A tete-a-tete with the coach recently feted with the Dronacharya Award.
There are not many who have the luxury of chiding Virat Kohli. There are not many of whom Virat is scared of, and there are not many with whom he avoids a direct eye contact. The person for whom Virat has utmost respect is Raj Kumar Sharma, his cricket and life coach.
It was at the West Delhi Cricket Academy in Paschim Vihar that Virat, aged nine, first learnt the basics of the game. Coincidentally, it was the first day of the newly-opened academy when Virat’s father got him enrolled. Since then, the two have shared a bond that has been built on knowledge and trust. If not after every game, Virat makes it a point to phone Sharma and the two not necessarily ‘analyse the game always, but also celebrate from time to time.’
Having shaped the career of one of the best Indian batsmen ever, Sharma’s contribution was recently recognized and he was deservingly bestowed with the Dronacharya Award. Not wanting to take any credit, Sharama thanked Virat for the prestigious award. “I think he is largely responsible for it. I owe it to Virat for his talent, hard work and work ethic. It is because of him that I have got the Dronacharya award.”
In an attempt to unravel the phenomenon that Virat is, BCCI.TV caught up with his coach to trace his eventful journey
The first impression
He was about nine years old when he first came to our academy. Within two weeks, I realized this kid was different from others. He was very enthusiastic. He was the sort of a guy who always wanted to do well in every department of the game. He wanted to be in the thick of things.
He had tremendous self-confidence even at that age. Naturally, he was in the junior group, but I shifted him to a higher group as he was good enough to play with the seniors. He had a god-gifted talent.
Learning a few tricks of the trade
Virat was technically skilled. He had power. At times, he used to play too many shots and I had to curb those. He played the flick shot a lot initially and I wanted him to play towards mid-on and he did get a lot of scolding for that. I didn’t’ want him to play square of the wicket. When I found out that he is playing the shot very well, we started giving him throw downs. The flick is now his bread and butter shot.
He played the cover-drive too very well and it was his favourite shot. Initially, he played the shot on the rise. I wanted to him to use it only for half-volleys. I have always maintained that once he is set, it is very difficult to get him out.
Once he was made the captain of India U-19, we prepared a separate wicket for him. I had good bowlers bowling at him on the net and he trained both in the morning and evening. Those bowlers would bowl their heart out as they knew they were bowling to an India player. It produced good contests and he did well against them. He would challenge them to take his wicket.
Success at age-group & NCA U1-15, U-17 and U-19
Once he got into the Delhi U-15 team, he started scoring heavily. He would score double hundreds. In the U-17, he scored two double hundreds. He had passion and temperament to play long innings. I always felt that he would be a better Test player because of his habit of playing very long innings. Fortunately, he has done very well in ODIs for India, but I still feel he is a better Test player because he has all the required qualities.
First signs of a leader
He is a born leader. He would go up to the captain and tell him what could be done even for club games. If a partnership wouldn’t break, he’d look to bowl himself. It showed he had confidence and leadership qualities. He has a very good cricketing brain and analyses the opposition very well. Even at a young age, he had qualities to understand the wicket and the opposition.
From foodie to fittest member
He was a foodie when he was young. He was very fond of chicken tikka and butter chicken. Whenever he came to my house, he would ask for chicken rolls. Over time he has changed so much that he is now very conscious of what he eats. Come what may, he won’t skip his gym sessions. Even when he has practiced for few hours, he will still go to the gym. He has controlled everything about his diet. The gym is a must for him.
Backing his attacking instincts
Aggression is his strength. There is a thin line between aggression and over-aggression. I have kept control on him crossing that line. Now he has got a very good head over his shoulder and he knows when to be aggressive and how to respond. I always tell cricketers to respond with the bat. He has also realized that the best reply is with the bat.
What you now see from him is controlled aggression. He is very passionate, which is good for the game. Virat looks into the person’s eye and conveys that I can compete with you and I am even better than you.
Holder of India’s Test Cap No. 268
I always dreamt that he would represent India one day. When he was called for the ODIs, we were very happy and we celebrated. It was the best day of our life when he made his Test debut (against West Indies in 2011). It was a dream-come-true moment. We never thought he would become captain (so soon) and he also says that ‘God’ has been very kind.
It is not about analaysing all the time. We celebrate his knocks. He knows the kind of shots I like and asks me if I enjoyed his batting.
Better against the best
We don’t set long term targets. I want him to take India to new heights. He should be remembered as one of the best captains we ever had and one of the best players India has ever produced.
Pressure to produce another Virat
There is a lot of pressure and lots of expectations. Virat is an inspiration to so many youngsters. Parents now look up to me with a hope that their kids will also represent the country one day. It is a challenge and we need to work even harder. We are sincerely working towards it and hope to have more cricketers play for the India.
© Moulin Parikh, BCCI