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Virat Kohli opens up on his mental health and his past with 'Not Just Cricket' podcast

Virat Kohli, speaking exclusively to the Not Just Cricket Podcast spoke about his depression and described the period as feeling like ’the loneliest guy in the world’, when his mental health suffered massively on the tour of England in 2014.

Kohli: On suffering with Depression (England - 2014) - 'The Loneliest Guy In The World'

I did. It’s not a great feeling when you wake up knowing that you won’t be able to score any runs, and I think all batsmen have felt that at some stage or the other, where you’re not in control of anything at all. And I just couldn’t understand at all how to get over it. I think that when you look back at a very difficult phase, you realise that you had to go through that phase fully to be able to understand what’s wrong and rectify it and move forward, and just open yourself up for change, accept that there are things that are going wrong. But that was a phase where I literally couldn’t do anything to overturn what I was going through and it was tough.

I felt like I was the loneliest guy in the world. And that’s what happens, you can really push yourself into a downward spiral, where you feel like you’re going further down with each day that passes. But when things turn around, you feel that maybe I was being too harsh on myself, I was putting myself down way more than what was required for me to change. So now I understand with years passing by, that there’s a line that needs to be drawn and beyond that line, if you’re going downwards, it’s absolutely not required.

Kohli: On coming out of Depression

For me, it was a revelation personally, that you could feel that lonely, even though you’re a part of a big group. I wouldn’t say I didn’t have people that I could speak to but not having a professional to speak to who could understand what I was going through completely, I think is a huge factor. And I think I would like to see a change, someone that you can go to at any stage, have a conversation around ‘Listen, this is what I’m feeling, I’m finding it hard to even go to sleep, I feel like I don’t even want to wake up in the morning, I have no confidence in myself, what do I do?’

A lot of people suffered with that feeling for longer periods of time, having seen a lot of people through the sport that we play. In the team environment, day after day on tour, maybe it carries on for month, maybe it carries on for a whole cricket season where people are not able to get out of it. The only alternative left after then is ’the guy didn’t do well, if he doesn’t do well for six more months, okay fine he’s out of the team, get a new guy’. But that doesn’t solve the issue. I think that’s a very serious condition that should be dealt with absolute detail and very carefully, and I strongly feel the need for professional help there to be very honest. Otherwise, you’re just left to figure things out on your own and more-so you’re expected to toughen up and just get over it. Sometimes people are not able to.

Kohli: On his childhood

Well, my childhood was like any other kid in India growing up, watching cricket, no-one really played any professional cricket, it was just more fun and games, playing with my friends in the park. But then, somewhere down the line I figured out that I have a strong passion for something and a passion that needs to be followed.

I was quite young. I used to play with the senior guys in my neighbourhood – tennis ball cricket on Sundays. I was able to copy most of the shots that I saw cricketers play on tv, and there was a friend of mine who used to watch cricket and understand cricket properly – he was a keen follower of the game – and he went ahead and told my father; 'Look, I think you need to enrol him into an academy. He can be very good at this sport, and he can learn it properly’. My father happened to see this academy in a certain part of Delhi and that’s where I first (at the age of 8) started practicing the basics of cricket, and I’ve been working with the same coach ever since!

Obviously the Indian team of the 90s really opened up my imagination as to what could be done in the sport, because it was so much different to anything I had seen before. Anything that anyone had seen at the time. And it just installed a lot of faith, a lot of belief in me that magical things can be done, that if an individual decides of believes that something can be done; it can be achieved.

So that’s where the spark started and from then on, this dream of mine, of wanting to play for the country, really started.

Kohli: On the feeling of unravelling cricket

I felt like I was just having the time of my life. Because you know there’s one thing that you can like something when you’re passionate about something, but when you actually start realising ‘listen, I actually can do this’, and that excitement just unfolds in your whole being and you almost have butterflies in your stomach every time that you play and something magical happens, your body becomes warm with absolute happiness and the pure joy of being able to do something that you always wanted to do.

