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Asia Cup 2022 – Virat Kohli

Virat Kohli has opened up about his recent struggle to cope with expectations, workload and mental fatigue, saying he came to the realisation that he had been “trying to fake intensity a bit” in his determination to keep playing. India’s first Asia Cup match against Pakistan on August 28 will mark Kohli’s return to international cricket after a 42-day break following the conclusion of the tour of England in July.

“This is the first time in 10 years that I have not touched the bat in a whole month,” Kohli told Star Sports during an interview with Jatin Sapru. “When I sat down and thought about it, I was like I haven’t actually touched a bat for 30 days, which I haven’t done ever in my life. That’s when I came to the realisation that I was kind of trying to fake my intensity a bit recently. ‘No, I can do it’… being competitive and convincing yourself that you have intensity but your body is telling you to stop. Mind is telling you to take a break and step back… You can neglect it saying you are fit and working hard on yourself. That you will be fine because you are fit.

“I have been looked at as a guy who is mentally very strong, and I am, but everyone has a limit and you need to recognise that limit or things can get unhealthy for you. So this period actually taught me a lot of things that I was not allowing to come to the surface. When they did, I embraced it. Yaar, there is much more to life than just your profession. Or when the environment around you is such that everyone looks at only your professional identity, somewhere you start losing perspective as a human being.”

On Sunday, Kohli will play his 100th T20 international, and become only the second cricketer after New Zealand’s Ross Taylor to play a 100 matches in every format of the game – an indicator of the workload he has shouldered since his debut in 2008. And since 2020, no other Indian cricketer has played more internationals than Kohli’s 62 matches.

Kohli said that the demands of his schedule had affected his love for training, something that “disturbed” him and made him realise he needed “to step away” for some time. “I have always been a guy who follows his heart from day one… I never wanted or tried to be someone else, which in this recent phase I have been. I have tried to keep up to the demands and the expectations, not really felt my inner being completely, which this phase [away from the game] allowed me to do. I was experiencing that I’m not excited to train, I wasn’t excited to practice, and that really disturbed me because this is not who I am, and I literally needed to step away from that environment.”

Kohli said taking this break helped him rediscover his excitement for training and cricket once again. “When you are involved in such an environment, you are unable to see anything. When you remove yourself from there, then you realise what was happening to you. And this has been an amazing break. I never had this long a break, and the first thing I realise that I woke up in the morning and was excited to go to gym. Which isn’t a thing like, ‘oh I have to keep up with this’. So that was my first mark. You can tend to get carried away with so many demands nowadays… You have seen the results of what happened to Ben Stokes and Trent Boult… Moeen [Ali] retiring from Test cricket. These aren’t abnormalities but it happens, and people who are in touch with them know what’s happening in their lives.”
As Kohli prepares to make his comeback, his form will once again come under scrutiny. He hasn’t scored an international century since November 2019, and his T20 form hasn’t been great either. Kohli has played only four T20 internationals since the World Cup last year, and he scored only 341 runs from 16 innings for RCB in IPL 2022 at a strike rate of 116. While elaborating on his mindset, Kohli said he had been trying to push himself “into a zone of competitiveness” because it “was not happening naturally” and that he was feeling better after the break.

“I have been looked at as a guy who is mentally very strong, and I am, but everyone has a limit and you need to recognise that limit or things can get unhealthy for you”

Virat Kohli

“I’m feeling light now for sure, and it wasn’t just about the workload of cricket,” Kohli said. “Many other factors on the outside as well, which contribute to me going into that… Because you are playing with passion, with heart, but on the outside the perception is different and the value of these things is not being understood. That people are looking at you from a different lens. That is a reality check. That you can’t expect everyone to think and be like you. I got to realise that too.

“And intensity, as you said, I didn’t even realise I was faking it. I was trying to push myself into a zone of competitiveness. I am a person who wakes up and feels like, ‘Okay, let’s see what the day has for me,’ and be part of everything. My going through the day includes absolute presence, involvement, and that’s who I have always been. People ask me about how do you do this on the field, and how do you carry on with so much intensity, I just tell them I love playing the game and I love the fact that I have so much to contribute every ball, and I would give every inch of my energy on the field and for me it never felt abnormal. A lot of people on the outside watched me, and even within the team they asked me how do you keep up with it? And I just say: simple thing, I want to make my team win at any cost, and if that means that I’m gasping for breath when I walk off the field, so be it.

“That was not happening naturally. I was having to push myself. I didn’t know it… I had become this ideal kind of sportsperson to look up to. I get so grateful for the fact that so many people get inspired because of me, but you can’t stop being a human being because of that. I understand why people love you and support you, it’s because you were yourself always, and even in these moments I’m not shy to admit that I was feeling mentally down and this is a very normal thing to feel… I’m a human at the end of the day and that should be a thing or a space for people to say, ‘If he can experience this, relax it’s normal to feel this way’. It’s not abnormal, talk about it and discuss with people. No one will think you are weak… you will get help from people you never imagined, but we don’t speak because we are hesitant. We don’t want to be looked at as mentally weak. Trust me, faking to be strong is far worse than that. I’m not feeling any shame that I was feeling mentally weak.”

Watch live coverage of the 2022 Asia Cup on Star Sports and Disney+ Hotstar every day from 6pm IST onwards.

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