been a flash in the pan. I admit that when I came early on, there were few shots that I could not play. I worked on my weaker areas and started developing the shots that I wasn’t able to play.

When you become successful in international cricket, sides want to get you out and you have to be a step ahead. That is what I kept figuring out in the last few years as to how I can be a step ahead of the opposition so that I can be consistent and win more games for the team.

Is there anything in particular that you do in the process of achieving that?

Well, there is nothing in particular that I do. I like to follow a routine in my daily life. I have started enjoying normal life much more than I used to. I used to put unnecessary pressure on myself. I know inside my heart that I cannot be just loyal to cricket and the sport. When I would not score many runs I always wanted to go out there and prove to people that I am good enough. I don’t think like that anymore. I know how passionately I play the sport and it is for me to know from inside how much I love the sport. The moment it ends, my normal life begins away from my profession which is what I have started to enjoy a lot more. It has given me more stability, composure and calmness as far as going on the field and performing again is concerned because I have more things to look forward to. In that case you are never going up and down with your mood, you are always staying on the same line at most times and that is something that you need as an international cricketer.

From 2011 to 2015, how would you sum up these four years in a capsule?

You want to perform as an international cricketer, but you can’t put a number to it; that you would reach a particular level in four years time. Since that World Cup campaign, I have played a lot of games be it ODIs or Tests. I never thought I would be at the position that I am in right now in the team. Playing the last World Cup, I didn’t think that in the next World Cup I would be Test captain of India. I didn’t expect myself to get the number of runs that I have been able to get. I can’t really complain about anything. I am grateful for whatever has happened in the last four years and I have cherished every moment of it.

Did you ever envision yourself as India’s Test captain at such a young age?

No, I never thought of it. I honestly always wanted to play Test cricket for India and it was my dream. But Test captaincy was something I never imagined. I never thought MS Dhoni would retire this early from Test cricket and especially not in between the series for sure. That came as a shock and it was indeed a very emotional day for me. I came back to the hotel and I just broke down in my room. It was a pretty sad moment watching a leader who groomed all of us over the last few years, not playing Test cricket anymore.

Looking back at the England tour, I was totally written off and was even claimed to not have the right kind of game to play Test cricket. It was a difficult time for me. But, I had tremendous self belief and knew once that phase went away good things are going to happen. They certainly happened in that Test series against Australia.

How has Test captaincy changed the way you have started looking at ODI cricket?

I have been vice-captain for the ODI side and I would always keep giving inputs to MS about the things that I felt he could use. Now, in recent times knowing the fact that I probably will have to lead the side in the ODIs as well in the future at some point of time, I see more of how Dhoni changes his bowlers, at what stages and situations of the game. I notice when he brings the spinners on, figuring out the strengths and weaknesses of the batsmen, the wicket condition and the field placement etc. That is something that I have started learning a lot more in recent times. I always used to be keen enough in figuring out what field placements we could use or the gut feeling that I have standing in the field that I am sure would work. I always try to keep thinking about the game. I never stand in the field and think the ball will come to me and I will throw it back to the keeper and I am done. I always keep thinking about what can, could or needs to be done or could have been done. I give my inputs as far as I can but it has increased after I was appointed captain in the Test series and especially now that I am Test captain as well.

Has your role as a batsman in the ODI side been any different to what it was four years back?

Not really. I have been given a role to control the innings in the middle, help the other guys express themselves more and play to their strengths and give that solidity that MS Dhoni has been giving in the lower middle order. Everyone has shared the load in the tournament so far and I have been happy playing the backstage role of helping bring that calmness and solidity into the batting. I am pretty happy doing that in the last two games as well.

2011 - Wankhede, 2015 - you reckon it is going to be MCG?

Absolutely. You couldn’t ask for two better places to play cricket. Wankhede was as loud as any cricket stadium I have ever experienced so far in my life and MCG against South Africa was unbelievable. I heard it was better than the grand final of the AFL; that was something very pleasing to hear. Once we reach the final, I can assure you there won’t be a seat empty in the stadium for sure.

This World Cup is a great opportunity for us to do something that has never been done in Indian cricket, which is to win it back to back. Especially in conditions away from home, not many people gave us a chance to even qualify. But we have won seven games in a row. People are looking at us as favorites now. The experience has been wonderful so far and if we end up winning it on that day, it will be a memory to cherish all my life.

