Ravi Shastri spoke to Sriram Veera a day after the India-Pakistan World T20 game at MCG where Kohli played his best-ever T20 knock.
Perhaps, it’s best to start with a feeling that I didn’t have when I was watching the greatest T20 knock by Virat: I wasn’t surprised. I was waiting for this to happen. I knew this would happen in Australia. Just check his record here – the pitches suit him plus he loves playing on these grounds and in front of the fans here. His record against Pakistan has always been good and it was a big situation: cometh the hour, cometh the stage, cometh the man.
I got emotional when it was all unfolding. I have seen what he has gone through in the last couple of years. We all know the recent context. Did I have something to say to him at the end? Frankly, not a thing. We are a country with short memories; topi masters of the world! We flip, change in two minutes. Kohli knows what I feel. I know what he feels. What’s there to be said? Not a thing.
There is also a neat touch of deja-vu. In 1985, at the World Championship of Cricket tournament, our first game was against Pakistan at the MCG in Melbourne. We won. We would beat them again in the final at the Big G. Now, if India Pakistan face off again in the final, wouldn’t it be great? Is there an Audi going around in this tournament?
— Ravi Shastri (@RaviShastriOfc) October 23, 2022
In all my years of playing and watching India vs Pakistan, those two sixes off Haris Rauf are two of the greatest shots played by an Indian batsman. The only comparison is Sachin Tendulkar’s six off Shoaib Akhtar in Centurion in 2003 World Cup. These are two of the greatest cricketers of our time. Tendulkar’s knock had some of the magnificent shots played in white-ball cricket against Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Shoaib Akhtar. And then this Kohli knock. These two are the biggest knocks I have seen where quality fast bowling has been taken apart.
To understand how Kohli did it, we have to rewind to that break he took. Not just the captaincy blues and the surrounding mess, but for the last couple of years, the pandemic had taken its toll on many players. All the blessings that cricket can afford – money, security, modern-day perks – is one thing but to go through this insane period was something else. Sportspeople were, in some ways, in crazier bubbles than most others. The travel, being stuck in a room for hours, feeling lonely, and still having to perform – only blokes who have been in that position can ever tell you its story. I happened to be one of them.
I saw the effect of it on not just Virat Kohli but players around the globe. Ben Stokes is a prime example, as he has himself shared. I respect him for what he did that time: take ownership and talk about the mental blues. I had said at that time he could be the first of many.
And when I saw Kohli struggle in the IPL, I felt he needed a break. That’s why I strongly felt he needed a break. I am a doctor’s son after all!
He had the opportunity for a month to see within and reflect. When he came back for the Asia Cup, I wasn’t bothered about foot movement or any such. I was only looking for the body language. I saw composure and calmness. I knew he was on the right track. Just as he was in the game last night.
I would mention Hardik Pandya here, he helped Virat to stay on the right track. Virat would later say that when he was on 11 from 21 balls, he thought he was “making a mess of it”. Hardik Pandya played a massive role. Cricket is a very lonely game when you are out in the middle, the only companion you have is your non-striker.
Hardik did a fabulous job. He reignited as a champion. In that cauldron of the match situation, you need a person to tell you in your ears simple stuff. I know Hardik for a long time; he won’t hold back. He will tell his partner what’s needed to be said. Same is true for Virat. This is the beauty of these two cricketers whom I love.
And what a cauldron it was, what pressure. To win the match, they had to take down the Pakistani pacers who are fast, furious, and very skilful. We saw that Hardik wasn’t able to connect with his big hits. Kohli had to step up.
That’s the time the wrist helps. And more importantly, the Green Man doesn’t intrude in your head to do something silly, stupid. It didn’t, and Kohli started to flow.
Only a fresh mind would have allowed him to do what he did in those final 5 overs. What that month-long break did was to make him fresh again. Only a fresh clear mind would have allowed him to play this gem – without any unnecessary things floating: just a clear head.
The one thing that was needed in his T20 game was to pace his innings better with strike rate as per the modern-day demands. That format has evolved. Once he saw the need, put his mind to it, he too evolved.
With Virat, my association started in 2014; it’s been 8 years now. I love the other young cricketers too but with Virat, since he was the captain and I was the coach, it was obviously a different relationship.
It was his character that stood out for me then. When I took over as coach, honestly, chasing silverware wasn’t in my mind. It was to infuse steel. At the end of day, cricket builds character. You will make mistakes on the way, you will learn on the way, you come from different backgrounds, you are put into different difficult situations and it all comes down to character. He has it.
I went in there, little knowing we will be No. 1 Test team in five years, little knowing we won’t win an ICC tournament – – my job was to infuse steel. The rest will follow. It has.
I saw something similar to myself in Virat. To start from No. 10 and to open and do what I did, I am proud of it. You need balls. Virat is a superior talent than me of course, but I sensed a similarity of character. That drive. That steel.
I saw an uncut diamond. When I saw him going through stuff in the last year or so, deep inside I wasn’t bothered as I knew he is too tough a character. I knew he would bounce back; the only thing was he needed to be in that space to self-reflect. Here is where that break helped. He is a wiser man now.
Without that temperament, he couldn’t have done what he did on Sunday night. It’s the best ever T20 game I have ever seen. For the first time I felt a T20 game was like a classic Test match. The ebbs, the flows, the pressure, the skill … it was a Test match of a T20. My cricketing take away from the game would be those two sixes against rapid pace in that situation. Unbelievable. Those will stay in my mind for a long time.
For him, this knock would have helped in rediscovery: of himself, his love for the game, what he can do, and the road ahead. Clarity would be crystal clear; it’s usually a byproduct of confidence. The rediscovery of things he would have fathomed during the break.
For the cricketing world, he was a superstar even before the knock; now let them decide what he is to them. I am not going to put in words for them.
What’s next for Virat Kohli? I have no expectations, just let him enjoy his life. The media and critics have put enough pressure on this uncut diamond and he showed who he is. Chup kar diya na sabko?! (He has silenced everyone, right?!)