With his award for Spirit of Cricket from the International Cricket Council, Indian captain Virat Kohli said he is surprised after “years of being under the scanner for the wrong things”, referring to his past flare-ups.

He won the award for his gesture at the 2019 World Cup, when he egged the crowd on to applaud and not boo Steve Smith soon after his return to international cricket from a one-year suspension for ball-tampering.

From once stopping short of calling his Australian rival a cheat to urging the crowd to back him, it has been an incredible turnaround for Kohli, one of the world’s best batsmen alongside Smith. The footage was captured by the broadcasting crew and went viral during India’s match against Australia.

“I’m surprised that I have got it, after many years of being under the scanner for the wrong things,” Kohli said in a statement issued by the ICC.

Explaining his reasons for backing Smith the way he did, Kohli added, “That moment was purely understanding an individual’s situation. I don’t think a guy who is coming out of a situation like that needs to be taken advantage of.”

READ: Kohli’s exhibition of grace towards Smith was extraordinary in more ways than one

The passionate Kohli, who was once fined 50 percent of his match fees after he was seen showing the middle finger to the crowd as a reaction to some hostility from fans, is strictly against booing. These days, he is seen as a statesman of the sport and his transformation has been evident for fans to see.

“That should not be a representation of our fans and what we stand as a cricketing nation, a sporting nation. We need to all take responsibility towards that. Intimidate the opposition, definitely try and have an upper hand but in a matter that is not targeting someone emotionally. That is not acceptable at any level and people should be wary of that,” Kohli said.

Nearly three years ago, Kohli stirred up a major controversy by criticising then Australian captain Smith for the usage of DRS. Smith had looked towards the dressing room for instructions at that time and had apologised for the “brain fade”. The incident had escalated tensions between the two sides during a heated Test series in India.

Kohli has many a milestones in what has been a stellar career so far but Kohli on Wednesday said his favourite career moment will always be the day he was picked for the national team back in 2008.

The 31-year-old, who is currently the world No.1 in both the Test and ODI formats, speaking at an ‘Audi’ launch event in Mumbai, said, “for me, the moment that will always be very dear to me or special is the day that I got selected in the Indian team. I was at home with my mother, watching news, I was getting no information from anywhere and as my name flashed I had no idea what to do.”

“I went berserk, there was no synchronisation. I didn’t know whether to sit, stand, run or jump...I think that is one moment that I would multiply eight times any day and replay it,” he added.

A prodigal talent, Kohli was captain of the Under-19 World Cup winning team that same year and within months made the senior squad breakthrough.

“When you are playing for the national team, tournaments or series become achievements, they become accomplishments. But something that you work hard for as an eight-year-old starting to play cricket to representing your country – that is a feeling you can’t replicate,” he said.

“The starting point stands out for me because it gives you clarity, vision and motivation and also because it keeps me grounded and reminds me where I’m from,” he added.

The prolific batsman averages more than 50 in all three formats of the game and is widely considered one of the best to have ever picked up the bat. He has scored a total of 70 international hundreds.

(With PTI inputs)