By Lokendra Pratap Sahi
Calcutta (The Telegraph): India vice-captain Virat Kohli, who has walked the tallest in the past year, spoke to The Telegraph for at least 45 minutes.
The following are excerpts:
Q Is life changing too fast for you?
A (Smiles) Well, I don’t see any changes as such... I have not tried to compare how things were before and how things are now... I’m just living each day as it comes. Life changes everyday, ups and downs happen… My main aim is to keep performing and I know what I started playing cricket for. That’s always going to be in my mind… Doesn’t matter what I do or where I go… My priority is to perform and help my team win.
The last time I asked you to pick your best moment, you had picked the 2011 World Cup final… I assume that stays most special...
Yes… The World Cup has to be the biggest moment for all of us. It was really special because 15-20 people, as a group, were channelising all their energies for one aim… It was really very satisfying for all of us.
Adelaide, Hobart, Dhaka… Are you a little worried that the law of averages may catch up? Is that ever at the back of your mind?
I try not to let that thought cross my mind because as a player, you always know that the law of averages is going to come in and there will be a lean phase, sooner rather than later… So my only goal is to make the most of my good form… When I go into bat I just play every ball as it comes… I don’t think about continuing my good form or that I might fail in this innings. I don’t think about anything and just react to the ball… Keep myself as calm as possible and keep my mind blank… That has helped me.
So, you are not only living by the moment, you are actually playing by the moment…
Yeah, I have been in good touch previously as well… At those times I used to over-think, that I have to keep scoring, that I have to be consistent… That puts a little bit of pressure on you.
What has helped you perform better in the past couple of months?
During the first two Test matches (in Australia), I complicated my thought process… I think that was the only change, nothing else has changed before or after… Those two games (at the MCG and at the SCG), those 15-20 days, I didn’t even understand myself… I was just in a confused zone. But that can happen to a cricketer and it’s all about realising it as soon as possible and getting back on track. Luckily, I was able to do so in Perth.
The one moment or one word of advice or one thought which changed everything...
I think it’s very hard to ignore what is being said or done around you… How people are reacting to your not performing… But I took a strong stand. As soon as I reached Perth, I decided to make a fresh start… Just told myself to sideline all these things, that it’s going to be tough, that I would need a lot of discipline, that I have to channelise all my energies to what I want… I wanted to have a planned preparation and give myself the best chance to perform.
What’s the one thing which batsmen should avoid doing? You made the point about not being complicated in the mind… Is that it?
I think there’s a very thin line between being in the zone and out of it… If you complicate things too much you go below the zone, you go into a shell. And if you become overconfident, you cross the line… Then you get complacent, you play a loose shot. So if you are in the zone, you are feeling good, then it is important to maintain it. I do that with a clearer mind, by not complicating things.
When a batsman is having a good run, is it that much easier for him or does it become more difficult because of the pressure of expectations? Can it work both ways?
I think pressure is what you make of it… Obviously, when you step onto the field, there’s going to be pressure. As I said, I try to ignore these extra pressures of thinking of people expecting more from me, or that I have to do it because of the people’s expectations… So I try to cut down these sort of extra pressures… Because when you are walking onto the field, and say if it is a final, it’s obviously going to be a pressure game. I try to take only that pressure and ignore the other pressures.
What was actually going on in your mind during the Pakistan match in the Asia Cup?
I wanted to do well in that 2011 World Cup semi-final as well… But unfortunately, I couldn’t score runs and I was really disappointed… In this game, I was really determined...
But at the same time, you can’t just walk in to bat and decide ‘today I’m going to score runs for sure’… You just got to go and give yourself a chance. So it was difficult because it was a high pressure game, it was a packed stadium ... I went into a pressure situation…
Gautam Gambhir has told me that he’s more keyed-up on the eve of and during a match against Pakistan. How do you approach such games?
Obviously it’s different… India-Pakistan matches have always had their history. As kids also, we used to be keen for this huge match… So, that’s always been on my mind… That this is a dream game for any cricketer playing for India or Pakistan, and if you do well in that game, it’s going to be a totally different high. I experienced that in the last game… And it was wonderful. Obviously, it was a high-pressure game and you do think before the game… Everyone watches that game. So that sort of comes across your mind and it’s hard to ignore that.
You fell for 183, just a few runs shy of 200... Did the thought of a double hundred cross your mind?
