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'Kohli deserved better'

By HARISH KOTIAN
January 19, 2022 08:47 IST
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'Believe me, Virat will go out of his way to make the new captain comfortable.'

IMAGE: Virat Kohli stepped down as India's Test captain last week after a successful seven-year reign. Photograph: BCCI
 

Apart from his team-mates, family and close friends, only a few can claim to know Virat Kohli better than Vijay Lokapally, who has seen the cricketer from a very young age in Delhi and has documented his rise as one of the world's best in numerous articles over the years.

It was no surprise that he chose to write a book on Kohli: Driven: The Virat Kohli Story published in 2016 chronicles Kohli's rapid rise from Delhi boy to one of the world's best batter to a most successful Test captain.

Lokapally, who has more than four decades of experience reporting and writing on cricket and has written five books on the sport, is respected for his unbiased and insightful writing.

Lokapally, currently an editorial consultant with Sportstar magazine, speaks to Rediff.com's Harish Kotian about Kohli's decision to give up the Test captaincy and why he believes this could make him bat freely for the rest of his international career.

You have seen Virat Kohli closely since he took up cricket as a young kid in Delhi. What do you make of his sudden decision to quit as captain?

It came as a surprise because he is so intensely involved with Indian cricket. He always wanted to lead India and he never ran away from responsibilities as a player.

The decision to quit was obviously based on his own experience in the last one year, especially his relationship with some of the administrators who had begun to doubt Virat's integrity.

IMAGE: Virat Kohli with Vijay Lokapally. Photograph: Kind courtesy Vijay Lokapally

You interacted with him a lot while writing Driven: The Virat Kohli Story. Please give us an insight on Virat Kohli, the person off the field.

The book drew on inputs from so many players who grew up with Virat.

From his under-15 days to his elevation as a captain, I can only say that Virat has always been very respectful to his seniors. He values loyalty and that is why he has stuck with RCB.

He has stayed in touch with friends from his early days. He is at his best with kids and fans. He understands the importance of cricket fans who are the most important stakeholders of the game. I have found Virat extremely lovable in my interactions off the field.

We have seen Kohli's mental toughness early on when he came out to bat in a Ranji Trophy game a day after losing this father. Do you expect him to make a comeback from this recent setback?

He will make a strong statement this season itself. There are some technical issues hurting his form and knowing him I expect Virat to just concentrate on his game and serve the team with greater consistency now that his mind would be free from the burden of captaincy.

IMAGE: Virat Kohli formed a successful partnership with then head coach Ravi Shastri. Photograph: BCCI

He formed a successful partnership with Ravi Shastri as they took India to No 1 in Tests and consistent performances in limited overs cricket.
Would you say Shastri's not being there in the dressing room must have played a role in Kohli giving up Test captaincy so suddenly?

He had a great rapport with Ravi Shastri no doubt. Ravi gave him a free hand and backed him. But ultimately it was Virat who had to go out there and perform. The respect for each other worked well for Ravi and Virat.

His decision to step down as captain had nothing to do with Ravi not being there. Circumstances have been different for Virat under Ravi and now a new coach.

There was controversy over Kohli leaving the T20I captaincy after which he was removed as ODI captain. Do you feel Kohli didn't get enough support from the Board?

It was evident that he was not enjoying the T20 captaincy. The Board was right in deciding not to have different captains for the two white-ball formats.

Virat accepted the Board's policy with dignity and backed himself to excel as a Test captain. Virat was a champion in advocating Test cricket at a time when the five-day format was losing popularity the world

Kohli is India's most successful Test captain. He played a big role in improving India's Test record away from home, by getting together a world class pace attack and leading to memorable series win in Australia, Sri Lanka and also in England before the series was suspended due to Covid.
Did he deserve a better ending as the captain?

Who would not want to sign off in glory?

Imagine a scenario where Virat plays his 100th Test at Cape Town and India wins the match to make history. That must have been on his mind too, but unfortunately things did not go his way.

His final Test as captain ended in a defeat. For his awesome contribution to Indian cricket as its most successful Test captain, Virat deserved better.

IMAGE: Virat Kohli will feature in his 100th Test in the series against Sri Lanka at home next month. Photograph: BCCI

Do you see this decision impacting Indian cricket as they don't seem to have a capable person to take over as Test captain?

Not really. The national selectors will find a replacement. The game must go on and it will be great to see Virat giving his best when he takes the field under a junior as his captain.

Believe me, Virat will go out of his way to make the new captain comfortable.

What next for Virat Kohli? Do you see him making an impact with the bat without the extra burden of captaincy?

I am visualising a Virat who will not shackle himself at the crease. I am looking forward to a Virat who will play entertaining cricket.

He has many years left in him and you can just sit back and appreciate when he walks out to play his 100th Test next month.

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HARISH KOTIAN / Rediff.com

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