Young Virat Kohli loved eating and partying; sacrificed taste buds for fitness: Shreevats Goswami

Kohli's U-19 WC pal says his captain led from the front outside the field as well

India Under 19 Cricket Teen titans: Goswami (first from right) and Kohli (centre) were part of the U19 World Cup-winning team in 2008 | AP

I met Virat Kohli for the first time at the National Cricket Academy during a zonal under-17 tournament. I was representing East Zone and he was playing for North Zone. He was a flamboyant and fun-loving character who stood above the rest.

After every match in the U19 World Cup we used to visit a cafe where we would check Orkut to find out what people in India were saying about our performance.

He never shied away from showing his intent, or cracking a joke. He does not hide anything; he is what everyone sees of him. And he remains the same. When we meet today, he interacts in the same manner. People say he has changed over the years. A 35-year-old man will not do the immature things that an 18-year-old boy once did. That is the law of life.

Young Virat loved eating and partying. During our Under-19 World Cup in Malaysia, we often went out and Virat used to lead the pack. We partied wildly after the win. In Malaysia, we saw Virat the fashionista. His dressing sense and how he carried himself was new for many of us. He liked good clothes and sunglasses.

But Virat’s off-the-field behaviour did not get him in any kind of trouble or disciplinary issues. He was always sincere about his cricket. I remember that after every match in the Under-19 World Cup we used to visit a nearby cafe where we would check Orkut to find out what people in India were saying about our performance.

The world saw Virat Kohli for the first time in the Under-19 World Cup but we got a glimpse of the legend at an early age. Many players around us were satisfied with good scores in a few matches. But Virat wanted to score runs in every game. He wanted a century in every match. Even a 90 would disappoint him. The hunger in him was unparalleled.

The first step towards his journey of becoming a legend was his decision to follow a strict diet regime. No doubt he was talented, but there is a limit to what talent can achieve. He realised the importance of fitness and sacrificed his taste buds. I know how much Virat loved eating. He loved chhole bhature and street food. For that person to say that he doesn’t eat food for taste but for recharging his body with the right amount of protein and carbs is beyond my understanding.

Virat also worked hard to improve his skills as a cricketer. We all saw his struggles in England in the early days. His hunger for perfection drove him to success in England as well.

In his early days, his offside game was not strong enough. He relied heavily on the onside. That is why he was troubled in England. But he worked on his skills so much that his cover drive became not only one of his most productive shots but also a classic feature about him.

The mental strength that he has and the way he has conditioned himself is beyond anyone’s imagination. His mental strength has taken him to a zone where only elite athletes can reach. And he loves big occasions. He always aspired to be the star of the show. Throughout his career, it helped him perform on big stage. Virat combined all these perfectly to be the most complete cricketer. His numbers will speak for him long after his retirement.

As told to Niladry Sarkar

Goswami played with Kohli in the U-19 Cricket World Cup in 2008 and Royal Challengers Bangalore.