It was a rare opportunity to catch hold of star cricketer Virat Kohli in a relaxed mood in his hometown Delhi. As the India-New Zealand ODI series is on, the cricket juggernaut has rolled into the capital. There sat Kohli on the stage, relaxed, his white T-shirt teamed with a black leather jacket, his head down staring at his designer tan shoes, a bit embarrassed as the blokes on his either side—former Indian skippers Anil Kumble and Kapil Dev, his childhood coach Raj Kumar Sharma, former India team director Ravi Shastri and Delhi skipper and his senior in Team India, Virender Sehwag—sung a paean of praise while describing the making of Kohli, the cricketer.
The occasion was the release of the book Driven: The Virat Kohli Story by senior journalist Vijay Lokapally. Sitting in audience were a bevy of cricketers from Delhi—from senior players to his childhood friends who played with him. There was also his elder brother Vikas.
The book is full of anecdotes from Kohli's early days on the field. The good men on the stage didn't hesitate from sharing a few more with the audience.
As a junior cricketer, Kohli, in his own words, saw “a guy in the nets, his height, batting and he went over to join them, only to be shooed away as this was the seniors nets”. The guy was none other than Sehwag who played a prank on him—Sehwag was himself an U-19 cricketer then and was yet to enter the big league! A laughing Kohli confessed, “That day, and even now, I am very scared of approaching him (Sehwag)!”
His peers marvelled at how Kohli is still a humble cricketer. His biggest strength is his ability to be the first one to accept his mistake and take responsibility. Terming him an all-time great, Shastri, under whose watchful gaze Kohli took over India's Test captaincy, said, “What I liked about him being part of the dressing room was his simplicity. He is always brutally honest. Very disciplined, determined and leads by example. He sets a high benchmark with his work ethic—which then sets the bar for others in the dressing room and leaves no room for excuse.”
His childhood coach confessed that very little has changed with Kohli and the only thing that he ever had to curtail at times was his over-confidence. “He was always over keen on doing things and had to be reined in a bit. Otherwise, he has always been a very humble boy.”
Kumble had watched Kohli mature from a young, impetuous U-19 skipper high on victory, into a calmer, quieter senior cricketer—first as his skipper in the Royals Challenger Bangalore franchise and later, as coach of the Indian team. “When he walked into the RCB dressing room, he was all that his coach has mentioned. From there to what I saw of him in last 2-3 years, he has transformed. He owns up to mistakes. Doesn't shirk from accepting what is wrong.”
According to Kapil Dev, what stands out for him is that “Virat has raised the bar as far as fitness of the team is concerned. The fitness he displays and his teammates show on the field—they are all far, far ahead of us.”
Kohli, in turn, promised his peers and fans that keeping India on top in Test cricket is his highest priority. “We are doing our bit to keep Test cricket where it belongs—at the highest rung. A lot depends on how you play Test cricket and I would like to say that 23,000 people who turned up daily during the Indore Test deserved and got top quality cricket, which is our responsibility.”