Virat Kohli opens up on the turnaround process and ‘large scale’ love from fans during his lean patch

On a November day, a couple of years ago, Virat Kohli tweeted a ‘note to self’ that he posted to his younger self. Kohli is a much-respected star but isn’t as loved as Sachin Tendulkar or MS Dhoni. Perhaps, it’s due to his self-admittedly brash younger days or his in-your-face aggressiveness that sometimes jars with the people and earns him his share of brickbats.

In that note to a 15-year-old self, he wrote, “You will be loved by many but will be disliked too. By some who don’t even know you. Don’t care about them. Keep believing in yourself.”

On May 19, on the night he made a fiery fifty to turn around a lull batting patch in the IPL, he talked about love again. Even hard-nosed critics of his had seemingly turned soft in this season, rooting for him to score big runs. And Kohli had noticed.

“I have received so much love that I hadn’t seen before at such a large scale,” Kohli would tell as he collected his man-of-the-match trophy. “It was lovely. The kind of support that I have got this IPL, this whole time as well, I am very grateful and I am in a very blessed position. I have no complaints, regrets and (have no) hesitation in admitting that I have received so much love that I hadn’t seen before at such a large scale. I am forever grateful for that and very very happy to see.”

One of the side effects of the poor form has been the melting of cold hearts, especially triggered by his anguished reaction to his dismissal in an earlier game. As he walked back, he threw his head up to the skies, and seemingly mouthed “What more do you want from me?” When Harsha Bhogle brought that moment up, Kohli opened up further.

“In that spur of the moment you feel why it is happening to me? But if you go back to 2018 England (Test series) I was dropped on 22 and went on to score 149 (in the first Test in Edgbaston). The juggernaut of 2014 would have started again. But it didn’t (smiles).” The juggernaut he refers to is the downward spiral during that series when James Anderson repeatedly kept getting him out and it was off Anderson’s bowling that he was dropped in the first Test in the slips. Kohli then talked about how he had to keep it in perspective.

“I have had moments when I was dropped and then scored. If I stand here being ungrateful, it won’t be fair because I have been blessed with a lot.”
In a chat for IPLT20.com with Faf du Plessis, there were other fascinating revelations from Kohli about his turnaround.

Takeaway from a net session

Faf du Plessis asked him about the process before the game, and Kohli zoomed in on a 90-minute nets session that he believed helped. More than mere hitting in the nets, it’s how Kohli viewed the takeaway from the nets that stands out.

“It has been a very challenging time, no doubt about that. There are lots of things that are not controllable on the field and I have experienced that this season. One thing that stood out for me was my preparation in the nets (a day before the last game). I batted about 90 minutes on the go. All I was trying to do was to get into a positive frame of mind every ball I played.

“I wasn’t thinking what if the ball turns, or what if it seams or swings, I was just watching the ball and reacting. And telling myself to take the most positive option that I can possibly take. I just extended that into the game today. There are moments where you feel a bit doubtful. But as soon as the bowler runs in to bowl you have to tell yourself, just watch the ball and hit it.”

One such moment of potential doubt came pretty early in the piece when Mohammad Shami got the ball to hit the deck just back of length. In the past few games, we have seen Kohli approach similar balls tentatively. Umesh Yadav had got one to curve away with bounce from a similar length and he had poked out an edge. In another game, Dushmantha Chameera had one bursting up and Kohli had tried to ride the bounce in his usually wristy-waft sort of way, but couldn’t keep it down.

This time, though, his response was different. He just leaned forward to cream it on the up, through the line, and sent it soaring over mid-off. It was, he says, exactly what he had planned for in the nets session.

“The very first shot I played off Shami I felt like that [that this could be his day]. It was a length ball and hit it over his head. If I could hit a length ball over bowler’s head for a six or a four, I know I am in a good space as I am then not bothered about balls being pitched in right areas. If I can hit good balls, I know that I am going to get balls with which I can hit fours,” he told Bhogle.

High intensity is back

The knock also stood out for his intense pumped-up reactions, usually seen while fielding, but watch during his batting itself here. An inside-edge off Hardik Pandya that missed the stumps and ran to the boundary triggered a fist-up roar. The dug-out didn’t miss the reaction.

“That little inside edge, that little first pump…,” Mike Hesson, RCB’s director of cricket operations, would later say. “We know when Virat’s in that frame of mind — good luck!” We could see from the sidelines that he brought a huge amount of intensity out there.”

The man closest to him on the field Du Plessis saw the funny side of that reaction. Over the years, Kohli has been at it against International oppositions, including several games that featured du Plessis on the opposite side.

“That thing I have hated all the years playing against you (du Plessis smiles and Kohli laughs), I have loved playing with you today! It was awesome to see you get so pumped up with every boundary. I had a lot of fun,” du Plessis would say. “The intensity you brought into the game – it was a big game for us. All of us didn’t doubt that a big game was around the corner for you. Once you come to a big game, you want your big players to stand up and to see your intensity out there today was special.”

There was one other thing in the du Plessis interaction that was important in the larger piece of the Kohli puzzle. Over the years, he has started slowly, preferring to anchor, not extending himself, even if it meant a few dot balls or singles in the early part of his stay.

He tells du Plessis that during the first time-out when the coaches came out to discuss the way forward, the captain’s reaction to not to complicate the situation helped. “They came to present their plan and I heard you say, ‘let it go as it’s going,” Kohli says.

“If we had over-complicated it at that stage, we could have probably given a few dot balls to guys that we ended up attacking.”

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Du Plessis “respond to that with controlling his own ego” and how he was keen not to try to match Kohli shot for shot but Kohli’s statements are vital. It’s in those kind of meandering dot-balls-or-singles scenario that he has often slowed down in the past, and it’s what makes his approach of letting the hitting wait till the end overs a bit anachronistic for a top-order batsman in the current-day T20 format.

“Because we weren’t discussing too much, not complicating too much, the situation was dictating to us what to do,” he would say. And the situation dictated to him to keep attacking and he took on the likes of Rashid Khan and co. But whether he can keep up with this style of play or not in the future remains to be seen and that will dictate his viability in the Indian T20 team. The batting coach Sanjay Bangar had earlier in the season talked about Kohli’s intent to take on the spinners more than usual though that didn’t of course play out that way.

But that’s for another day, in the here and now, Kohli would be thrilled that his fallow run has ended.

In that note to his teenage self, a couple of years ago, he had ended with an emotional note about his father, who died when Kohli was 19. “Now you’re thinking those shoes dad didn’t gift you today. They mean nothing when compared to the hug he gave you this morning or the joke he cracked about your height. Cherish this. I know he can seem strict at times. But that’s because he wants the best for you.

You feel that our parents don’t understand us sometimes. But remember this – only our family loves us unconditionally. Love them back, respect them and spend all the time you can with them. Tell Dad you love him. A lot. Tell him today. Tell him tomorrow. Tell him more often.”

And now, after a flood of love from the fans rushed in – something that he isn’t quite used to by his own admission, he has happily thanked them. “I am forever grateful for that and very very happy to see.”

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