After India’s defeat against Pakistan in the Asia Cup on Sunday, Virat Kohli said that only Mahendra Singh Dhoni sent him messages of support during a tough phase of mental struggle after quitting the Test captaincy.

Kohli, 33, has shrugged off his extended dry run with the bat at the Asia Cup, hitting two successive half-centuries, including 60 against Pakistan in a losing cause in Dubai on Sunday.

Kohli took a month off to recharge ahead of the six-nation tournament that acts as a tune-up to the T20 World Cup beginning next month. The former captain’s loss of form became a constant talking point in world cricket, but he said the hard times had revealed his true friends.

“I would only say one thing, when I left Test captaincy I got messages only from MS Dhoni and nobody else,” Kohli said.

“Lot of people have my number and say things on TV but no one sent me a message. If you want to give me suggestions, give me one-on-one, otherwise it has no meaning to me.”

Kohli started his Test and One-Day International career in 2011 when Dhoni was captain.

“The respect and connection that you have with someone, that shows in this way,” Kohli said. “There are some connections which are genuine and it has some security.”

In an interview with Star Sports before the Asia Cup, Kohli spoke about his mental struggles and he elaborated on it after the match.

“I didn’t think I’d go a month without touching my bat, but the situation became such that I had to take a break. More mentally than physically. Then you realise when you bat again after a month why you started playing the game. That (feeling) is lost at times.

“That drive and purity for the game, that joy goes away. It was important to rediscover that again for me. When I’m happy in my space, then I know what I can do for the team. Me being in a bad space is neither good for the team nor for me. I think no one should run away from this, if someone is feeling negative or low, taking a break isn’t a bad thing.

“And I hope people will derive strength from that and address whatever they are feeling. We’re all human, everyone can feel this way. But to recognise that and care about it is important. If you ignore it, you will get more frustrated. This is something I realised and I got a lot of help. I’m happy, I’m excited and having fun playing cricket again, which was the most important thing for me.”

The former top-ranked Test batter gave up the T20 captaincy after last year’s World Cup and was soon axed as one-day skipper in the worst period of his international career.

Kohli, who has not scored an international century since November 2019, then relinquished the Test leadership in January as Rohit Sharma became captain across all formats.

Critics, among them former World Cup-winning captain Kapil Dev, even suggested Kohli should be dropped.

‘Happy again’

But Kohli insisted such comments had never bothered him after his 44-ball 60 helped India to 181/7, which Pakistan overhauled with a ball to spare in a thrilling Super Four contest on Sunday.

“I never really paid attention to these things to be honest. Played 14 years and it doesn’t happen by chance. My job is to work hard on my game, something that I am keen to do, keen to improve my game for the team and that’s something that I’m going to continue to do so,” he said.

“Look, everyone is doing their job eventually. Our job is to play the game, work hard and give our 120%. I have said it in the past that as long as I am doing that and the team has faith in that, what happens in the changing room is what to us and to me.

“People have their opinions and that is absolutely fine. That doesn’t change my happiness as a person. I have taken some time away, put things in perspective and it’s given me a relaxation that this is not the be all and end all of life. I need to enjoy the game, I can’t put so much pressure on myself that I am not able to express myself. That is not why I started playing this game.”

Kohli also defended bowler Arshdeep Singh who dropped Asif Ali in the 18th over when the Pakistani batter was yet to open his account. Ali would go on to score a crucial 16 runs in Pakistan’s win.

Kohli credited skipper Sharma and the Rahul Dravid-led team management for fostering an atmosphere where players are not punished for making mistakes.

“The first time I played in the Champions Trophy, my first match was against Pakistan and I played a very bad shot against Shahid Afridi. I couldn’t sleep till 5am. I just stared at the ceiling unable to sleep. I thought I would never get another chance again and my career was over. It is natural to feel all these things.

“But when the atmosphere is good in the team, you learn and the next time a similar opportunity comes, you feel the catch should come to you once again. I would give the credit to the captain and the team management that they have made an atmosphere where everyone still wants to get another opportunity.

“The team atmosphere is will mistakes, you accept them and address them and then look forward to being in that pressure situation again,” Kohli said.

Watch Virat Kohli’s post-match press conference here.

With AFP Inputs