I remember when I started learning the sport and the first few professional games that I played, and when I was able to play the most basic cricket shots and get boundaries off them, I felt like ‘Wow!’. This was something that I didn’t feel like I could do until about 10-12months ago and now I’m in this moment, living it, doing it, and it’s a reality right now. So every day, just the pure joy of wanting to learn, the excitement of things unfolding one after the other, just kept giving me more belief that this is the path I want to go in, and this is absolutely what I want to do in life and nothing else.

Kohli: On losing his father at 18

Quote from Virat’s mother: “Virat changed a bit that day. He matured. Cricket became very serious in his life and in our lives. It was as if he was chasing his father’s dream”

Yeh, when I look back at that particular time now, it’s probably the most impactful thing that happened to me at the time. You obviously go along in your cricket journey but after a stage, you figure out is this something I really want, and that incident really put things in a proper perspective for me. Because my father did work very hard in my initial days to make sure I would get the best cricket gear, or I continue with my cricket practice, there’s no problems in the enrolment in the academy, taking me to games here and there as well. So there was a lot of effort that went into it, and from there on it made my belief even stronger that, come what may, I’m definitely going to realise my dream to play at the highest level, and to represent my country.

I was always someone that took a lot of pride, and wanted to be the guy that wins the game for my team. And that incident really solidified that part of me even further where I felt like, if the situation is difficult, I believe that I can find the strength to overcome that situation, purely because of what I had faced from a personal point of view, with the loss of my father.

Kohli: On the toughness within him

I don’t think that I picked it up from my parents as such, I think it’s circumstantial as such, because I’m the third child in the house so I always had to show my participation in a way, announce that I want to be part of a group. I used to play with people who were 7/8/10 years elder to me, so to make a mark I had to be competitive, and that’s where I think this part of my personality started building up.

I was always the guy who everyone always understood had a lot of passion, and I loved the sport. A lot of the times, I was made to field all day, and then when it was my turn to bat, everyone went home, and I was the guy picking up the stumps and the bat and the cricket balls and going back home and keeping the stuff safe. And then I would come back on Sunday and hope that this time around it won’t happen.

So it was more to do with fighting your way through these small little things, and then even at age group level playing in Delhi, it’s very competitive. I was not a part of a very big club, not a very renowned club, so I had to fight my way through the system through my performances, through sheer number of runs that I scored to be able to be seen and to be able to be heard, and really announce myself that I’m there for selection.

Kohli: On needing to win, not wanting to win

It is in many ways. I would say the disconnect for many years now that people can’t seem to understand or can’t seem to process a lot of the time is that I’ve never worked towards creating a perception for myself that’s perfect from a world’s point of view. For me, what matters is what I can do as an individual and how much I can provide on the cricket field as an individual. I cannot fabricate things to look good in front of a certain set of people, that’s just not who I am. Because those things to me are not relevant when thee top priority is to try and win every situation, in every moment, in every ball for your team. And it’s not only down to that when I bat, I’m like that in the field as well. I sometimes, not sometimes, most of the time(!) celebrate more than my bowlers. And that’s just how I’m built. I believe that I need to give everything that I have on the field and then I can accept the result afterwards, but I need to sit down and think ‘have I given everything that I had on the field?’, and if the answer is yes, then I will accept that result thereafter and move ahead.

Kohli: On watching his animation in celebration

I think at the end of the day, what we all need to realise is that we all need to be our organic selves, and as long as we are being that are being to true to who we really are, then we are living life. Obviously there are things that you can’t cross the line and things that you feel ‘yeh, maybe I shouldn’t have done that’, there are mistakes along the way all the time, and characters are different – if you look at Pujara, his true self is how you see him on the field. So to expect him to come out of that zone and become really, really passionate in a way that I do it; it won’t happen. Similarly for me to go into his mould completely, would not be possible, so I think we all try and balance things out some way or another, understanding with maturity that the more you play, what are the things that cross the line, what are the things that don’t, but still have the ability to keep being true to yourself. Because if you stop doing that, then you’re really not doing something that comes naturally to you, and I don’t think there’s any satisfaction in that.

