How do you coach Virat Kohli?

Katich (left) played 56 Tests, 45 one-day-internationals and three Twenty20s for Australia between 2001 and 2010

Virat Kohli – a global icon off the field, a superstar on it.

But how do you coach one of – if not the – finest cricketers in the world? This is a man who has 140 million social media followers and carries the expectations of many more each time he plays.

Speaking to BBC Sport, former Australia batsman Simon Katich, who is head coach of Kohli’s Royal Challengers Bangalore team, gives an insight into how he first approached the task of coaching the India captain, what exactly makes him such a great leader and shares stories which reveal a softer side to the 32-year-old.

‘The most professional player I’ve ever seen’

Kohli is a masterful batsman, capable of winning games single-handedly.

He made his international debut for India in 2008 and has played 91 Tests, 254 one-day-internationals and 90 Twenty20s, averaging more than 50 in all three formats.

When Katich first took the reins at RCB before last year’s IPL, it was Kohli’s attitude and diligent preparation which impressed him the most.

“What I learned very quickly is that Virat is probably the most professional player I’ve ever seen, and that is saying something when you think about the era of Australian cricket I played in (2001-2010),” Katich says.

“Whether that is in the gym or with his nutrition or all the recovery and rehab work you do, he leaves no stone unturned. A lot of players do that but he takes it to the nth degree.”

Kohli’s statistics and achievements in the IPL are spectacular: he is the highest run-scorer in history and this month passed 6,000 runs.

Katich says players such as Kohli and RCB team-mate and former South Africa batsman AB de Villiers need little guidance.

“They are their own coaches because they know their game – and the game – inside out because of the volume of cricket they’ve played,” Katich says.

“Virat still wants to learn, though, and is always asking if we can see anything that might improve his game, but a player of his calibre, there is not a lot wrong with his game.”

Virat Kohli
Kohli has played 197 matches for Royal Challengers Bangalore in the Indian Premier League

A leader and a busy man

Kohli took over as India captain in all formats in 2017, and in the ODI series against England this year became the third man to lead India for the 200th time.

“From a leadership perspective, what stood out was his will to win and will to compete,” Katich says.

“As a leader, you can’t ask much more than that. He was magnificent.”

Kohli is a household name in India. His nickname ‘King’ gives you an indication of the level of endearment and stardom he holds among cricket fans.

But his appeal is global. In the 2020 Forbes list of highest paid athletes in world sport, Kohli was 66th, the only Indian or cricketer in the top 100.

With a profile that surpasses most Bollywood actors, a part of Katich and the coaching team’s role is to ease Kohli’s workload.

“We try to take as much as we can off his plate,” Katich says.

“He is such a busy man with leading India and all the commercial commitments he has for RCB throughout the tournament.”

A competitor and a gentleman

The wide-eyed intensity of his glare following the path of each ball, aggressive fist pumps at every dismissal and the clear frustration when things do not go his side’s way – Kohli is arguably the most animated captain in cricket history.

But on occasions that passion has perhaps overstepped the mark, leading to disciplinary action.

In 2019 Kohli was fined 25% of his match fee for his “aggressive approach” during a World Cup tie against Afghanistan, and was also sanctioned for shoulder-barging South Africa’s Beuran Hendricks later that year.

Katich says Kolhi “is probably the most competitive player to ever step foot on a cricket field” but is also respectful to the game and the opposition.

“We have also seen it from an Australian perspective as well in recent times, such as during the World Cup when Steve Smith and co were getting booed in England,” Katich says.

Virat stepped in and made a very sportsman-like gesture because he has respect for the guys and what they had been through.”

Virat Kohli
Kohli earned £18.7m in 2020, according to Forbes’ list of the world’s highest-earning athletes

Katich also witnessed Kohli’s softer side last year when seeing him interact with his wife, Anushka Sharma.

Kohli married the Indian actress in 2017, with the pair welcoming their first child in January.

“The other thing that stood out last year was that Anushka was there for the whole tournament and they would always come down and socialise with us in the team room,” Katich says.

“We would all watch games of cricket together. It was lovely to see that side of him as well – as a husband.

“We saw that with the way he was around his wife and how gentleman-like he was, helping her out when she was going through her pregnancy.

“Now that he’s a father we’ll no doubt get to see him as a dad in the group with his young daughter.”

Kohli the mentor

For all his individual achievements and accolades – including being named as the International Cricket Council’s men’s player of the decade in 2019 – Kohli is still in search of his IPL trophy.

In an attempt to instil the same discipline, work ethic and winning mentality into younger members of the RCB team, last season Kohli was given the responsibility of mentoring 20-year-old Indian opener Devdutt Padikkal.

“Given his experience and the esteem he is held in in Indian cricket, last season we asked Virat to mentor Devdutt,” Katich explains.

“Devdutt was a kid playing his first IPL, which is a long, physically and mentally draining tournament.

“We saw times when he started really well but there were times when teams started to work him out with their tactics.

“There were also times when he started to physically tire, particularly in an innings where we would get to the 20- or 30-ball mark. He could get fatigued, make a mistake and get out.

“Virat urged him to work on his fitness when the tournament was over, knowing the standard of IPL is a level above domestic cricket.

“He’s a great young kid and Virat also talked a lot of tactics with him, how teams were going to bowl at him and how to counter that.”

This month Kohli played second fiddle in an unbroken 181-run partnership with Padikkal as the youngster scored his maiden IPL century.

“A lot of credit goes to Padikkal, who worked on his game in the nets, but Virat was able to guide him on what to do next. He was prepared to give up his time and knowledge,” Katich says.

Given his success at mentoring and guiding Padikkal, could we see Kohli take on a coaching role in the future?

“Virat has achieved so much in the game and I am sure he has got a lot more goals to achieve with this India team,” Katich says.

“But with his sheer hard work, discipline and skill, Virat has all the credentials and there is no doubt players would listen to him.”

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