Virat Kohli lives in our heads, rent-free

Throwdowns and majestic pulls: Kohli hits the Adelaide nets (1:17)

The India captain batted and bowled at training, entertaining a sizeable crowd at the Adelaide Oval (1:17)

"If you want to win a series away from home, it has to be an obsession. And once you are obsessed, changing your decisions according to opinions is not an option at all. Instinctively, you have a gut feeling of playing a shot or bowling a particular ball. And inside if you feel good about doing something in a particular Test match, you should just follow that. You can't change for someone else."

In the concrete bowels of the SCG, Virat Kohli climbs the steps and takes his seat at the table, behind the microphones, facing around 35 journalists and more than a dozen cameras.

India lead the series 2-1; the Border-Gavaskar Trophy has been retained but the historic series win is not secure. Australia could still draw the series with a victory in Sydney.

A journalist asks if history matters to Kohli.

"If you ask me very honestly, no," Kohli replies. "Because what's gone is not in our control and what is going to come is not something you need to think about. We need to stay in the present and focus on the things we can do."

Kohli goes on to talk about "the controllables" and regurgitates the standard lines that a captain is wont to do when the game ahead means everything and a loss is too awful to contemplate. Best to minimise and deflect expectation. Control the controllables. Focus on the present. Any Test victory is special.

The table in the press conference room is draped with Cricket Australia's slogan in its attempt to reconnect with fans after an annus horribilis: "It's Your Game." It could be there solely for Kohli. It's his game, after all.

Before the series started, it was all about Kohli. It's always about Kohli. Six months earlier, in England, it was the same, and it precedes every other series involving India. How do you stop him scoring? How do you take his wicket? Can he be provoked? Will he provoke? Is his captaincy up to the mark? What about that other time Kohli did that thing and people reacted?

Indian fans laugh at the opposition. Kohli lives in your heads, rent-free, they say. They are right.

Kohli has moved in, set up his furniture and is sitting on his comfy couch in a smoking jacket with his slippered feet up, watching a highlights reel of a historic series victory. If he smoked, he'd be puffing on a stogie. If he drank, he'd be sipping a fine whiskey.

But it's not just opposition fans, it's India fans as well. It's the media in every country he visits, it's the media at home.

The phenomenon that is Kohli could not have happened in any previous era. There have been other rock-star cricketers in India, from the moment Sunil Gavaskar became a national obsession, to the age of the venerated Sachin Tendulkar, but they came before the world transformed into its own social media microcosm.

ALSO READ: Bat, breathe, bat: the essence of Kohli

But it isn't also just a question of timing. Kohli is a magnet for attention because of who he is as a cricketer and a person. His playing style is as attractive, domineering and entertaining as it is technically and tactically sound, and as a result, it seems to eclipse all else. A video of his nets session in Adelaide caused worldwide rapturous swooning of Beatlemania proportions. In terms of the contest about to unfold it was meaningless. Kohli himself had a modest - by his ludicrously high standards - series, although his century in Perth ranks among the best of his career. A more telling video would have shown Cheteshwar Pujara modestly practising his forward defence and his patient leaves in the Adelaide nets - turn sound on for the gentle thwack and whoosh of the ball hitting the net, folks! - but that wouldn't have generated the views or the clicks. It's all about Kohli, Kohli, Kohli.

Fox Cricket commissioned at least two promos for their coverage in Australia that feature only the visiting captain. One shows him in action with the bat - familiar scenes: smiting the ball, interspersed with intense close-ups and the message, The King is Coming. In another, a cartoon Kohli appears smiling in different heroic guises: as a flying Superman, as Usain Bolt striking his winning pose, as Ethan Hunt carrying out a Mission Impossible.


You suspect he is acutely aware of his own magnetism and uses it to the team's advantage. Last time India toured Australia, Kohli was majestic with the bat, took over the captaincy from MS Dhoni, and lost the series. This time around, with all eyes and cameras on him again, Pujara and Jasprit Bumrah were the chief destroyers; one an immovable object that blunted Australia's bowling attack, the other an irresistible force whose quirky, jerky catapult action scythed through the fragile batting.

But Pujara is so modest and quietly unassuming, he fades to almost invisibility around his more boisterous team-mates as they cheerfully mock his inability to dance. And Bumrah is the smiling puppy of the team, bounding around the field and politely answering questions with the refreshing demeanour of a newbie who suddenly realises he is one of the world's best bowlers and can't quite believe it.

