Monday, October 24, 2016

Driven, The Virat Kohli Story - Vijay Lokapally

There are three reasons why I think Vijay Lokapally's book on Virat Kohli is so timely. First, it comes at a time when it is important for the world to know what makes Virat Kohli what he is - the real person behind the phenomenal success. Second, that it brings to fore the values that one needs to imbibe (young and old alike) - hard work, standing up in adversity, honesty, ego, discipline - to achieve the kind of success he has. Thirdly, it gives an insight into his mind and how he thinks - subtle vignettes that are enough to change fortunes if one is alert enough to catch them.
Bloomsbury, 221 p. Rs.399
'Driven' is such a lovely title for the book and I loved the cover picture too. Even as I am writing this blog Virat Kohli has nonchalantly, but with utmost responsibility, carried the team over the line with an amazing 154 not out against the Kiwis. He displayed minimum emotion after his hundred and made clear his indication that he wants to finish the game - that there is no place really for personal milestones when the job is not yet done. He simply is 'driven'.

If the adjectives one picks to describe Virat Kohli are normally - intense, aggressive, competitive, disciplined, phenomenal, talented, successful, adaptable - and one has to pick one among them as the one that impresses most, I'd pick adaptable. It's something that also comes out of this book (and the body language I see on the television of course). He is intense no doubt, aggressive  and competitive and that aspect showed enough in his earlier games in his frowns, his burning eyes, his aggressive I-don't-care-about-anyone-else gestures. But now one sees a subdued, a smiling and responsible young man, with the kind eyes that only a champion can have. He has obviously adapted so quickly to the needs of the situation, his responsibility as a role model, and that includes his attitude and body language - when he does not really need to because he is playing so phenomenally and everything he does would be excused. (So much more commendable in these times of needless aggression.) He is driven enough to get that right too and tempered himself down against all that he has built up, for his survival and success, and for just that, I'd give adaptable the biggest vote.

This aspect comes across in Vijay's book amply, especially Virat's quote about man management in the chapter on leadership - about ego. Admitting that man management is not an easy skill Virat said "You have to start with a blank mind, understand the individual and set aside your ego." Such maturity at his age. Wow. Our leaders can learn from him. (One more huge lesson for the leaders, and this is why Ian Chappell loves him probably, is that he always plays to win, never for a draw. To win, he realised, one must not be afraid to lose.)

Then comes the second aspect to him that makes me admire him. His discipline and focus on his work. I love what he says about how the routines he follows are boring and that it is important that he follows his boring routine to perform at the level at which he does - and that is a level no one is able to fathom yet. We are finally getting to see true excellence in an ocean of mediocrity. In that one statement about boring routines he has thrown a clear light into the life of high performers - the discipline that has to be maintained, the practices that have to be followed, the methods that have to be honed and driven deep into the subconscious - so the outcomes can be achieved. Discipline that has made him one of the fittest athletes in the world. He has given up eating rice and wheat, has punishing dietary and fitness routines. Someone said - he does not even drink a glass of water that's out of his routine. After that phenomenal knock that knocked Australia out of the ODI World Cup he comes to the television and says something like - 'this is how I train so that when my body is on empty I can still run like I am running the first run.' How punishing can that be. Now how many of us wanting success have pushed ourselves beyond the limit, made sacrifices, practiced the basics so many times with so much focus, pushed limits at every possible time. Pick your routines and kill them absolutely. Train your mind to enjoy the pain, the boredom, the hard work and the detail, because it will pay off. And bring peace.

Then comes the third aspect, the unknown aspect that only those who know him well know, which is his first principles. First and foremost, that he wants to win every single game and that he wants to win it by himself no matter what the odds are. I loved that story of how he told his manager that he would get the first innings lead for Delhi - they were 0 for 2 chasing some 366 - and got a double hundred or so. The team comes first and not his records - a malaise that kept India behind for years. That he never gets angry with his bowlers if they bowl badly (whoa, you'd think he would chew them up like some of our gentler giants did on a regular basis but no, he supports them), That when the going gets tough he gets tougher and backs himself to come off - like against Australia or any of those chases he has orchestrated so that India can win, sacrificing flamboyance for sheer effectiveness. That he will back himself and stand up for himself and those whom he loves - like the time he asked for a business class ticket for himself or the way he backed Anushka Sharma against trolls. That he has this incredibly high regard for women - a lovely passage where he expresses concern over growing violence against women. He spends time with underprivileged children. Virat is loyal (RCB for eight years, same coach since ten years old Raj Kumar Sharma etc), has great respect for seniors, for people. On Teachers Day 2013, Virat gifted his coach an Octavia Skoda, a beautifully orchestrated gesture.

