It has been two weeks since 1.3 billion people's heart was broken in Manchester. From firm favorites to lifting the cup, the men in blue lost in the semi-final against New Zealand. It was a day where one the most dangerous batting line-up including the best top three failed miserably after been so consistent throughout the tournament.
But it is now the history which can not be changed but to learn from it and go ahead. Virat Kohli, the owner of the ship is doing exactly the same and back to his daily grueling routine. He talks to TOI about dealing with setbacks, inspiring his team, grooming upcoming youngsters and helping others through the Virat Kohli Foundation's Athlete Development Programme in an interview.
You are a role model to millions. People look up to you. How easy or difficult has it been to move on from a disappointment like the loss in the World Cup semifinal
I have learned most in my life from failures and setbacks. The worst setbacks have not only motivated me but also improved me as a person, made me understand the importance of those times more than the success. It makes you sit down and think about what you need to do now, build a roadmap for yourself. Secondly, these moments show you the people who are going to stand by you in tough times and the people who will jump ship.
Most importantly, it builds your character because suddenly this thing happens. When your belief is right up there and everyone's playing so well, and suddenly, you know, you've been outplayed. It's very difficult to digest because you know you didn't make many mistakes to be knocked out. When you make mistakes, you can point them out and take ownership of that but when you have been outplayed then the acceptance becomes difficult. You wake up and think you didn't do much wrong but we are still out.
How do you deal with the team in such times?
What we have spoken to the team is that you should be proud of the way you have played and must never forget that. The moment you start taking credit away from what you've done, you start putting unnecessary pressure on yourself. The important thing is to be humble about what you do but at the same time, don't beat yourself up to the extent that you lose your admiration. That balance is very important.
There are young cricketers coming through the ranks. You are now in that phase of your career when you are seen as a statesman, a leader and a mentor tasked with strengthening Indian cricket. How do you look back on your journey?
If you give up, the journey is done. There's no option but to get up again and work hard, do the same things over and over again. Consistency and success is nothing but repeating the same things day in and day out. It's actually boring. Consistency is boring. It's very tough. It's like being in one zone and being repetitive about what you practice. For example, look at how people practice one shot in golf. They keep doing it even though they may be at US Open champions. They will keep doing it over and over again because they know that is the only thing they can bank on under pressure.
Cricket has been your life till now. Do you look beyond cricket now? Are you religious and spiritual in any way?
One thing I am sure about is that if you have the right intention, then whatever you are doing at that particular time, you'll be involved in that fully because you're doing it for a reason. If you are doing it for the optics or your image, you'll be found out very quickly. I have always maintained that I am someone who is doing things which are organic. I am not doing anything to either piss off or please anybody. I am this. Slowly, my path will be carved if it has to be and I'll get there if my intent is right. But I don't have to walk over anyone or do anything nasty to anyone else.
Eventually, you have to realize that life is way bigger than cricket. Cricket is everything to a professional cricketer when they are at that moment. Eventually, my goal in life is giving the same kind of upbringing that my wife and I had to our family. Those things become your priorities. You have to understand that this is going to end one day. I am not religious. I have never been bound by any religion. I openly embrace all religions and accept all kinds of people. I believe everyone is spiritual. They don't realize it but we are all the same.
Going ahead, what do you make of the new pool of players ...
To see the number of people coming up and ready with match-winning abilities is something that hasn't happened a lot that consistently in the past.
Do you talk a lot to guys like say Rishabh, Shubman, and Shreyas?
They are amazing. The level of confidence that they have is amazing to see. As I have mentioned so many times before, at 19-20, we were not even half the players these guys are. Skills have developed because of exposure to tournaments like the IPL. It's the best thing that can happen to a cricketer. They are so confident by the time they come here that they learn very quickly from their mistakes because they have already played in front of so many people. But the intent has to be that 'I am using this platform to play for my country'. And I think that these guys are in that zone.
How do you prevent them from losing track? Are you assertive or do you have to be harsh sometimes?
Daatne wala mahaul ab toh change room mein hain hi nahin (the culture of scolding people isn't there in the change room now.) As friendly as I am with Kuldeep (Yadav), I am the same with MS (Dhoni). The atmosphere is such that anyone can say anything to anyone. I am like walking up to people and telling them, 'dekh maine yeh galtiya kari hain, tu mat kar (listen, I have committed these mistakes, make sure you don't do them).