Kohli, meanwhile, sucks eyeballs and camera lenses his way. No other player has their own islolated camera follow them for such extended periods of time. Whether it's intentional or a natural consequence of his animation, even on days when India are fielding, the agency photo files are crammed with Kohli shots. And why not? He glares, he laughs, he gestures with more intensity than anyone else.

ALSO READ: How Kohli has changed India's attitude

The moment of his century in Perth was pure Virat. Having withstood a peppering by the quicks and a stinging blow to the elbow, he leaned into a slightly overpitched delivery from Mitchell Starc and imperiously drove straight back down the ground past the bowler to equal Sachin Tendulkar's tally of centuries in Australia. He pointed to his bat and made talking motions with his hand. I let my bat do the talking, he seemed to be saying. But Kohli doesn't just talk with his bat. His hands and his eyes do plenty of talking, whether it's flipping the bird as a tempestuous youth, admonishing Joe Root's mic-drop celebration with his own, or blowing kisses to his wife. After Bumrah took six wickets in the first innings at the MCG, Kohli doffed his hat in a show of deference as they walked off. That image, more than the one of Bumrah holding up the ball, was the one that captured the imagination. Even when he tries to shift the spotlight away it's impossible for him to hide.


"With the stump mics and cameras and all these things, honestly, when the bowler is bowling you aren't thinking whether the stump mic is on or the camera is on or not. And when you are facing that ball, literally there is no one in the stadium apart from you and that ball. So, these things are totally irrelevant, and you are actually not aware of them when you are on the field. It's never bothered me, it's never been something that's of importance to me."
Players say such things all the time, of course. They don't pay any attention to the media or fans or critics, they tell you. But Kohli gives the impression of being more intensely focused than most. Perhaps his ability to switch off the outside world was gained when he suffered a great loss. He was 19, playing a first-class match for Delhi, when his father passed away. He famously went on to make 90 runs.

Now he has to shut out the obsession of the entire cricketing world, and since the start of his relationship with Anushka Sharma, the world of Bollywood celebrity. He sits in the intersection of scrutiny few others inhabit. While there is adoration for actors, they don't have to bear the responsibility of carrying an entire nation's obsession with them.

The media feeds on Kohli as much as he feeds them. Run a story about Kohli and you'll get clicks. Videos get views, social-media posts get likes. Mention him in a tweet at your peril, such will be the passion and sensitivity of the response. Some love him, some hate him. When Kohli plays well, he is the story, when he doesn't play well, he is the story. It's a never-ending circle between the man, the fans and the media.

At ESPNcricinfo, as at any other media organisation, it becomes a matter of editorial judgement and even debate: go for an easy win or search for something else? It's not always a straightforward answer; you can't ignore the story of the day. Some journalists hate it. Others enjoy it. Many accept it. The plethora of random photos available beg to be used. A day in the life of his helmet. A series of his reactions.

Around 45% of this site's Instagram posts from this series feature Kohli. Sometimes an intervention is required. Conversely, you can't ignore the world's best player. Because here you are, reading almost to the end of another piece centred on a man we don't really know.


"What I do or how I think, I am not going to take a banner outside to the world and explain that this is who I am and you need to like me or stuff like that. These are things that happen on the outside. I literally have no control over that."
We can only guess at what life must be like at the centre of this hurricane, but he at least gives the impression of residing in the calm eye. In the final days of the fourth Test, with victory in the series all but assured, Kohli seemed more relaxed than he had ever been. After becoming just the second Indian captain to enforce the follow-on in Australia, he walked out and took his place at second slip, next to Pujara. He looked over at Ajinkya Rahane in the gully and laughed. After bad light forced the players off the field, he was laughing with Ravi Shastri and the umpires. The intensity had made way for satisfaction.

Kohli walked up to the dais on his own and collected the trophy, a moment alone on the stage. When his team-mates joined him on the stage, he handed the trophy to Mayank Agarwal and stood to the side. But there was no missing his presence.


After the celebrations, in the concrete bowels of the SCG, Kohli climbs the steps and takes his seat at the table, behind the microphones, facing about 35 journalists and more than a dozen cameras.

India lead the series 2-1; the Border-Gavaskar Trophy has been retained and history has been made.

A journalist asks if history still doesn't matter and, just for a moment, the standard replies of inward focus and shutting out the world are put aside. He smiles.

"We all play mind games, don't we?"

Because whether we - or he - like it or not, Virat Kohli is living in our heads.