Master batsman Virat Kohli surely has a good sense of occasion. And it is not just about him scoring his world record-breaking 50th ODI century in a World Cup semi-final against New Zealand at the Wankhede, in front of the man whose record he broke - Sachin Tendulkar. Even as a teenager, when he was taking giant and confident strides towards becoming a member of the national team, he almost always rose to the occasion in big matches.
Coaches who have seen Kohli march confidently towards stardom remember him as a good listener, disciplined, and living up to their expectations.
Ajit Chaudhary, a former coach of the Delhi under-17 team that clinched Vijay Merchant Trophy in 2005-06, recalls Kohli’s consistency – and his ability to rise to the occasion -- that helped him attain glory.
“He scored heavily in those days, too, as a 17-year-old when he was part of the Delhi team, and scored centuries in a quarterfinal match against Uttar Pradesh, in a quarterfinal game against Baroda, and a crucial half-century in the final against Mumbai in Kolkata,” Chaudhary recalls while speaking to The Quint.
Batting at No.4, Kohli hammered 120 in the first innings against Uttar Pradesh that helped Delhi take a massive first-innings lead of 183 runs at the Jadavpur University Complex and stormed into the semis. In the semi-finals against Baroda, he was in ominous form, smashing a 324-ball 228 in seven hours that again helped Delhi take the massive 204-lead and enter the finals. Replying to Baroda’s 332, Kohli’s knock guided Delhi to 536 for six.
That double century came at the iconic Eden Gardens. A venue that he has a lot of history with. His maiden One-day International century was at that very ground, against Sri Lanka in 2009, and then of course, a few days back, he scored his 49th ODI ton to equal Sachin's record there as well.
Eden Gardens has been one of Kohli’s happy hunting grounds. He has tallied 431 runs at an excellent average of 61.57 in eight One-day Internationals so far, studded with two centuries and three half-tons.
Chaudhary, a former cricketer who represented Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia in the Vizzy Trophy, recalled an interesting incident before the semifinal game against Baroda.
“Cheeku, as we called him, came to me and sought permission to have his first tattoo made on his body. In those days, junior players always asked the coach or the manager to venture out. I grabbed this opportunity to challenge him: I told him if he scored a century against Baroda, I would give him permission to get it done,” he narrates. “And he hammered a double hundred that steered Delhi into the final, and we went on to clinch the trophy – and Cheeku got the first tattoo on his body.”
In the final played at the Jadavpur University Complex, replying to Mumbai’s 248 all out – thanks to Ishant’s five-wicket haul – Delhi made 289, with Kohli making the second-highest score, 56 off 124 balls at No.5 -- veteran politician Lalu Prasad’s son Tejaswi was the top scorer with 89 not out -- to help his team take the innings lead. In the second innings, Kohli made 13, as Delhi won by five wickets.
A Good Listener
While growing up, Kohli listened to his coaches and respected them, points out former India and Punjab batsman Gursharan Singh. He recalled an incident from the coach of the Delhi under-17 team that competed in the 2004/05 Vijay Merchant Trophy.
Himachal Pradesh had put up 366 in their first innings and Delhi, in reply, were struggling after losing two wickets for just 34 runs. Kohli came in to bat at No.4 and smashed a superb unbeaten 251 off 420 balls in eight hours that propelled his team to 421 for nine wickets before the three-day match ended as a draw.
“Kohli went in to bat just a couple of overs before lunch on the second day. In that brief while, he hooked a six-foot tall Himachal fast bowler, but fortunately for him and Delhi and the ball landed in the no man’s land. During the lunch interval, I explained to him that since the bowler was very tall, his bouncer would have a tennis ball-like bounce, so he should avoid playing the hook shot against him,” Gursharan told The Quint.
“He obeyed what I advised him, and didn’t play the hook shot from there on. He remained unbeaten at 75 at the end of the second day, and completed his century and then the double century on the third and final day,” recalled the 1992-93 Ranji Trophy-winning captain of Punjab. “This incident shows that Kohli listened to his coaches; he was mentally strong from a young age, was disciplined, and had a strong will power.”
Taking Care of Bats
While Kohli has used bats made by more than one cricket equipment manufacturer over the years, a man who repairs bats in Bangalore has had a hand in maintaining his willow. Veteran Ram Bhandari, who has repaired bats of many greats like Tendulkar and Mahendra Singh Dhoni, besides several from abroad, is happy that he has also played a role in Kohli’s achievements.
“During the 2023 IPL, Kohli sent his bat to me for repair. The bat was chipped out at the ‘sweet spot’ while hitting the ball repeatedly. I pressed it in the machine and cleaned it and returned it to him,” Bhandari told The Quint from Bangalore on Monday. The chip had come off the bat from scoring heavily in the 2023 IPL. He amassed 639 runs at 53.25 in 14 matches, comprising two centuries and six half-tons.
Bhandri gave a further peek into the details of Kohli’s bats. “Usually, his bat weighs between 1040 gms and 1050 gms. He uses this bat with a single rubber grip on its handle. And when he uses double grip, his bat weighs between 1160 gms and 1070 gms,” informs the 62-year-old bat maker.
Diet probably plays as crucial a role in a cricketers’ success as their skillset and other factors, like form, fitness, opportunities at the right time. And that is one facet of his career that Kohli has been very particular about which has, over the years, helped him shape both his body -- and, by extension, his batting.
Not surprising, therefore, that as he turned 35 on November 5, he continues to be one of the fittest cricketers in the world and one of the best fielders – besides, of course, one of the great batsmen. He is also disciplined, dedicated, and ambitious – all of which has made significant contributions to his becoming a well-rounded cricketer. All along he has kept a tight leash on his diet, breaking the monotony occasionally with a plate of chole-bhature.
One witnessed from close during the 2014 T20 World Cup in Dhaka how particular Kohli has been with his diet. A source in the restaurant of the hotel where the Indian team stayed during that tournament gave me a detailed description of the food and drinks he consumed – and all those were the most expensive items the hotel offered at the time. Kohli’s diet included pink salmon imported from Norway, and mineral water imported from France.
“Kohli has been having the healthiest food among all the Indian players, and those are some of the most expensive dishes available at our restaurants. Very few people, mostly foreign guests, go for these rich and expensive dishes,” my source had told me.
(The writer has covered cricket for over three decades, based in New Delhi. He tweets at @AlwaysCricket)