Mike Brearley believes genius requires a combination of the “instinctual” with “passionate devotion and hard work” and Kohli’s innings at Edgbaston, his 22nd Test century three months before his 30th birthday, was a perfect marriage of the two.
With Kohli now having completed 10 years as an international cricketer, there is little doubt that we are watching a genius at work, and one who transcends his sport. He was recently ranked No.11 in the World Fame 100, ESPN’s annual list of the most eminent athletes, and was the only cricketer in the Forbes Top 100 of the world’s highest-paid sportspeople last year, with estimated earnings of $24million.
In the UK we find it hard to comprehend the level of attention and adulation that Indian cricketers, and you in particular, receive in your home country. How do you cope with it?
When England came to India last, Alastair [Cook] asked me the same. Even players who’ve toured many times, it still amazes them how much passion and attention people have towards cricket in India. I said, ‘You just get used to it’. There is literally no other option. You cannot avoid it. I don’t try and fight it anymore. I’ve tried to do that in the past, where I wanted people to understand to an extent what an individual wants in terms of space and just to be able to have a normal life… for a bit! But that is very, very difficult to expect when you have so many people wanting to see you or meet you or are inspired by you. So I’ve come to terms with the fact that it’s just something you have to accept.
Does it help that your wife Anushka [Sharma, the Bollywood actress and film producer] understands what it’s like to be in the public eye?
That was one of the reasons why we got along so well, to be able to understand each other’s mindset and the demands of being in such a position. And also the fact that we are so similar in terms of the backgrounds we have. People do not understand us at all. They think we live a fairytale life and things are only of royal standards, but in reality we are really normal people. We are in the public eye so it seems too far-fetched for the public to connect with, but we lead a very simple life at home. And that’s how we like to live. We do something that is in the public eye but we never chose to be recognised in this way.
You’re one of the most influential figures in India essentially because, on a most basic level, you’re exceptionally good at hitting a cricket ball. Is that difficult to get your head around?
Ever since I’ve been with my wife we understand the responsibility that we have as known people back home. It’s not only in terms of inspiring people through what I do or she does, but how we portray ourselves as a couple as well, and to set the right example there – to teach people the right things to follow and not worry too much about what people are going to say, because that can be a massive factor back home. We take this as a responsibility of being in the position that we are. Even in cricket now, for me it’s not about what I want to achieve as a cricketer, it’s more to do with how I can inspire the next lot of players. I feel that is more of a responsibility now, and not merely going on the park and hitting a ball.
You play so much cricket, rarely missing matches and captaining India in all three formats. Psychologically, how do you stay on top of things and balance that with other aspects of your life?
I think there’s no limit to what you can do, as long as you’re happy doing it. I don’t believe that if you are busy in life in general that your sport is going to get compromised. A 24-hour day is a long time to be able to do things. Spending time at home is something we really look forward to, then my sport is my priority as well, but apart from that I do a lot of commercials, a lot of businesses as well, which I’m actively involved in. It gives me a sense of working towards something all the time. I don’t feel the burden at all, to be honest. I love having the opportunity to be so busy in life.
How do you relax outside of cricket?
We really enjoy our time when we come to other countries. We get to walk around and that’s very liberating, to be able to enjoy normal stuff like going out for breakfast or to coffee shops, because we don’t walk at all back home – it’s only getting out of our house, into our car and going wherever we want to go, then back into our car to go home. We love pets, so if we see dogs around we play with them. We can literally do whatever we want in terms of buying things or having something but to be able to enjoy and be grateful about life every day is something that we take very seriously.
How quickly have the last 10 years gone by?
I’m close to 10,000 ODI runs and I still can’t believe it; I walk out and I feel like I’m still a club cricketer playing my first match. I still have to get that first run. And I’m so happy and grateful that I still have that feeling and I don’t think, ‘Oh, I’ve done everything’. I still have that respect for the game that I had in my first match. I know that when that feeling dies off it’s going to be time. But the fact that it has gone on for so long, and it has made me work hard on my game – continuously, relentlessly – is so wonderful to experience.
How do you reflect on your younger self? Are there moments you look back on where you think, ‘I wish I hadn’t done that!’?
Yeah, the one thing I remember most is when I’d had enough of the Australian crowd at Sydney [in 2012] and I just decided to flick a [middle] finger at them. ‘I’m so cool’. The match referee [Ranjan Madugalle] called me to his room the next day and I’m like, ‘What’s wrong?’. He said, ‘What happened at the boundary yesterday?’. I said, ‘Nothing, it was a bit of banter’. Then he threw the newspaper in front of me and there was this big image of me flicking on the front page and I said, ‘I’m so sorry, please don’t ban me!’. I got away with that one. He was a nice guy, he understood I was young and these things happen. I really laugh at a lot of the things I did when I was younger but I’m proud that I did not change my ways because I was always going to be who I am and not change for the world or for anyone else. I was pretty happy with who I was.
Did anyone have to pull you into line in your early career?
There was my coach, Rajkumar Sharma, who was always looking at things from the outside and he understood me the most, after my family, because I had interacted him so much over the years. My family as well. Every time they felt like I was not on the right path they told me. But my coach was the one that was very stern with me. If I was doing something wrong he would make sure that he got that across, one way or the other. He was the only person I was scared of when I was growing up. I went into his academy when I was nine and even now I still speak to him about my game.
Yuvraj Singh said that when he tried to give you advice as a youngster you didn’t listen because you were so distracted by all the other things around you. Do you recognise that version of yourself?
Yeah, definitely. I look forward to guiding the young guys in the team to not make the same mistakes that probably I made when I was their age because I want them to have three more years of quality cricket compared to going up and down, struggling here and there and then finally finding their feet. If I see someone making the same mistakes that I committed and I cannot correct them, then it’s my failure. If I choose to stay quiet I’m not really doing my job. You don’t want to suffocate anyone but the mistakes I made early in my career, as Yuvraj rightly pointed out, I would not like to see youngsters make them more than once, because that’s just wasting such an important phase of their lives and careers.