Virat Kohli had already spent three seasons with Royal Challengers Bangalore when Daniel Vettori arrived from Delhi Daredevils before the start of season four of the Indian Premier League, in 2011. The New Zealand left-arm spinner marshalled the Bangalore franchise’s fortunes for two seasons before handing over the captaincy responsibilities to Kohli and taking over as the head coach.
The one-time Kiwi skipper has had a first-hand view of the growth of Kohli the batsman, the athlete and the captain/leader, and is clearly beyond impressed with what he has seen. In many ways, Kohli is the exact antithesis of what Vettori the cricketer was. The bespectacled Kiwi was a quiet, calm, unflappable presence on the cricket field, in direct contrast to India’s mercurial, aggressive, in-your-face captain. But Vettori identifies with the inner Kohli spark, his relentless quest to become the best in the business, and to lead by example in every way imaginable.
Ahead of Season 11 of the world’s most dynamic Twenty20 league, Vettori oversaw a brief conditioning and skills camp enveloping Indian representatives of the franchise currently not involved in international or domestic cricket. Having recovered from the ‘most intense auction I have been involved in’, Vettori took time off to speak to Wisden India on the phenomenon called Kohli, and his unmistakable influence on the RCB dressing-room and beyond.
“I am excited that he is having a rest at the moment!” Vettori began, clearly thrilled that his key man was finally listening to the demands, if not the complaints, of his body. After a high-intensity tour of South Africa, Kohli was rested from the Nidahas Trophy in Sri Lanka which India won under Rohit Sharma on Sunday (March 18). “He can have a little bit of a break (from time to time), though I am not sure he knows how to rest.”
Vettori has travelled alongside Kohli in the latter’s journey of self-discovery, and his sustained quest for excellence. “I am lucky enough to have seen Virat at all stages of his career,” the man with 362 Test wickets, 305 One-Day International scalps and nearly 7000 international runs observed. “He was here when I was the captain of the (RCB) team, he was young and trying to be successful, trying to find his way. To develop himself into obviously a fantastic batsman, and he is also one of the fittest people in world cricket… Those two things have set an example for all of Indian cricket. Everyone tries to train in a similar manner, it has taken the Indian team forward dramatically and I think that has been a testament to him, how a leader should be showing the way. That has built into his leadership as a captain.
“The thing I have found with Virat in particular as a captain – and obviously there’s two sides to it… There is the passion – to do whatever he can to win on game day on the field. He is very keen to win on the field on game day. And then off the field, he is very receptive to information, he is very receptive to listening and wanting to learn. He wants to get better as well as having his own thoughts on everything that is going on in the game of cricket. None of us can really appreciate the magnitude of his role and the pressure that is on him and how exhausting some of the schedule is. But he manages it better than anyone I have ever seen.”
There is no let-up in Kohli’s intensity at any stage of the game or at any level, but that isn’t something that comes as a surprise to Vettori. “There is a passion for cricket,” he said, matter-of-factly, as if to say that there was no need for further explanation. Then, acknowledging the unasked follow-up, he continued, “If you sit down with Virat, you are talking cricket most of the time. He loves the game and that’s the thing that keeps the passion going. Also, his personal success and his team’s success. But if you have an innate love for the game, it gets you through everything. I think that’s the point where he is at. He obviously wants to be the best in the world, he’s got the talent to do it but he has backed it up with intensity and also the desire to keep improving. That comes from a genuine love of the game.”
Kohli has set the benchmark that others strive to emulate, but what works for him need not necessarily be the best for the rest. Admitting that there was no set template that would work for all individuals, Vettori allayed fears that in trying to emulate the example-setting captain, there was a danger that other players might sell themselves short.
“The main thing is that they are all trying it (the Kohli way), seeing if it works for them,” he pointed out. “That’s professional sports across the world, athletes at their absolute peak. I think the example is great and a lot of the guys are following that example. They just have to find what their own levels are but I don’t think you’d ever want to deny them trying to get to that level.”