When I reached 175, it crossed my mind once… But then I thought this has to be something unreal… I never thought about it. It was a little hard to believe, honestly. I would always see people play those long one-day innings, those epic knocks and I was like… Wow… That should take a lot of effort. So when I saw I had 175 on the scoreboard, I was like ‘is this like a dream or something?’ So yeah, it crossed my mind once, but I came back to the game. My only aim was to make the team win, to finish it off.
The next time...
Well, if I have enough overs, or enough runs to get, I would surely give it a go… But it doesn’t happen everyday that you score 170 or 180 in a one-day match… So I would cherish that moment for my whole life.
Do you frequently look at the scoreboard?
No, I only look at the scoreboard when I want to see the situation… Like the balls and the run-difference.
That’s in the last 10 overs or so?
I would say the last 15 overs… Because if you are chasing a big score, you start looking at the game from the 35th over, when obviously it’s a Powerplay… You start looking at the game as if it’s a T20 game. You need to analyse… When you are defending a score, even if there’s a difference of 30 between balls and runs, and there’s eight-nine wickets in hand, the game can change at any time. Chasing eight runs an over with wickets in hand is very gettable nowadays… Teams are doing that consistently.
What did your mother, Saroj, tell you after that spectacular innings?
(Smiles) She was on top of the world… I called her from the dressing room and she was really happy. She told me that everyone was bursting crackers outside the house… That the whole society was on the road, chanting my name and stuff like that.
You seem to be embracing the vice-captaincy… The responsibility… Who informed you that you’d become the India vice-captain?
I didn’t know the exact time the team was getting picked, for the Asia Cup, but I had an idea... My brother, Vikash, called me (in Australia).
What was your first reaction?
I was a bit surprised… But I was really honoured by what was being given to me. I don’t think it has added any pressure on me, because I’ve always felt that while playing for India, you need to be responsible.
Irrespective of the position...
Obviously being a captain is a totally different ball game… One can only imagine what a captain goes through. But other than that, playing for India, everyone should be as responsible as they can be. There’s no good reason why you don’t have to be responsible if you are not being given a certain position in the team. So I’ve always felt that, playing for India, playing at No.3, I have to take responsibilities… Because the team expects me to take them to a good position, as much as I can… I have to respond to that. I take that as an honour.
Did you feel a little awkward on meeting Virender Sehwag and Gambhir after your elevation?
No, I didn’t feel awkward at all… A lot of people were talking about such things… That it will be awkward, that it will be complicated… But I didn’t see anything like that. We all are professionals and I have always respected them… They have been my seniors, I have always taken advice from them. There’s no awkward feeling at all. Even in the first match (in the Asia Cup), we had a great partnership… We still have that chemistry. We are just the same as we were before.
What do you expect to learn the most from Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the captain?
There’s a lot you can learn from him. His captaincy is very different from a lot of people. He tries to play on the mind of a batsman… I think that’s probably a captain’s greatest skill. I sort of analyse what field he is setting, in what situation, for what bowler… And then seeing how the batsman is playing, he sets a different field… For the same batsman, he would set different fields in five overs. So he really analyses how the batsman’s going, how he is switching gears.
Dhoni, then, is a good reader of the game...
He is a brilliant reader of the game. He can pick up even the smallest things… In field placements, you would notice that the fielder would be in the most unthinkable position and the ball would end up going there… He analyses the game.
Have the two of you ever talked about leadership and captaincy?
Those conversations have never come up… I’ve always spoken to him about batting and he has always told me how I should take up responsibility for the team… That if I am playing well, I should always make sure that the team is in a good position… So he keeps reminding me these sort of things. I feel really nice talking to him. Every time I have a confusion, I talk to him.
It appears you see Dhoni as a mentor…
He is someone I can go to and talk to any time I want. And he will always give you an honest advice, he won’t just say things like ‘Do what you feel like, see it for yourself…’
He will tell you what he thinks… If he thinks you are being overconfident, he will let you know… If you are being too complacent, he will tell you then and there… Whether you like it or not, he will tell you what he thinks… And I really appreciate that.
How are you going to handle the growing fan-following, particularly from the fairer sex?
Well, having fans is obviously a great feeling for any sportsperson I guess. To see people loving you, appreciating what you are doing, is a great feeling. But I can’t control the fairer sex… If they like watching me play, if they are my fans, I obviously feel good about it.
Finally... Are you pleased at being labelled the newest pin-up boy of Indian cricket?
(Smiles) I am pretty fine with it… I don’t think too much into it… What I am getting off the field is because of what I’m doing on the field… Cricket is and will remain my priority.