Joined: 02 October 2007
From the time he made his India debut, on the tour of Sri Lanka in 2008, Kohli constantly drifted in and out of the ODI side AFP
By Jamie Alter
The player whom Ray Jennings, coach of Royal Challengers Bangalore, once termed "a very talented kid [who] sometimes thinks he is better than the game," is very much at ease with himself after a stellar 2010 and being part of the Indian team that won the World Cup. From marking his World Cup debut with a century to lifting Sachin Tendulkar on his shoulders while giving us the quote of the year, Virat Kohli is a transformed player and the success comes off in the way he opens up on life in 2011.
"Life's good, no doubt," he says. "Winning the World Cup was an unbelievable feeling and I don't think anything can top that. We played some really good cricket to reach the final, and once we got there we weren't going to let go. That was a really intense final and to win it was fantastic. It was an indescribable moment. I will never forget it."
From the time he made his India debut, on the tour of Sri Lanka in the summer of 2008, Kohli drifted in and out the ODI side until he turned in an outstanding 2010. He was the year's second highest run-scorer after South Africa's Hashim Amla, and his form forced the Indian management to play him in every World Cup match.
"To get an opportunity in each World Cup match was fantastic, but also very stressful," he says, "in the sense that the expectations were very high. It puts a lot of pressure on you when you get to play every game, because you know you have to justify your inclusion. My form sort of dipped after that century against Bangladesh, but I was getting starts. It was frustrating to not always convert starts.
Kohli cites the semi-final against Pakistan in Mohali as an example of how annoyed he was with himself for not scoring runs. India were 141 for two in the 26th over when Kohli played an indifferent shot to Wahab Riaz, following which Yuvraj Singh was bowled the very next ball.
"I was really mad with myself for getting out the way I did," says Kohli. "I should have stayed there. It wasn't the best shot. Then next ball, Yuvi was out and I was afraid we'd not get enough runs. Eventually we put enough on the total, and we defended that score which was immensely satisfying. But I was annoyed with myself for getting out the way I did."
In an earlier interview with this writer, Kohli had spoken of how desperate he was to change critics' preconceived notions of himself. Now that he has found success and is a fixture in the ODI team, Kohli admits he isn't as hung up about what people have to say about him.
"It feels good now that people have stopped saying stuff they did about me a few years ago," he says. "I've always kept cricket my priority and it took people time to realize that. This happened over the past two years and it's a really good feeling to be appreciated for what I do on the field instead of being tagged as a wild party animal.
It was probably because there was this youngster coming in who styled himself differently. It wasn't in my control. I used to just be that way, but I realized that people were making me out to be this party animal, which wasn't the case at all. I decided to focus on cricket to try and change those perspectives. I spent a lot of time practicing and playing matches. I cut off the distractions. That eventually led to people changing their perceptions of me."
Immediately after the World Cup, came the IPL – "Crazy, man, no time to even celebrate or let it all soak in" – and Kohli was pushed up the order in a batting spot he has come to enjoy for India. Having spent much of the previous three seasons as a floater or clean-up hitter at No 6, Kohli is cherishing the opportunity to bat higher up. "Certainly batting at No 3 has allowed me a bigger platform to contribute to the team," he says. "I've always been comfortable batting down the order but now I have more of an opportunity to score and it's worked out well. At the end of the day it's about how the team does, so my job is to keep contributing."
Quietly, almost unobtrusively, Kohli has tallied over 400 runs this IPL season, with two Man-of-the-Match awards. His efforts have been seminal to RCB's success, though completely overshadowed by the big-hitting exploits of Chris Gayle. With Tillakaratne Dilshan off-colour, Kohli's role in the top order has set RCB up nicely this season.
He has also seamlessly stepped into the leadership role created by Daniel Vettori's injury. Kohli's captaincy potential has been spoken of by Jennings on several occasions, and while not completely refuting that he wants the job, Kohli admits that captaining India would be an honour. "That people say I am leadership material is a special, but I don't think about it. The India captaincy isn't something I aspire to at the moment," he says. "I have so much to improve on as a player. But leading RCB is special. It happened because Dan wasn't fit and I was keen, so immediately I said yes. It feels special to lead so many great international players."
And what of batting with Gayle? "That's quite something. You need to watch out at the other end. He hits the ball very, very hard and his arrival has really given the team a boost. We're playing really well right now and we need to maintain that consistency going into the knock-offs."
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