Virat Kohli has made an important statement. Returning after a month-and-a-half long break from competitive cricket, the ever-popular cricketer was again reminded about his run slump – his last international ton was more than three years back.
Speaking to the Star Sports he didn’t dodge the issue. In the same breath that he acknowledged that he was facing the ups and down of professional career, Kohli said that he knew that he can be consistent again. The reason for his conviction was the life-lessons he had learnt.
“I know there are ups and downs, and when I come out of this phase, I know how consistent I can be. My experiences are sacred to me. Whatever I have experienced in this phase or in the past, as well one thing that I can ‘So, this for me, is an easier phase to process’.But I don’t want to put this phase behind me. I want to learn from it and I want to understand what are the core values that I have, as a sportsperson and as a human being.”
In these unsettling times, it wouldn’t be out of place to revisit an old and popular Kohli story. It shows that he is no lily-livered cricketer.
Virat Kohli meets Babar Azam in Dubai. pic.twitter.com/zYgQ76zksL
— Mufaddal Vohra (@mufaddal_vohra) August 24, 2022
A couple of years back, in the ‘In Depth with Graham Bensinger’ podcast, Kohli had given an emotional account of a life-changing day from his turbulent teen years. The world knows he first hit the headlines when he played a match-saving Ranji Trophy innings hours after his father passed away. But there’s much more to that episode. The child protagonist of that “once-upon-a-time” tale might have no resemblance to the present-day, seemingly vulnerable, former India captain but ask captains around the world — when it comes to Kohli a sulk should never be confused with surrender.
A bit of background, before the story
Five years before the death of his father, Kohli’s family moved to a rented accommodation to support his elder brother’s business idea. The enterprise on which the Kohlis had bet their house, would go bust. The unexpected setback would disturb Kohli Senior’s plan of making the baby of the family an India cricketer.
It wasn’t that the family couldn’t afford a cricket kit but to get spotted on the famously-corrupt Delhi cricket circuit you needed extra funds to grease palms and throw booze parties for officials. Kohli would say that his father, a self-made man more inclined to reach for his tool kit and not the electrician’s number when the fuse snapped, always believed his son would get into the team only on the weight of his runs.
Even if in a weak moment the elder Kohli had thoughts of obliging the sharks, he didn’t have the resources. To augment the family income, Kohli’s father would try his hand at online stock trading. Misfortune wasn’t leaving the family. The father’s account would crash, transactions would get wiped out and the Kohli household would face this second tremor.
Kohli Sr could never recover from it. He would suffer a brain stroke that would compromise his vision and paralyse him partially. For the young cricketer, a silent witness to the family’s slide and the tense faces of the elders at home, the sight of his once busy-bee, but now bed-ridden, father was too painful.
— Lakshya (@lakshyalark) August 11, 2022
In the wee hours of December 19, 2006, Kohli’s father had a cardiac arrest. The previous evening, the young boy, playing his debut first-class season, had come home excited. He was unbeaten on 40 in the Ranji Trophy game. It wasn’t to be thoughts around scoring a 100 the next day that would deny him sleep.
In the podcast, Kohli speaks about seeing his father take his last breath, the futility of pumping his chest and then running to a neighbourhood doctor’s home, banging the door in a frenzy but getting no response. They would drive to the hospital where the doctors would declare him dead.
The family was shattered, Kohli froze. To date, he hasn’t understood why he didn’t shed a tear that night. Nor could he figure out how he got the courage to call his coach and inform him that he would play the game. On reaching the Kotla, in the company of mates in the dressing room, Kohli would finally break down and weep inconsolably. But not for too long.
Soon, he would splash water on his face and walk out to resume his innings. He would score 90, avert the follow-on and get out to a dodgy lbw decision. Kohli would take off his pad and excuse himself. His father’s cremation was at 3.30 pm.
Towards the end of that long and draining day, Kohli would tell his brother about his plan. “I am going to play this game at the highest level and there is nothing that can distract me from doing that.” He would call his coach to tell him about his deep disappointment. It was about the “lbw” decision. This wasn’t the expected instant “boy to man” transformation; this was Kohli’s first step towards becoming King Kohli.
Science backs the theory that early-life disruption can prepare one for sporting excellence. A study in the UK divided 32 Olympic athletes into two groups — medalists and non-medalists. Scrutiny of their backstories showed how all medalists had to deal with parental death or divorce, abuse or came from unstable homes.
The early self-awareness about his in-built resilience would give Kohli a sense of being unbreakable. It helped him to soak up the pressure of leading a nation of unrealistic expectations and also trust his ability to bounce back when he wanted to mend his ways in 2012 and two years later, overcome depression.
After his early international success — he was a World Cup winner at 23 — Kohli, by his admission, “lost focus, went out for drinks with friends often and ate junk”. He also says it was the time when he was trying to fit into the “cool crowd”.
Then, one day, he took a long hard look in the mirror. He didn’t see an international player there. New goals were set. Kohli didn’t want to merely lose weight, he wanted to be Novak Djokovic, adopt his discipline and regime.
If the son of a pizza joint owner, Novak, could go gluten-free, the West Delhi boy too was willing to turn his back to his favourite meal — chole bhature at Rajouri Garden’s Rama — and also go gluten-free. He needed just one day to flip his entire life. Within 24 hours, he had changed his sleeping pattern, training schedule and diet. There were no cheat days, no U-turns till date. It had a lot to do with that wintry Delhi night of 2006 and the chat with his brother.
In 2014, after a disastrous tour to England, Kohli had faced a confidence crisis. He says he felt like the loneliest man in the world. He found it hard to sleep, and even wake up in the morning. He thought he had forgotten batting. Kohli would call Sachin Tendulkar, the oracle with all batting solutions. That would be the all-important first step towards complete healing.
In a way, by reaching out to Tendulkar, a circle was getting completed. Like the rest of India in the ’90s, Tendulkar was Kohli’s bio-rhythm. He recalls buying nibbles to settle in front of the television when his idol batted. In case Tendulkar would get out chasing a steep target, Virat couldn’t sleep. He would lay in bed dreaming how he would one day finish those tight India games.
When Tendulkar retired, Kohli was his teammate. The superstar-in-making would present a priceless farewell gift to the Master — the holy thread that was given to him by his departed father. It was his way of thanking Tendulkar for dominating his mind space, keeping him immune to distractions and introducing him to a brand of cricket that would be his coping mechanism all his life.
So does Kohli have it in him to emerge stronger after his slump? What’s loss of form for someone who has endured, survived and also thrived after losing his mental balance and his father while he was still in school?