DUBAI: When Virat Kohli met the press following Sunday’s match against Pakistan, he instructed the media manager to not ignore anyone. It was his first interaction with the media since he relinquished Test captaincy in January.
These days, Kohli seems to exude an unusual calm. The chest-thumping persona seems to have taken a backseat. In the past, especially in press conferences, there would be an air of bravado around Kohli, a sort of in-your-face intensity. On Sunday, he appeared relaxed, laidback even.
His comments about MS Dhoni being the only person who messaged him after he gave up Test captaincy have now gone viral. But the crux of that statement was that Kohli believes he can now see through people. “When you have respect for someone and that’s genuine, then it looks like that because there is a sense of security on both sides,” he said of Dhoni’s gesture. “Somehow, I live my life with honesty, and I can see through these things. I won’t say these things don’t bother me, but you see the truth.” He spoke without aggression.
The past eight months have not been easy on Kohli. From being someone who called all the shots to having his place questioned in the T20 squad, it has been an unnerving time.
As head coach Rahul Dravid pointed out, the world has been obsessed with Kohli’s stats and his lack of form. On Sunday, he finally seemed to strike form in a crunch game and contributed a crucial half-century. By Kohli’s own admission, he has spent the last few months knowing himself.
Refreshed after a month’s break, Kohli now wears a smile throughout his practice sessions. He is comfortable when mobbed for pictures, there is no rush to leave. The constant frown has disappeared.
“As long as I am in a good space and confident, I know I can bat in many ways. It’s just about getting back in the groove and being confident about how you are playing,” Kohli said.
On the basis of Sunday’s knock, he seems to have rediscovered his groove. The whips over mid-wicket, the backfoot punches, the electric running between the wickets were all there. The jarring war cry may be missing but the fist pumps made up for them. Kohli may be in the process of shedding his inherent intensity and adopting a statesman-like calm.
Kohli’s record in T20Is is astounding but he now understands what was lacking in his game. “The middle-overs run-rate has also improved, something which I personally as batter took keen notice of. I know that is one area we need to keep improving on. Today, I was making a conscious effort to strike at a higher pace. I’ll continue to bat like today. Take the game head on, just bat freely.”
The much-talked-about break he took before the Asia Cup seems to have worked wonders. Kohli has already conceded that he was “faking his intensity”. The time off was more about introspection. “I have taken some time away, put things in perspective and it’s given me relaxation that this is not the be all and end all of life. I know what I can do for the team when I am happy in my space. To be in a bad space is neither good for me n or for the team.
“When I came here, I found the environment very welcoming. The camaraderie with the boys is amazing. The environment in the team is amazing. I am absolutely loving playing all over again and feeling good when I am batting,” he said.
💬💬 “We have a healthy team environment and I’d like to give credit to the Captain and team management for the same,… https://t.co/fNMvKiKFL0
— BCCI (@BCCI) 1662361432000
The outside noise, though, does get to him. He has made his hurt obvious with the Dhoni comment. But this period of persistent scrutiny has also helped him rediscover himself. Kohli said, “People have their opinions and that doesn’t change my happiness as a person. I can’t put so much pressure on myself that I am not able to express myself. That is not why I started playing cricket.”
Kohli can never be accused of shying away from challenges. In fact, he has sought them out. In Dubai, he has learnt to embrace them.