'Kohli will be hailed as one of the best-ever Indian batsmen in years ahead'

Floating like a butterfly, Stinging like a bee! Virat Kohli flies through the air in ecstasy, after completing his maiden Test hundred at in the Adelaide Test against Australia. Inset: Rajkumar Sharma, Kohli’s coach © Getty Images

 

Virat Kohli is one Indian player who has weathered all controversies, criticism and rampaging Australian bowling attack with creditable flourish to emerge as the most successful Indian batsman in the recently-concluded Test series against Australia Down Under. People were calling for his head after his uninspiring performance in the first two Test matches. To compound the matters, he flipped the bird on the third day of the second Test at Sydney after he was vehemently abused by the crowd. His gesture was captured on the TV cameras and media went into the overdrive savaging his obscene gesture. He was fiend 50 per cent of his match fee.

 

Everything seemed to be going against the young man, who has proved his mettle in the ODIs and was striving to cement his place in the Test team. But the third Test at the Western Australia Cricket Association (WACA) ground at Perth turned the tide in his favour. Undaunted by all the hoopla surrounding his performance and conduct, he exhibited tremendous sangfroid and composure to unleash the splendid innings of 44 and 75. Though, Australia won the Test by an innings and 37 runs, Kohli top scored in both the innings of the Test for India. And his finest hour of the series came in the fourth Test at Adelaide Oval when he became the first, and only, Indian batsman to score the century in the Test series. This was also his first Test hundred and corroborated the fact that Kohli is here to stay. He is also top the Indian averages and aggregate for the series – 300 runs at an average of 37.50.

 

To learn more about the man of the moment, Cricketcountry spoke with Rajkumar Sharma, Kohli’s coach from the time he was eight-year-old kid and the man who has been instrumental in shaping the young Indian batsman’s career. 

Excerpts from Sharma’s exclusive interview with Navneet Mundhra:
 

Cricketcountry (CC): You must be absolutely thrilled by Virat’s performance in the tour Down Under, especially what had happened before the Perth Test?

 

Rajkumar Sharma (RS): Yes, of course! He has been a vital cog of India’s ODI team from last couple of years and has done extremely well for himself. But I always wanted to see him coming good in Test cricket. I have always believed that Virat is a better Test batsman than an ODI batsman. And what added sheen to his performance was the way he overcame all the circumstances. The odds were stacked against him; he was hauled by the Australian crowd, media and a lot of cricket experts. But like a true champion, he overcame the odds and came up trumps. It’s a reflection of his unflinching self-belief and killer-instinct. I’m extremely proud of him.  Virat has really come of age on this tour of Australia.

 

CC: What was going through his mind after the Sydney debacle? Did he contact you? If yes, what advice did you give to him?

 

RS: We talk on phone almost every day. After the Sydney Test, he was obviously disappointed about what had happened. He was also unhappy about his performance. I told him to be calm, and put the past behind and concentrate on the next game. I advised him to be cautious while playing the cover-drive and flick off his pads early on in the innings. Having known him from so long, I knew that he was just one good innings away from gaining confidence. He’s a man of steely resolve and doesn’t buckle under the pressure. Perth’s performance infused the impetus in him and Adelaide saw what he promised me.

 

CC: What did he promise you?

 

RS: He got two half-centuries in the last Test of the home series against West Indies at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium. I told him that he should have converted at least one of them into the hundred. He promised me then that he would notch up his maiden Test hundred in the series Down Under. I’m elated he has managed to do that.

 

CC: Virat doesn’t pull the punches whether he is on the field or off the field. There is a section of people who thinks he’s abrasive, arrogant and sophomoric. What’s your take on that?

 

RS: For all those people who say Virat is sophomoric, let me illustrate an example. When he was an 18-year-old kid, his father had passed away when Virat was playing a match for Delhi against Karnataka. He was batting on 30-odd runs when he got the news of his father’s untimely demise. I was in Sydney, and he called me to inform about his father’s death. His father was close to me, and I was completely taken aback. Virat was in tears, but he told me that he wanted to continue the innings to help his team win the match. That was such an emotional moment for me, and I knew from there that this guy would surely go places. He resumed his innings, scored 90 runs, and then went home to perform the last rites of his father. Tell me, how many people would do that – 18-year-olds, in particular? The incident speaks volumes of his commitment and dedication.

