Updated: March 3, 2022 7:06:43 pm
Through Wednesday, Virat Kohli’s phone notifications would have buzzed constantly, particularly from the WhatsApp group titled ‘Under 19 Champions’.
Exactly 14 years ago, Kohli, a stump in his hand, had slid on the green grass in a Kuala Lumpur stadium, with Ravindra Jadeja in hot pursuit, after leading India to the Under-19 World Cup, beating South Africa in the final on March 2, 2008.
Now, with their “yaar” set to play his 100th Test on Friday against Sri Lanka, it was a deluge of emojis on the group, which was started during the lockdown in 2020 with all of its members from that Under-19 World Cup winning team.
This group never has a dull moment, its members tell The Indian Express. Apart from memories of Kohli’s spiked hair and aggression from then, memes and jokes, and constant leg-pulling sessions, happen after games.
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Like this one time, when left-arm spinner Iqbal Abdulla reminded Kohli about a mistake.
“As captain, Kohli had got so involved in a World Cup game that he forgot he had changed my field position. I was at deep midwicket and when the batsman hit the ball to square-leg, he sent me to field there. Soon, the ball went to midwicket, and Kohli lost his temper. I had to remind him of the sequence of events. We still have a laugh about that,” he recalls.
“Memes and jokes are passed on to everyone. No one is spared,” he says.
Tanmay Srivastava, the top-scorer in that final and the one who started the group, finds it amusing to recall the public perception about Kohli back then.
“People used to say, ‘look, he has attitude issues’. But when he began to perform, his attitude became aggression in their eyes! Many former players used to say, ‘bada khalifa ban gaya hai (he has become a big player)’. It was a comment on his attitude, as they saw it. But with consistent performances, everything changed. Now the same people say he is a confident guy,” says Srivastava, who was the captain in the run-up to that World Cup before being replaced by Kohli.
Srivastava, who was occasionally addressed as “bhaisaab” by Kohli in their teenage days, identifies aggression as the “X-factor” that set apart his old friend. “We were all match winners in that team but he was different because of his aggression. He was ready to take on anyone, without blinking. A rare quality, especially as no one then was used to such an attitude. He was different for sure, he had that X-factor, the spirit, the attitude of never giving up,” he says.
Another team-mate Pradeep Sangwan, the left-arm seamer, still marvels at Kohli’s dietary discipline “because I know how much of a foodie he was”. “He used to eat a lot. Mutton-rice, everything. He would even walk for kilometres to go to various food joints; the only thing that mattered was taste,” says Sangwan.
When did that change? “In 2010, when he came to play for the Delhi Ranji team, everything was different. He was eating boiled food! He wouldn’t drink more than 200 ml of liquid at a time. Rice-mutton curry had been replaced with diet food. I was surprised at how much he had changed himself,” he says.
Wicketkeeper-batsman Shreevats Goswami recalls Kohli’s big-hitting prowess. “He was the only one who cleared sixes with ease,” says Goswami who was also moved by the transformation in Kohli’s work ethic.
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“I used to meet him during the IPL and he never missed his fitness session. Most of the time, I saw him working out in the gym. His focus was way ahead of all of us. Often, cricketers do get lazy and have a ‘cheat day’ but Virat would never do that,” he says.
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