Kohli: On what it means to play for India, and his ambition for Indian Cricket

Playing for India is the absolute top priority for me. It’s a chance for me to represent 1.4 billion people. It’s a chance for me to inspire people, with what we do on the field, what I can do on the field as an individual, and that’s my driving force today. If you look back at how this team of ours has gone through a transition and come to where we are in world cricket, there’s a good reason behind that, that we are absolutely passionate to represent our country and represent in a way that it teaches competitiveness to people watching, that it teaches people that you can compete, you can beat anyone anywhere in the world, and when you’re getting on a plane to go and play in foreign conditions, you’re excited and not intimidated. And as long as we can instil that competitiveness and that believe in generations to come, then we have left this place much better than what we came into

Kohli: On representing India as a dominating force

Firstly, I think that all humans are equal at every level. There’s no reason why you can’t be equal to someone else, or you can’t stand up to someone else in any environment. You know that on the field of play there are many things that happen when people are not watching, and those are the moments that really bring you together as a team and say ‘Okay, the world doesn’t know what’s going on but we do, and this is the direction that we are going to go now, and we are going to stand together as a team’. I think at the end of the day when you’re playing competitive sport, that’s the mindset that you have to be in. If you’re going to go to a place and just accept defeat, I don’t think that’s an option at all, and you’d rather not play at the highest level if the mindset is that.

Kohli: On copying Djokovic’s desire to fulfil his 'golden years’, and not go off the rails

Absolutely true. I think the beginning of it was purely down to realising myself that I’m going to end up wasting the best phase of my career if I don’t get my system right, if I don’t have a proper routine, if I don’t become professional, I’m going to do injustice to my talent and the opportunity that God has given me. And that realisation was so strong that from the next day onwards I changed everything about my routine completely, from diet to working in the gym, to resting properly; everything changed from the next day onwards. And no-one else could have pushed me in that direction, and I strongly believe that anything that you need to change, needs to come from within you. No-one else can push you or force you to change, and you have to have the awareness to understand and make that change at the right time.

And thankfully that change happened to me in 2012 and from there on when I saw the results on the field, I told myself I’m never going back to my old self, because this is exactly who I want to be and this is exactly what I should have done from day one.

Kohli: On Physical Changes reaping Mental Rewards

It did. It made me mentally way stronger, it made me feel more comfortable about my own game, because I felt like I don’t really need to take risks at stages of the innings when it’s not really required. If the team needs quick runs, I can run six doubles an over, and I can do it for many overs in a row, without taking any risks. So I was happy, I was relaxed, I was comfortable with my game. The boundaries and the sixes and all that followed, but I was never in a rush, I never felt like I was in a rush at all. And that was purely down to the physical work that I put in. I think it gave me a more overall dimension to my game, which might not have been the case back in the day, probably compromised by taking too many risks and probably wasn’t consistent at all.

Kohli: Speaking to Sachin to overcome England 2014 woes

I did have a chat to Sachin (Tendulkar) about the mental side off things as well, and the thing he told me was in cricket what he experiences was, if you’re going through a strong negative feeling, if that’s coming into your system regularly, it’s best to let it pass. If you start fighting that feeling, it grows stronger. So that’s the advice that I took on board, and my mindset really opened up from then on.

Kohli: On knowing he is ‘floating’ at the crease

Yes, I’ve experienced those kind of innings quite a few times in my career, but I truly believe that you can get into that frame of mind every innings that you play. What I’ve started to realise now is that sometimes we start to get too far ahead of ourselves and once we are in that floating zone, or in the zone, we start somewhere forgetting how we ended up getting into that zone. And for me, consistency is all about that. Consistency is all about remembering every innings that you play. If I don’t remember the 30/35 balls that I play in T20 cricket and what I did in different phases during that innings, I will not be able to repeat it at all – then for me, it’s just a fluke.