Features and Interviews

Rohit acknowledges the value of patience

Opener dwells into his new gameplan – stabilise at first, capitalise later

On Thursday afternoon when the Indian team walked out to board their bus for the MCG, an Indian cricket fan shouted out to Rohit Sharma - “Get a hundred Rohit, a big one”. Sharma looked in the fan’s direction; gave a smirk and quietly walked into the bus. At the MCG against Bangladesh, Sharma met that fan’s demands that noon when he notched up his maiden World Cup hundred, his seventh overall in ODIs. A crowd of fifty one thousand was treated to a batting specimen that had calmness, patience, composure and panache written all over it.

Along with Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit strung a strong opening stand. After Dhawan’s departure and two more quick wickets, Sharma showed his patient self. With Suresh Raina, he put up a 122-run stand for the fourth wicket and played perfect foil to his partner as he changed the course of the game with a quick-fire half century. With time, Rohit has realised the importance of constructing an innings and put a lot of thought into his batting that has helped him rake up numbers of tremendous magnitude. After helping India cruise into the semi-final, Rohit spoke about his ‘special’ ton in a chat with
bcci.tv.

Excerpts

Where would you place this hundred in your cricketing career?


It should be right up there. A maiden World Cup hundred is always special. It came at the right time and in a crucial game for the team. But I do not place my innings and knocks in any order. I feel all hundreds you get are really special. Centuries don’t happen every day and whenever you get one, you cherish it. What is more satisfying is the situation in which I got that hundred and most importantly that we won the game in the end, which is what matters. I cannot describe how special this World Cup campaign is for me. It is a very important tournament and this is a precious stage for me.

Two centuries at the MCG now – what is it about this ground that gets the best out of you?


I enjoy batting here. It is a good wicket to bat on. Today after the rain break the wicket became a lot better to bat on and the ball came nicely on to the bat. Also, I love the fact that there are a lot of people watching the game. The last two games we played here had a humungous crowd and today we had over fifty thousand people watching it. To perform in front of such a big crowd always gives you immense pleasure.

Do you set yourself small targets while batting?

Not really. Today the plan was simple and it was to bat as long as possible. I didn’t segregate my innings or plan as to how much I should get at the end of 10 or 20 overs. I knew that no matter how much you end up getting after 30 or 40 overs, you can always bank on the last ten overs. We lost important wickets at crucial times and it was important for one batsman to control the innings and stay till the end, which is what I did. How many deliveries I would take to get to the hundred was not important. It was important for a set batsman to stay till the end and I did just that.

Over the years, have you realised the importance of being patient initially before going for your shots?

That is the pattern of my batting. I like to take time initially and assess the conditions. I try to gauge the wicket behaviour, the shots I can play on that wicket and the ones I can cut down. I plan and pace my innings accordingly. The hundreds I have got of late have been similar hundreds where I take time initially and then switch gears. There is no mental approach to switching gears. It is about timing certain shots according to the condition of the game. My job was not over after getting to a hundred. I still had a lot of overs left and once I got my century I was focused on helping the team get a good score.

You had a strike-rate of over hundred in your last 50 balls. Is it a conscious effort to up the ante once you are batting in your 70s?

The wicket was really good and it was about backing yourself and going for the shots irrespective of the score you had against your name. I was holding a good shape while batting today and I tried to find gaps. I was not trying to hit the ball hard because it is a big ground and it was important to play to my strengths. You do get the odd deliveries that go for sixes. It is about playing according to the situation of the game and modifying your game accordingly.

How crucial was Suresh Raina’s half century in the context of the game?

I think more than my half century at that stage, it was Suresh Raina’s fifty that changed the momentum of the game. He scored at run-a-ball and changed the course of the game playing those shots. It completely put Bangladesh in a different position. They had an upper-hand initially but then Raina just came in and turned it in our favour. His fifty was important in terms of laying a good platform for posting a decent score. Our partnership was crucial after losing three wickets. We, as a batting unit, have always spoken about getting one big 100-run partnership and that partnership put us in a strong position.

How would the team look to take this confidence into the semi-final?

First we need to see who we are playing and then plan accordingly. It will be a huge game and now there is no looking back. We can’t afford any mistakes. All our three departments have done well in the last seven games. We have posted good scores, chased well and the bowlers have picked up 70 wickets in seven games. The fielders too have shown a lot of energy and we are doing well in unison. This shows that our team has a lot of caliber.