In the last couple of years, Virat Kohli was not himself at times. Even when he was getting the runs it was not in the most convincing fashion. And then a century eluded him for long too. But that he wasn’t himself even mentally, is an admission that came only when he returned to form at the Asia Cup and the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup last year.
Now that normal services have resumed, he has a century across all formats since his break. With runs under the belt for the Indian team and now, for Royal Challengers Bangalore in the ongoing Indian Premier League, it can be safely said that he is also looking in great touch. In three out of five matches so far for RCB, the former India captain has scored a fifty.
In an in-depth interview with with Robin Uthappa on JioCinema, Virat Kohli opened up about that phase, what it took to get back to form, his loyalty to RCB, the anchor’s role in T20 cricket and more. Excerpts from the interview:
Shahrukh Khan once said, ‘I work for the myth that Shahrukh Khan has become.’ Do you feel like that as well considering the way you have to conduct yourself, the expectations you have to deal with on a day-to-day basis, every time you have to go out to bat, everytime you go out in public? Does that weigh on you as well?
Look, I won’t be dishonest with you. I was doing that for a long period of time till the point it became so unhealthy where I was trying to live up to the expectations and idea of Virat Kohli in people’s heads. That ‘this guy has to operate in this way, he has to present himself in a certain manner.’ It was eating me up from inside because I have never been a guy who tries to pretend or portray someone I am not.
So, I just wanted to be authentic and knew I cannot continue to live like this. I mean, I can’t feel one thing and suppress it so much that it is causing harm to me. And, if I can’t be healthy inside out then I can’t be of any value to people around me. I don’t want to be a burden to anyone. I can’t be of any value to my sport, or be valuable on the field for my team and it’s not fair on anyone. So I just felt I need to be my authentic self and if that means admitting that I was mentally weak, I was suffering, so be it.
Because there might be many people in the same situation and they might be able to relate with it and gain bit of strength from the fact that this guy who is seen as mentally tough and who can handle anything... that there is a breaking point for everyone. I stepped away from pretending and just being myself all over again. That put me in a happy space. The most important factor during that transitional period before the Asia Cup last year was the fact that I was willing to let go of everything. I was willing to accept that when I go back and play, it might be the last month of me playing competitive cricket and I am absolutely okay with it. I am happy with where God has put me and I wasn’t in a desperate space. Everything became enjoyable and I found that excitement all over again. It only happened because I let go of my insecurities.
I would like to talk about the phase in 2019-2022 when you went without an international hundred. That must have been a hard time for you and it all came to an end with that hundred against Afghanistan. How did that feel for you?
That whole phase, it was quite strange because for 10 months we didn’t have any cricket so, I was like ‘Man, I’m being judged for the six games we played in 2020.’ At that point I started feeling like that was not normal, because I can’t be scoring 50s and 60s and being asked in the post-match interviews that I must be disappointed. For what? I mean, why would I be disappointed, I scored 70 runs.
I understood what people started perceiving from the outside, how they started looking at me, what they were expecting, I completely understood where it was coming from. But beyond a point, I let it grow on me, if I’ve to be brutally honest. Starting from the ‘Yeah man, it’s fine, I’m still contributing for the team.’ I knew that I was getting into positions where I could get a 150-200, and I wasn’t able to do that so I felt so depleted and so beaten down that I was like I am not living up to my expectations from myself.
I know what I can do but there is a constant doubt so what’s going on? It started eating me up from inside. As I said, when I took that break before the Asia Cup, I was completely cooked. I was like I need this otherwise I’m going to go mad. When I came back, I was excited, I was happy, I started batting well. I didn’t want the hundred at all, to be honest. And the Afghanistan game happened and Rahul (Drvaid) bhai asked, ‘Are you keen to open tomorrow?’ I said, a hundred percent. I would love to get the opportunity, I opened and I started hitting the ball.
In the moment the hundred happened, I actually laughed because for a year and a half, I was so desperately after this moment and when it happened, it was like this (snaps fingers). I laughed so hard because I felt like I wasted a year and half of my life for this moment and it’s gone in a fraction of a second.
Do you think that in T20 cricket, it is important for someone to play that anchor role?
Yeah, for sure (important anchor role). I completely agree with that, There are many people who because they have not been in that situation themselves, they look at the game differently. Suddenly when the power play is done, they will be like ‘Oh, they have started rotating the strike. It’s because when you haven’t lost a wicket in the powerplay, usually the best bowler comes on to bowl and you are trying to figure out what to do against him in the first two overs, so that you can get big ones in the last two overs of that guy and then rest of the innings become much easier.
I think it’s the lack of understanding about the situation on the outside that leads people to feel like ‘Oh, they are slowing down’. But there is immense value in... because I play like that. I play cricket like that. This is one of the things that helped me play in big tournaments, big games with composure. I was always just bothered about the situation. I never went in thinking that today my strike rate should be 160.
I’m not thinking about strike rate... ‘Oh, my strike rate must be 160 plus or anything.’ I play T20 cricket for according to the situation. If situation demands I can play 230 strike rate, there is no issues and I can do this any day. But I know the value that I put on my wicket and the value that my wicket holds for my team is the reason I play to the situation. Otherwise, playing in T20 World Cups... you can’t go into a high pressure game and say I’m going hit six fours in the first ten balls, the game doesn’t allow you to do that.
So I try to read the situation everytime I’m in the middle, so that when there are pressure games, I am able to replicate that because under pressure, all your plans go for a toss. What you need to do then is adapt, be on your feet and in that moment, find a solution.
Watch the whole interview here.