But if I’m learning from every innings that I play, there’s no good reason why I can’t get into that frame of mind or into that zone, if I’m being absolute honest and non-egoist about going through the hard yards again and again. And that’s something that I try to repeat every time that I play. I try to set up in a very similar manner, and invariably I do end up feeling in pockets of every innings that I play that ‘Yeh, this is my zone’. I almost feel like you can hit every ball.

For me to play with the intensity that I play with, comes from the acceptance or the understanding that there’s no limit what you can do. I think somewhere, sometimes we end up thinking about too many norms when it comes to cricket – the law of averages, the averages take care of themselves, impactful performances – how many can you have. It doesn’t make sense when someone has ten impactful performances in a row, but I never feel like there’s a limit to how much I can provide on the field, how much effort I can put in on the field every game that I play.

If my life is designed in a way that I can afford to give 120% in every game that I play, even if I play four games a week, I can do it. If I sit back and accept that it’s not possible to do it four times out of four, then I’ve already surrendered before I can realise my own abilities.

Kohli: On baring the expectation levels of Michael Jordan to the Indian people

Expectation is honestly a burden when you start thinking about it too much. In the past, I have thought of things that are not necessary. Because at the end of the day, the expectations are connected to what I can do on the field, so I need to be in the best frame of mind to be able to do my part on the field, in the best way that I can, and I will do everything that I can to prepare accordingly and not think of the expectations. If the expectations are met afterwards, great. If they’re not, I still continue on my journey and try and do it one more time. And that’s basically what you play for at the end of the day, you want to be in the challenge. I step onto the field every time now thinking, or knowing, that everyone is expecting me to do well. The opposition knows. They want to get me out, I want to stay in because I know I can make a difference, and that’s the fun of it, that’s the challenge. It’s whoever cracks first. And why would you not want to be in such an exciting position? To be in a position to test yourself every time that you play cricket, and that to me is an honour. It’s actually a privilege to be in that position, and you actually feel grateful that you are part of these moments where stakes are so high, and you have an opportunity as an individual to overcome your fears every time that you go out there to play, and then you become a better human being I presume after every game.

Kohli: On Mind v Technique and Preparation when batting

I think for me it is 70% technical. I know that a lot of people say that it is 80% mental and from a pressure point yes it is. When you’re preparing for a game, you’re not really thinking whether my bat is coming straight down or not, you’ve already done 70% of that work by the time you start playing cricket. And from there on 30% is left, and yes I believe I have a good technique and whatever is thrown my way, I’m good enough to tackle it. If you don’t have strong foundations in place, I don’t think you can be mentally as strong, because you still have doubts over your own game firstly, and then you’re really fighting against yourself at all times rather than thinking of ‘what can I do in this situation?’.

And then the rest is taken care of by your mind, because your mind knows that you’re ready and that you’ve put in the work before you step on to the field. But from a mental point of view, I have a lot of conversations with my wife, Anushka and me have such great, detailed conversations about the complexity of the mind and how it can pull you into negativity, what are the things that matter, to put things into perspective. She has been a pillar of strength for me in that regard, because she herself is at the level where she has had to deal with a lot of that negativity, and that mental strength herself. So she understands my situation, I understand her situation. To be able to have a life partner who understands exactly what you’re thinking, what you’re feeling, what you’re going through, I don’t quite know if I would have had that clarity if she wasn’t in my life.

Kohli: On his legacy

This is one of the conversations that Anushka and myself have regularly. It’s her that actually put things very clearly for me to understand the position that I am in, and what I can provide to society in general, or to people through the position that I am in. I don’t know what my legacy is going to be, if I can keep standing up for something that is right, and keep standing up for things that should be done to improve whatever system I am part of; I would like to be that guy. Helping a lot more people together, both of us want to move forward in that direction. We both couldn’t imagine that we would be blessed with such a healthy life, privileges that we couldn’t have imagined, our goal in life will be to help others to make a difference in society wherever we can, to reach out to people in a very organic way and to improve lives as much as we can. This is exactly the path that we want to take. It’s beyond you after a stage, and you should be able to give and give, and give.

© Cricket World 2021


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