Courage under fire

Head above water: Virat Kohli runs for cover as rain disrupts an IPL practice in Bengaluru Photo: GP Sampath Kumar   -  gp sampath kumar

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How Virat Kohli bounced back from the darkest day of his life

Virat was on the edge now. Three matches had passed without a 50 to his name. His coaches counselled him rigorously. On his own, the boy had made up his mind to cement his place during his next visit to the crease. The opponent was formidable — former Ranji Trophy champion Karnataka.

But Virat was prepared. The first day was spent on the field as Karnataka piled up 299 for three with Robin Uthappa cracking an unbeaten 161. Uthappa failed to add to his score the next day, but Karnataka took a firm grip by posting 446. They reduced Delhi to 103 for five, with Virat (40) and (Puneet) Bisht (28) occupying the crease, both raw to the challenge. Virat went home tired. His world would change that night as Prem Kohli passed away due to a cerebral attack on December 19, 2006.

His father was no more and Virat was inconsolable. His mentor, guide, and friend, was gone. From now on, he would have to continue on a solitary fight — take on the harsh world where talent was seldom the password for success. Not that Virat was dependent on extraneous factors, but he was rudderless on that dark night at home. The sombre atmosphere in the house prepared him to be more responsible and disciplined in his quest for cricketing glory.

He waited for dawn. It was winter and the wait stretched to a point where he became distressed. His family was concerned. The teenager needed a distraction to overcome the grief. The family resolved that he had to resume his innings. Virat took the decisive step when he called Raj Kumar. The coach was in Sydney with the WDCA team, and was distraught upon hearing the sad development in Virat’s life. “I remembered his father bringing him to me with a request: I am leaving him in your care and you will be a coach and father figure for my son. I was speechless when Virat asked for my advice that early morning,” said Raj Kumar. Given the precarious situation in which Delhi found itself, 103 for five, Virat was presented with a challenge that would test his mettle. “I discussed the team’s situation and promised to call him back,” recounted Raj Kumar. It was a tough decision to make, but Raj Kumar was firm. He knew what Virat had to do. “Go and bat. The team needs you,’ Raj Kumar advised the grieving Virat.

For Virat, it was a way of paying tribute to his father who had always supported his ambitions to be a cricketer. The sportsman within gave Virat the courage to face this irreparable personal tragedy, and he was off to Ferozeshah Kotla to continue with his knock that had halted with the day’s play at 40. Mithun Manhas was leading Delhi, and had become reconciled to the fact that the first innings lead was hard to achieve. “I normally reach Kotla at 7.45 but I don’t know why I was at the stadium gate 15 minutes earlier than my routine. When I reached the dressing room, I saw Virat sitting (on the bench in the corridor) and holding his head. I was worried,” remembered Manhas.

“What’s wrong, beta?” asked Manhas. “I lost my father,” the youngster mumbled. “I was shocked and honestly did not know how to react,” Manhas recalled. “This was a situation I had not experienced. There were just the two of us in that corridor, and I looked around for a while to see if I could get someone to help comfort the boy. There was no one.” Manhas asked Virat to go home, but the latter responded promptly, “I want to play.” The Delhi captain asked, “Why? Why do you want to play?” “Sir, the atmosphere at home is heart-breaking. My family and coach also want me to continue with my innings. They have sent me to play,” Virat told him in a matter-of-fact manner. “I was stunned by the boy’s dedication even in this hour of grief,” said Manhas.

The dressing rooms soon filled up and routine preparations for the day’s play began. Word had spread about the tragedy that would irrevocably alter Virat’s life. The umpires — PS Godbole and MSS Ranawat — took their positions, but not before they had learnt of Virat’s personal loss. “Chetan Chauhan (Delhi coach) had told us about Virat having lost his father. I felt for the boy and admired his commitment. Delhi was in a difficult position and here was a youngster trying his best to save his side from embarrassment. I knew it was love for cricket that had brought him to the ground. He looked so normal. There were no signs of pressure or grief. I was overwhelmed with emotion when he took the strike. As umpires, we were a bit disturbed, but his attitude to his job was praiseworthy,” said Godbole.

Virat’s overnight partner, Bisht, was inspired by his teammate’s dedication. “I was also in my debut season just as Virat, but believe me he looked far more mature. I was speechless when we walked out to bat. Normally, we would have chatted, but this was a very difficult time. He was like a zombie for the initial period. His face was expressionless, and I felt sorry to see a lively character like him look so sad. I did not know how to react and took the best route — bat with him as if nothing had happened.”

A partnership developed. Outside the field, Chauhan simply marvelled at Virat. “I knew he was immensely gifted and progressing well from the junior ranks, but this side of his personality made me admire him even more. He showed tremendous grit coming to Kotla hours after losing his father. I offered him the option to return home, but he was adamant. I realised that day that this love for the game was going to take him far.”

V ijay Lokapally is Deputy Editor (Sports), The Hindu

Published on October 14, 2016

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