A dismal IPL 2017 for Royal Challengers Bangalore immediately after the high of a Test season that saw India reach the top of the ICC rankings has helped Virat Kohli grow as a player. Kohli was thankful for the learning curve, but admitted the circumstances leading to Royal Challengers' last-place finish were bizarre. Even as Kohli's own form wasn't bad - 308 runs in 10 games - Royal Challengers managed only three wins in the season.
"After the kind of season we (India) have had, when you have a tournament like that it teaches you about yourself as a person at a few levels," Kohli said in Mumbai ahead of India's departure for the Champions Trophy. "From the mindset point of view, it made me realise that you can't possibly do everything in every game. Sometimes people might start looking at you like that, but as a human being you need to understand your limitations and you need to take a backward step.
"It was so bizarre, everything we tried was just going against us. I have never experienced that in a side, you know, not eleven but all the fifteen guys in the squad were in the mindset. Maybe it was to teach me that you need to balance things out and take a backward step in how much you can do on the field and how much intensity you can play with, maybe choose your phases.
"As I keep getting older, I think those things need to be a learning as well because you don't want to burn out too quickly. I was pretty fortunate that I got to experience that kind of a time. It teaches you a lot as a captain, it teaches you a lot composure-wise. You take away a lot from failures, and that's something I have always cherished."
Kohli, however, dismissed talk of the Champions Trophy being a redemptive opportunity after he managed only 134 runs in 10 innings during India's Test tour of England in 2014.
"The atmosphere around us is built in a way that that becomes like a life or death kind of series, especially for sub-continent cricketers which I don't understand why," he said. "If players [of other countries] don't do well in India and they go back, there is no real hype around it. But, if we don't do well away from India, then it's a knife hanging on your neck.
"I would never play for redemption. My only motivation is to keep winning games for my country, and it doesn't matter the conditions I am playing at. It might be in the subcontinent, might be England, Australia and South Africa. The aim is always to win games, and I am willing to do whatever I can in my abilities to be able to achieve that for the team."
From the team's perspective, Kohli felt India couldn't afford a slow start given the short and intensive structure of the Champions Trophy. In that respect, he said, the degree of competitiveness in the Champions Trophy was higher than in the World Cup. "In a World Cup, you can still have league games and you have yourself to get into the World Cup and maybe dominate in the later half. But in the Champions Trophy, you need to be on top of your game from game one," he said.
"If you are not, then your chances go down pretty soon. I think that's the biggest challenge in Champions Trophy and something that all the players love playing for sure.
"The first challenge is not to think about the fact that we are defending the title. When we went there the last time, we just wanted to enjoy ourselves as a young unit and we ended up winning the tournament, and we ended up creating a team that has done so well so far."
India head into the tournament as defending champions, having won in 2013. Kohli felt three factors played a major role in India's successful campaign in 2013: the opening partnership, R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja's spin bowling, and the robust fast bowling and fielding.
"I felt these three were our strongest factors in the last championship. And, we believe these are the three factors that determine how you play in conditions such as England and how far we can go in a tournament like the Champions Trophy," Kohli said. "The revelation of Rohit (Sharma) and Shikhar (Dhawan) as an opening pair was a great thing to see for all Indian fans and for the Indian team as well. Plus, Ash and Jadeja were on top of their game anyway, but the way the fast bowlers bowled and the way we fielded - I think we were the best fielding side in the tournament.
"Ruthlessness is something that we definitely speak about all the time. Even if we close the series off we want to win it without losing a game or maybe drawing a game as well, if possible. We go in with that kind of mindset, and I think that goes a long way in a tournament like this. If you can think about the games in that manner, I think you will get the results you want more often than you want."
When asked about the roles of Yuvraj Singh and MS Dhoni in the middle order, Kohli said their styles freed up the rest of the batting unit. "In the team, they are the ones that know best how to build a match, how to win games and how to take the team out of difficult situations. It was good to see both of them express themselves in the last series and enjoy batting alongside each other," he said. "It's something they have done in the past without any burden.
"Even the players at the top are more confident, and overall it was very good for the team. It boosted the team environment in the change room as well. If two such players are in good mindset, then it changes the outlook of the team. I believe they are our two strongest pillars, and the team benefits when they are in a good mindset."