Mature Kohli makes all the right moves
Virat Kohli comes to meet the press in a sleeveless shirt. An image of a Japanese samurai warrior with a sword raised screams out in a tattoo on his left shoulder. He looks relaxed; the musk he is wearing is called confidence. He was once brash but he was always ambitious. For a while he was living on the edge, struggling to come to terms with early fame, but his ambition has roped him in.
It was during an inane tri-series in Bangladesh in January 2010 that he first showed signs of maturity in public. It made you sit up and notice then. These days he wears it lightly. The clarity of thought is striking. He seems to be at peace with himself. It's no coincidence that his cricket too is flourishing.
Today's knock was yet another one from the stable of Kohli. He seemed always under control. The bowling wasn't too testing, the pitch had eased up and he rarely let the opposition into the game. Later, he said the right things. These days he always says the right things with a smile. The confidence hits you. The once brash brat is now almost likeable. Times they are changing.
"I was always determined to do well," Kohli said. "Probably what I was doing off the field was not on at that time. I probably got carried away. Someone or other always tell you that this has been spoken about you at this place. I decided to change. I decided myself. No one can force myself to change. I had to do it. It was time to change.
"I have been given a chance to play for India, which is not a small thing because you have 20 others with same talent are waiting for that kind of a chance. So why waste the opportunity given to me. I got the odd game here and there in 2009. I was a replacement player then. I was very determined to do well at each opportunity."
In the early days, the lack of consistent runs devalued the swagger that he always seemed to have. It made him look arrogant. Brash. Wild. Unlikeable. And even made you forget that he was just a young boy, learning to deal with things that not many at his age are forced to deal with. The bad press accumulated. The bad karma continued. Kohli was living in the headlines for the wrong reasons. A talent was on the verge of self-destruction. Then something happened.
"It's about realising that every opportunity is as important as the next one or previous one," he said. "Not everyone gets an opportunity to play for India. It's a big honour for me. I have realised that massively in the last one and half years. I want to give 100% and make use of every opportunity. Initially, in my ODI career, I have made rash mistakes with my rush of blood at important times. If you keep doing it, you are not going to get the opportunity. I enjoy my batting these days. Especially during a chase I know what I have to do, rotate the strike."
Questions about his attitude have dogged him for a while. Has he got bored now? "I think I have answered that too much," he said with a smile. "But I have enjoyed answering that question every time. I feel good with myself for having changed what people did not like initially and then transform into that performances. I feel good about it but it's not something I want to be too proud of and get relaxed. I don't want to get complacent. The whole point in changing from that kind of attitude to this current attitude to perform consistently. I want to keep going."
It's not going to be easy. It will take a constant vigil over oneself. The danger of relapse is going to be there. But Kohli continues to not only say but also do the right things. Sample this answer to a question about whether he strives to ape a Tendulkar or a Sehwag. In his own mind, he has translated that question to mean whether he is striving to be as famous as them.
"It was never in my mind that I had to be at the level of them in fame or whatever. Those guys have been there, done that. It has taken a lot of time to reach where they are. There is no point in comparing oneself to them. Everyone has their own style of batting. I have realised that in the last one and half years. I admire them but there is no use batting like them. Take the first match of the World Cup. If I had tried to bat like Viru bhai, I would have perhaps ended up scoring 40. They have a special ability that has made them legends of the game. There is no point in doing what is not my strength."
The answers were perfect. The cynics will say they were too perfect. His fans will say they come from a man who is in a hurry to mature. He won't say it publicly but one gets the impression that he thinks he can become India's captain one day. Kohli has always struck you more ambitious than a Rohit or even Raina for that matter. A scribe put it to him that he has a wonderful ability to talk and express, and asked if he works on that skill.
"I don't think I work on that ability (to express myself)," Kohli said. "It's about being honest."
Does he think it's a leadership quality?
"I can't say anything about it being (leadership quality). I am honest in whatever question is thrown at me at every press conference. I don't really work on it."
Virat got up and left the room. Ambition floated in the air.
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at ESPNcricinfo