I Have Surprised Myself: Virat Kohli

RCB captain elucidates on his rich T20 batting form and his chemistry with AB de Villiers.

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The age old adage about the sport of cricket is that it is a game of uncertainties. And nothing brings out the fickleness of cricket more glaringly than Twenty20. It is a format where consistency is but a dream and form is like a schizophrenic bull – a useful friend on the farm one day and a raging rebel the other.

But Virat Kohli, with his recent incredible streak of T20 numbers, has shown that with a stringent work ethic, unflinching belief and utmost respect for your craft, this bull can be tamed by its horns. Sample this. In 11 matches so far in VIVO IPL 2016, Virat has 677 runs, including three centuries and four fifties – three of which are scores of 75 or above.

The latest of Virat’s incredible display of T20 batting was, perhaps his best of the season. On a Bangalore pitch that has got dry and slow over the course of the tournament, the Royal Challengers Bangalore captain plundered 109 off 55 balls. His accomplice was that champion named AB de Villiers (129 off 52), who once again mesmerised with his unearthly batting skills. Together they pummelled the hapless Gujarat Lions bowlers to the tune of 229 runs and secured a 144-run win for RCB.

In a chat with Virat after the match, we, at iplt20.com, ventured to find out the key to the man’s consistency in cricket’s most mercurial format. Virat graciously spoke about his processes and methods while batting in T20s and the chemistry between him and AB de Villiers.

Three centuries in the last seven T20s. This kind of consistency in this format is unheard of. Do you have any idea how you have overawed all of us?

I am surprising myself a little bit here, to be honest. Of all the three centuries I really didn’t think I’d get there when I was batting. Because you are thinking about the team’s score – and we try to score as many runs as possible in the final overs – I ended up getting there. That is the most important thing in this format. When you keep the team’s goal in front of you all the time you end up achieving your milestones along the way. That feels sweeter. Right now, after the game is done, I can feel the happiness of what I have done. But at that particular stage I did not think that I want to go for a hundred. I just wanted to see the ball and hit it for a six. Simple.

Your approach to a T20 innings is very similar to that in the ODIs. You start off sedately and then build the momentum along the way. Is that something you have adapted in your T20 batting?

I understand that I am playing pretty well right now and that teams would want to frustrate me. I see that they have plans outside the off-stump for me and they keep two fielders on the boundary straight away. They want me to do something stupid. At that point you need to understand that they want you out. They would rather not have you batting on 15 off 20 balls because they know that once you get in you will cash in later. But I have come to terms with that. I don’t mind playing run-a-ball for the first 20-25 balls because I know that I can get 40-45 runs in the next 15 balls. Nowadays I back myself to do that. Now I believe more in my ability to hit sixes or pick gaps for boundaries in the final overs. As you correctly said, it is pretty much how I approach an ODI innings – play with caution initially and then go for the big shots.

Your incredible ability to pace your innings makes you a master in run-chases. Could you tell me a bit about the process – is there a calculator constantly ticking in your head?

My whole approach when it comes to run-chases is again that I only have the team’s score in mind. I don’t think what I am doing. I have a goal in front of me and when I am going for a target I forget how much I have scored or how I am batting. All I think about is how many runs and balls are left, which bowlers to target, where the gaps are, where and when do I get the boundaries, etc. All those things keep you focused on what you have to do rather than what you want to do for yourself. Also, having my focus on the team’s score frees me up of from thinking about my score. It is a funny situation, because people say there is a lot of pressure when you are chasing. But I feel like I am more a part of the process when I am chasing a total. I have to build partnership with the man at the other end and together we think of how great a feeling it would be if we could get to the target. All this takes me away from the pressure of my own batting.

When a batsman is in the kind of form you are in, there could be a tendency to relax or try something new, take more risks. But you stick to your methods unflinchingly. Is that a big reason for your consistency?
It is a conscious effort, to be very honest. It is more like ‘Eat, sleep, train, repeat’. If you want to be consistent, you need to be boring with your training, your food and your batting habits. You cannot take the sport for granted. During the last match (against Mumbai Indians) I told Dan (Vettori, RCB’s head coach) that I felt like I could hit every ball of the first over from Tim Southee for a six. But I stopped myself because I don’t want to disrespect the sport. I want to build my innings in the same way every time I go in to bat. Sometimes I will get out, like I did in the last game. But as long as I know that I wasn’t getting ahead of myself, I am okay. Once you start taking the sport and your form for granted, a bad patch comes in and it makes you chase after every single run. And trust me, it is the worst feeling. Yes, you have to have confidence and faith in your ability, but at the same time, balance it out with respect for the sport and the willingness to do the same thing again and again each time you go out to bat.

You took Shivil Kaushik to the cleaners today. In the T20 age where spinners have become defensive, bowling faster and flatter, how do you capitalise to score against them?

I try and stay as low as possible and try to understand what the bowler is thinking. You need to get into the bowler’s head. When the ball is turning a bit, he will start to bowl back of length and won’t give you anything up because he knows that you can step out and hit him for a six – it was something that Jadeja was doing today. That’s when you need to stay on the backfoot. But when the chinaman bowler (Shivil Kaushik) came in later on, I knew he was not going to have a lot of control with his length. So, I was ready on the front foot. But I didn’t step out because I didn’t want to give him a chance to adjust and bowl back of length and turn the ball. (Virat hit Kaushik for four sixes and a four in the 19th over). If there is no turn in the pitch, even if it’s a flat ball, I would go for a six straight over the bowler’s head or over covers. Otherwise I try to stay as still as possible. As you mentioned, the timing of the stepping out is very important.

Now, you and AB de Villiers: The chemistry between the two of you is unbelievable. What is the conversation like in the middle? Is it a mutual admiration society out there?
Yes, it absolutely is. There is no conversation. There doesn’t have to be any conversation when batting with AB. More so, because we think very alike about how we want to bat and approach an innings. All we do is keep giving each other confidence and assuring each other, ‘Yes, you should go for your shots’ or ‘No, right now you should not go for the big shots’. That’s about the only conversation we have out there because we have such good understanding between us. We know what to do at what stage of the game, how to run hard, which fielder to target, etc. We understand each other so well because we are really good friends off the field. That helps. And it is a pleasure to bat with AB. I told him that today as well. The kind of shots he plays, you feel embarrassed. You feel like you can never do that. He sweeps the fast bowlers over the roof! I mean, I had never heard of something like that. This was our second 200-plus run partnership – we had one last year as well – and I am really grateful for these beautiful days.
© Shirin Sadikot
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