'I always wanted to be the best player in the world'
Virat Kohli has revealed that India's World Cup victory in 2011 spurred him to become "the best player in the world".
Kohli had an average outing in the last World Cup, scoring just 282 runs at an average of 35.25, with only one century, against Bangladesh in the tournament opener. But in the four years since, he has amassed some staggering numbers, firming up his reputation as one of the best batsmen in the world with 8047 runs at 51.25 across Tests, ODIs and T20Is, including 27 centuries. He averages more than 45 in each of the three formats in this period.
"When we ended up winning, it was a very special memory," Kohli told bcci.tv. "I couldn't really connect to the kind of emotion that all the other senior players had because they hadn't won it for so long. To see all that emotion come out, I really understood the importance of a cricket World Cup. From that day on, maybe even before that, I always wanted to be the best player in the world.
"I always wanted to be a player that will be known even when I finished my career as a cricketer. I never wanted to be on the sidelines or be one of the players in the side.
"I had that vision of achieving that goal and play the way our former greats like Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid or VVS Laxman have played over the years. I always used to wonder and ask myself, 'why can I not do that.' I told myself, 'if players before us can do it, we can achieve the same things.'"
Kohli admitted he hadn't expected to reach the heights he has over the last four years in such a short span of time. "You want to perform as an international cricketer, but you can't put a number to it; that you would reach a particular level in four years time.
"I never thought I would be at the position that I am in right now in the team. I didn't expect myself to get the number of runs that I have been able to get. I can't really complain about anything. I am grateful for whatever has happened in the last four years and I have cherished every moment of it."
Kohli also found himself in the saddle of Test captaincy after MS Dhoni's surprise retirement at the end of the Melbourne Test. It was "something I never imagined," he said, revealing that Dhoni's announcement made him break down. "I never thought MS Dhoni would retire this early from Test cricket and especially not in between the series for sure.
"That came as a shock and it was indeed a very emotional day for me. I came back to the hotel and I just broke down in my room. It was a pretty sad moment watching a leader who groomed all of us over the last few years, not playing Test cricket anymore."
As Dhoni's heir apparent in the shorter formats as well, Kohli said he had begun to observe the incumbent's tactics more keenly. "I have been vice-captain for the ODI side and I would always keep giving inputs to MS about the things that I felt he could use.
"Now, in recent times knowing the fact that I probably will have to lead the side in the ODIs as well in the future at some point of time, I see more of how Dhoni changes his bowlers, at what stages and situations of the game. I notice when he brings the spinners on, figuring out the strengths and weaknesses of the batsmen, the wicket condition and the field placement etc.
"I give my inputs as far as I can but it has increased after I was appointed captain in the Test series and especially now that I am Test captain as well."
Kohli said he was happy to play the "backstage role" as a batsman in the World Cup. "I have been given a role to control the innings in the middle, help the other guys express themselves more and play to their strengths and give that solidity that MS Dhoni has been giving in the lower middle order.
"Everyone has shared the load in the tournament so far and I have been happy playing the backstage role of helping bring that calmness and solidity into the batting. I am pretty happy doing that in the last two games as well."
Should India win the tournament for the second time in succession, Kohli said it would be a "memory to cherish all my life."
"You couldn't ask for two better places to play cricket. Wankhede [in 2011] was as loud as any cricket stadium I have ever experienced so far in my life and MCG against South Africa was unbelievable," he said. "I heard it was better than the grand final of the AFL; that was something very pleasing to hear. Once we reach the final, I can assure you there won't be a seat empty in the stadium for sure.
"This World Cup is a great opportunity for us to do something that has never been done in Indian cricket, which is to win it back to back. Especially in conditions away from home, not many people gave us a chance to even qualify. But we have won seven games in a row. People are looking at us as favorites now. The experience has been wonderful so far and if we end up winning it on that day, it will be a memory to cherish all my life."