All this at 27.

In my mind are etched at least three visions. The first is the photograph on the front page when Indian Under 19 won the World Cup under Virat - and we discussed that intense look in his eyes and knew he was no ordinary talent. The second when he and Gautam Gambhir stopped the usual spineless collapse that normally followed a score of 32 for 2 with Tendulkar and Sehwag gone in the 2011 World cup. To me it was that partnership that knocked Sri Lanka out of the World Cup and Dhoni came and took over the second half. India owes it to these two battlers from Delhi for that partnership and setting it up. Third comes the Australia knock in the 2015 ODI World Cup after which he said famously something to the effect that - when it all seems like its lost, you must still hold on to your vision, your dream, your outcome and fight for it. Words that every person fighting a tough battle will resonate with. He exemplified it then. (One other haunting image of a young ten year old Virat with his father who is laughing wholeheartedly while wearing his helmet, that's on the Internet.)

Just as we saw the spark in Sampras, Federer, Tendulkar, Bolt, Messi and so many other greats, so we saw the spark in this lad. And its wonderful to see how at the peak of what the game has to offer to its athletes, when its so easy to take what's come and relax, he wants to challenge himself every moment and reach some pinnacle only he can see. It appears that for him, there is no other way to live.

Vijay Lokapally's well written book touches upon Virat's early years, his breaking into junior cricket and the transition of the boy to a man. In that powerful chapter Vijay narrates the heart rending story of how an 18 year old Virat turned up at the ground to continue his innings (he was unbeaten on 40 over night) after his father Prem Kohli passed away in the early hours at 4 am. Despite the team management telling him that he could stay back at home, Virat chose to play and scored 90 - a knock that saved Delhi the blushes of a follow on against Karnataka. How much ever I think about it, I cannot get my head around it. What kind of stuff is this boy made of? And then you add the rest of his journey, how he adapted to various forms, to pressures on and off the field and you realise that it's a story worth knowing. Worth living, emulating or just plain imitating. One also cannot help thinking that in all this fame and success, Virat must be thinking of what he could have offered to his father, the person who drove him to practice every day, were he alive today.

For the above reasons to start with, I feel Vijay Lokapally has done a great service by penning this book and he does it just as he only can. Diligently, carefully, doing all the research necessary, meeting people - friends, coaches, administrators, players, seniors - taking notes, capturing the picture just right. No wonder Virat said - "that's me" - at the launch of the book. Unlike many biographies that are written by people with little knowledge about the subject except what is already available in public domain, Vijay knows Virat well and has covered his progress as a young cricketer. And it is this old loyalty again, this respect for a senior journalist who has contributed to his growth that stands out (there is a lovely picture of the author and Virat in the book that pretty much shows the comfort the two share). It is not one of those let's-ride-on-the-popularity books - I don't think Vijay would ever do that - it's a book that starts out to genuinely present Virat Kohli as the person he is which I believe is so important. 'All through the book launch, as legend after legend praised him to the skies, Virat  kept staring at his shoes, a gesture that showed his humility and groundedness, and when he spoke, spoke of nothing else but the author and his accomplishments' - this I find is a sign of greatness, of unbounded generosity of a person who has put his ego aside. It's no mean task to do that at this age and stage of his life and we instantly realise that this ego is what comes in the way for us, the rest of the world. I am now even more of a Virat fan, and if I had any small reservations earlier, have none. That's what the book has done.

Vijay's popularlty among the players as a journalist was only too evident when he launched the book last week - probably the biggest launch a sports book could have had in India for sheer firepower on stage. Ravi Shastri. Kapil Dev, Anil Kumble. Virender Sehwag and Virat himself on the stage and a great many more in the audience. A true recognition of the service Vijay has done to the game and I am so happy for him.

Well done Vijay and here's wishing the book a lot of success. It's a book that any reader can benefit from, cricketer and non-cricketer, and use to excel in the arena they choose. It's a book about a genuine role model, a leader and one that the billions in India can take inspiration from. Considering just that perspective even, Vijay's book is as perfectly timed as a Virat Kohli flick. 

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