 

Virat is an extremely passionate and forthright. He’s very competitive and plays the game with utmost sincerity and zeal. He doesn’t take nonsense from anyone. If someone says anything inappropriate to him, it fires him up and he becomes more determined to perform. I do believe after what had happened in Sydney, he became more tenacious to stamp his authority. He is anything but arrogant. He takes enormous pride in playing for India, and his sole objective is to perform to the best of his abilities, and win matches for India. At times, when the opposition is trying to push you to the wall, one needs to step up, and take the bull by its horns rather than being stoic. This sends the message that no one can take him or his team for granted. He backs his words by his performance. Adverse circumstances always get the best out of him. Even when he was a kid, the spunk and exuberance were unmistakable in him.

 

CC: When did you start coaching Virat? What was the first thing which struck you about him?

 

RS: I started a cricket academy back in 1996-97. And on the first day itself, about 200 children enrolled in it. Within a week, Virat’s uninhibited enthusiasm and towering talent won me over. I was completely convinced that he’s a special talent. He was mighty inquisitive and would ask me deluge of questions. His eagerness to learn the nuances of every aspect of the game impressed me thoroughly.

 

CC: Who was his childhood hero? Who was his favourite cricketer?

 

RS: His favourite cricketer was and still is Sachin Tendulkar. When Virat led the India’s Under-19 team to final, Tendulkar called him and congratulated him. He wished Virat a bright future and told him that he’s looking forward to play with him for India. Virat was over the moon. It was the first time, he was talking to him, and the kind words from Tendulkar sent him into the raptures. He couldn’t speak for first two minutes but later he was jubilant.

 

CC: Has he changed after gaining name and fame?

 

RS: Not at all. He’s still the same guy he used to be. As a cricketer, of course, he has evolved over the period of time and sharing the dressing room with the likes of Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman has made him a better batsman but on a personal level, he is still the same. His friends, likes and dislikes and the way he talk to people, haven’t changed much. He still gets admonished from me when he doesn’t measure up to my expectation. He’s like my son.

 

CC: Which are your favourite innings of Virat?

 

RS: In ODIs, it is the century against Australia at Vizag. India were chasing an imposing target of 290, and lost two early wickets. Virat batted with supreme aplomb and helped India win the match. In Test matches, his innings at Perth, and century at Adelaide are special. But his best is yet to come. He will play a lot of spectacular innings in the time to come.

 

CC: Virat is touted as the future captain of India. Do you think he’s equipped with the wherewithal to lead India in the future?

 

RS: Virat always likes to lead from the front. He always wants to be two steps ahead of his opposition with regards to strategy and thought process. Even when he was a kid, he would like to bat at No. 3 if an early wicket fell. He’s never afraid of taking the initiative and always love to take attack to the opposition. He’s the first one to perk up the boys when the chips are down. He’s intrepid and his energy and vigour rubs off on his team-mates. He listens to everyone in the team, and remains completely involved in the game. I strongly believe that he has the trappings to be a good captain.

 

CC: Any shortcomings which you think Virat must work upon?

 

RS: He’s trifle over confident. He’s so gifted a player that everything seems so easy to him. And he thinks from his heart and at times, let his emotions get the better of him, like at Sydney. I am confident that with time, age and experience, he’ll become more composed and discreet while retaining his indomitable spirit. He’s a quick learner.

 

CC: Where do you see Virat going as batsman? What are your hopes from him?

RS: Virat’s prodigious talent is acknowledged by one and all. I’m sure that few years down the line, Virat will be considered as one of the best batsmen India has ever produced. He has the technique, temperament, and talent, all the essentials which make a batsman world-class. Virat has been doing exceptionally well in ODIs and T20s, and he has demonstrated his temperament in the Test arena as well. It is very heartening to see him going great guns in all the formats of the game. As a coach and a father figure, it gives me enormous pleasure seeing him taking the world by storm. 

 

(Navneet Mundhra is a dreamer who has no delusion of grandeur about himself. He is an eternal learner brimming with passion and compassion, a maverick who swears by perfection and integrity and an avid reader, devout philharmonic, die hard movie buff and a passionate writer)