Virat Kohli is a proud and grateful pupil. He is very attached to his coach Raj Kumar Sharma.
“He is my guide, mentor, father figure. I’m blessed to have such a wonderful coach. I will always remain grateful to him,” says the rising star of Indian cricket.
Kohli was nine when he came to Sharma. “He’s been like a son. That’s the relationship we’ve shared,” says the coach, who has fond memories of his celebrated student.
Kohli remembers the first day.
“How can I forget it? I saw a small bunch of kids. I thought they were too young for me.
“So I joined the senior group. He quickly noticed that, and sent me back to train with the kids. It is (a) vivid (recollection),” he says.
After the death of his father, Kohli — he was 18 then — says Sharma has been his guiding force since.
“He is mentally very strong, and is a superb learner. Believe me, I have never had to repeat my tips. We discuss (things) so much because he wants to. He calls me up after every innings and just wants to discuss (it),” says Sharma.
Kohli knows the importance of having a mentor. “It is very important. People don’t understand that in the long run you can’t do without a mentor. It doesn’t help. I don’t talk to many people. It helps to open up because you are under constant pressure, and have to discuss things with someone. I do it with only him,” he says.
Sharma has never doubted his pupil’s credentials. “He is pure gold, at heart, and (where the) game (is concerned) too. After every tour, he has so much to gift away to the children at our cricket academy. He spends time with them despite his exacting schedule,” he says.
“He’s very dear to me. He listens to me patiently. He has not changed, as far as I’m concerned.”
On his part, Kohli says: “He knows my faults and corrects them without my pointing them out. He is amazing. He reads my game perfectly.”
What of Kohli’s charged-up on-field behaviour? Sharma defends him, saying: “Look, all that is not meant to attract attention as it is generally perceived. It is controlled aggression because he has confidence in himself. People should understand there is a difference between confidence and arrogance. He is confident, and not arrogant.”
Sharma cites an example.
“I remember, in academy matches he would lead by example. He was a batsman, principally, but he would not mind taking up the ball to try and break a partnership. That is confidence.
“He always wanted to play with, and against, seniors, and insisted that he would bat up the order against fast bowlers. That is confidence, not arrogance, because he never feared the opposition.”
Their relationship has grown even as Kohli has developed as a cricketer of international repute.
“I have the liberty to scold him even today. I can say he fears only me. He is an ideal student,” says Sharma.
Kohli agrees. “He is the only one I fear. Yes, I do get scolded by him even now, but I like it because it keeps me grounded and focussed. He’s the best coach one can ever have.”