Your career improves by two-three years. I believe in empowering people. I believe in giving them space to express themselves and when they come to a stage when they feel jumbled, then I'll have a conversation. I'll talk to them like, 'this is where you are heading and this is where you have to head. These are the kind of things you should be doing. You'll regret not correcting those things early as I did. I don't want you to waste two-three years of your career. You have to play more than what you have played.
Do you relate to sportspersons of other disciplines? Are there any inspirations?
I have interacted with people at different stages and walks of life. Whoever I have spoken to ... I have met Leander and spoken to him about tennis, met Harry Kane recently ... despite different rules in different sports, if you look at people who have done well, the mindset is exactly the same. You speak about a pressure situation with any sportsperson, they will speak with clarity. That's a beautiful thing. That mindset of the sportsperson can bind the nation together and people don't realize this. Now imagine them applying that mindset in daily life, every walk of life.
There's the Test championship coming up. How do you plan for this kind of tournament that will have a result after a few years?
It's very exciting. I think it's happening at the right time for Test cricket. Although you are going to play a bilateral series, the meaning and importance are way more. You have to plan for every series. I was excited about something of this sort and now it's coming to life.
You have started a fitness revolution in the Indian team. What have you changed? Great fast bowlers of the past would advise players to keep bowling to develop bowling muscles. Why do you think intensive training in a gym is necessary?
It was not to stand out in any way. I realized after playing Australia in 2012 that the template is changing very fast in world cricket. These guys (Australians) are getting fitter. They are able to bowl consistently, bat for longer periods. Maarne ko ball hi nahin mil raha tha (they were not bowling loose balls.) I wondered how was it possible that over a period of four Test matches, you don't get loose deliveries to hit.
When we were batting, we had to work three times harder. Then I figured out that it's a question of fitness level. I wanted to improve my fitness first because I didn't want to be left behind. The way world cricket was going, I realized that if I stick to my ways and be stubborn about it then I'll never improve. I was doing my own thing on the sidelines and started seeing results.
Our trainer Shankar Basu was the first one to point it out to me that if you don't change your fitness level, then you'll not be able to compete at the level of these guys. He knew it from that time. I have been working with him for years. He changed the whole scene after he came in.
Are the youngsters told that if you have to play in Virat's team, then you must have a certain level of fitness?
No. I never tell someone, 'do this or do that'. I never sat anyone down and told them, 'If you have to play in this team then you have to do that.' I do my job. I work hard at the gym, at my practice. I will give my 120 percent.
Invariably, people see me and say, 'yaar yeh 11 saal se khel raha hain. Yeh chaahe toh aaram se yahaan baithke aaram se chill kar sakta hain. Issne itna perform kiya, yeh phir bhi aise kyu karta hain (this man is playing for 11 years. He can easily sit back and relax. He has performed so well and yet why is he going through this gruelling routine)?' So they feel 'hum kyu nahin kar satkte hain (why can't we do this)?'
It's not like they have been told to do it. That's how they come around the whole thing. You can see the difference in Test cricket. Our guys are not giving loose balls anymore. Batsmen fear our bowlers because they are able to bowl for longer periods regularly. They have clarity in their mind because their body is supporting their mind.
What are the biggest takeaways from your success so far?
I am very grateful. Honestly, when I came in I had no idea that God was going to put me in this situation. I never imagined this. I know I didn't have the skills. The only thing I had was (the ability) to work harder than anyone else around. I knew God will see that. That's exactly why we have started to help people through our foundation. We realize there are so many people with that mindset. Maybe their skill level is not right there right now but you never know what someone is capable of.
You are investing in Olympic sports through the Virat Kohli Foundation. It's exactly a year to the next Olympics. Realistically, where do you see our Olympic sports heading?
One thing that is lacking is support. Koi jeet jata hain toh hum toh react karte hain. Usse thoda zyada karne ki zaroorat hoti hi hain (if someone wins, only then we react. We need to do more than that). The idea, through my foundation, is to help someone attain peak fitness, to help someone in their journey. If someone needs coaching, mentoring, nutrition, everything is being provided. They have to work hard and they are doing it. They are driven. You just need to give them a platform. Eventually, it's the belief that they can win medals. If they believe, they can do it. We are all human beings competing against each other. At the end of the day, we all want them to bring glory to the nation.
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