Virat Kohli is fiery. He’s also cool. In contemporary English, hot and cool mean practically the same thing. Both adjectives apply to Kohli, but in their original connotations too — when it’s really hot and fiery on a cricket field, Kohli manages to remain mentally cool. Some of his best innings have been played under immense pressure, against opponents who did their best to infuriate him with constant sledging.
Kohli’s ability to be hot-cool is amazing — it’s as if he’s managed to combine the monk-like serenity of Rahul Dravid with the irascibility of Ricky Ponting. It’s an amazing feat. How does Kohli, so competitive that he frequently gets into verbal clashes on the field, retain his calmness?
Cricket writer Vijay Lokapally, a 35-year veteran in his field, is possibly the best man to explain this. Lokapally has known him from the time when Kohli was a child making waves on the junior circuit, and clearly admires him immensely — he ends the introduction section with “Hail King Virat!!”
Kohli has himself said: “I don’t think any journalist knows me better than Vijay sir, who has seen me from my school days. I’ve started reading the book and trust me when I say, it is me. Just me.” Kohli’s endorsement of the book is significant, even though it’s not an authorised biography. Kohli is a serious cricketer and was perhaps delighted with serious focus on cricket in the book, and not on fripperies around the sport.
Kohli is the most widely written about Indian sportsperson of his generation. Fans know almost everything they want to know about him. But there are gaps too; mostly about how he became a teen sensation. In possibly the strongest sections of this biography, Lokapally traces the making of Kohli, a “chubby” and “restless” nine-year-old, who, surprisingly, was shy!
His coaches first noticed him because of his unerring and strong throw from the boundary — it told the coaches that the little boy had a ‘feel’ for the sport. Then, within 10 days of joining his coaching academy, he produced a very impressive shot, a flick over mid-wicket for six. The coaches realised that this kid was special.
Kohli’s rise was unstoppable, and Lokapally traces it with care and thoroughness. The book is full of insights from those who have seen him turn from a good prospect to a superstar — coaches, junior teammates, opponents, umpires and senior cricketers.
The most poignant — perhaps character-defining — moment in young Kohli’s life was the death of his father, when he was playing in a Ranji Trophy match. He was unbeaten on 40 on the third day of the match when he passed away. It’s well-known that Kohli, then 18, decided to continue his innings the next day and made 90 before going to the crematorium. Now, some fans feel Kohli was unfeeling in continuing his innings, but the book reveals that the lad was counselled by his coach and family to go and play. “Sir, the atmosphere at home is heart-breaking. My family and coach want me to continue with my innings. They’ve sent me to play,” Kohli had told his captain, Mithun Manhas.
This book is full of anecdotes and insights about Kohli and should satisfy his innumerable fans, though those interested less in cricket and more in his personal life are warned they would be disappointed.
Virat Kohli has a public persona that’s brash and aggressive, but Vijay Lokapally knows a Virat who’s respectful, quiet and down-to-earth. “He is very down to earth… Wealth and superstardom have only helped him grow as an individual who is aware of his role in the society,” says Lokapally. “I know he does plenty of charity.”
Lokapally remembers seeing Kohli, when he around 14 years of age, in 2002-03. “There was a lot of talk about him among local coaches. They spoke of the punch that he packed in his shots,” says Lokapally. “His growth has since been steady as a cricketer and phenomenal as a human being.”
He adds that Kohli’s brashness on the field is a “confidence-boosting trick”.
“He was brash for some time on the field but he has changed,” he adds. “Off the field today he is an epitome of good behaviour, a very pleasant icon, always ready to interact with fans and the audience at the stadium.”
Since he was named India’s Test captain, we’ve seen a new Kohli — he’s become more aware of the significance of his words and actions. For instance, he’s spoken about gender equality and state of women in the Indian society. “Captaincy has made him realise his importance in Indian cricket and of course the society,” says Lokapally. “He knows he is an icon and must not disappoint his young fans. He is hugely respectful to senior citizens and women. A perfect captain and icon.”
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