Virat Kohli bared his feelings and opened up about his struggles with mental health and how he coped with it in a tell-all interview.
Virat Kohli is all set to return to cricket when India take on Pakistan in the second game of the 2022 Asia Cup. The star Indian batter has endured a bit of a rough patch of late and was rested for the tours of West Indies and Zimbabwe.
Now, fresh after a month's break, Kohli is rearing to go and will be looking to find the form of old in the Asia Cup and the upcoming ICC Men's T20 World Cup in Australia.
Ahead of his return, the former Indian captain spoke candidly about his recent struggles and how they took a toll on him mentally, so much so that he was completely away from the game for an entire month.
“For the first time in 10 years, I didn't touch my bat for a month", said Kohli while speaking to Star Sports. "When I sat down and thought about it I was like, 'wow, I haven't touched a bat for like 30 days'. I haven't ever done that in my life.
"I came to the realisation that I was trying to fake my intensity a bit recently. I was convincing myself that no, you had the intensity. But your body is telling you to stop. Your mind is telling me to take a break and step back.
"I understand what Ravi bhai [Ravi Shastri] has mentioned [about taking a break]. He's mentioned about the workloads as well, the volume of cricket, how I played 40 or 50% more in the last 10 years than everybody else. It's very easy to ignore all these things.
"I'm looked at as a guy who has been mentally very strong and I am. But everyone has a limit and you need to recognize that limit, otherwise, things can get unhealthy for you.
“This period actually taught me a lot of things that I wasn't allowing to come to surface. When they eventually came up, I embraced it.”
“There's much more to life than just your profession. Or when the environment around you is such that everyone looks at only your professional identity, somewhere you start losing perspective as a human being."
Kohli, who'll play his 100th T20I against Pakistan on Sunday, detailed how the hectic schedule affected his love for practice.
"I have always been a guy who follows his heart from day one. I never wanted or tried to be someone else, which in this recent phase I have been. I have tried to keep up to the demands and the expectations, not really felt my inner being completely, which this phase [away from the game] allowed me to do.
"I was experiencing that I'm not excited to train, I wasn't excited to practice, and that really disturbed me because this is not who I am, and I literally needed to step away from that environment."
The star India batter added that the month-long break helped him rejuvenate and rediscover his love for training.
"When you are involved in such an environment, you are unable to see anything. When you remove yourself from there, then you realise what was happening to you. And this has been an amazing break. I never had this long a break, and the first thing I realise that I woke up in the morning and was excited to go to gym.
"It isn't a thing like, 'oh I have to keep up with this'. So that was my first mark. You can tend to get carried away with so many demands nowadays. You have seen the results of what happened to Ben Stokes and Trent Boult… Moeen [Ali] retiring from Test cricket. These aren't abnormalities but it happens, and people who are in touch with them know what's happening in their lives.
"I'm feeling light now for sure, and it wasn't just about the workload of cricket," Kohli said.
Elaborating on him not being able to naturally show his intensity, Kohli said that he didn't even realise that he was faking it.
"I am a person who wakes up and feels like, 'Okay, let's see what the day has for me,' and be part of everything. My going through the day includes absolute presence, involvement, and that's who I have always been.
"People ask me about how do you do this on the field, and how do you carry on with so much intensity, I just tell them I love playing the game and I love the fact that I have so much to contribute every ball, and I would give every inch of my energy on the field and for me it never felt abnormal.
Kohli expressed that he was the kind of person who would help his team "win at any cost", even if it meant that he was "gasping for breath" at the end of it all.
"That was not happening naturally. I was having to push myself. I didn't know it… I had become this ideal kind of sportsperson to look up to. I get so grateful for the fact that so many people get inspired because of me, but you can't stop being a human being because of that.
"I understand why people love you and support you, it's because you were yourself always, and even in these moments, I'm not shy to admit that I was feeling mentally down and this is a very normal thing to feel.
"I'm a human at the end of the day and that should be a thing or a space for people to say, 'If he can experience this, relax it's normal to feel this way'. It's not abnormal, talk about it and discuss with people. No one will think you are weak
"You will get help from people you never imagined, but we don't speak because we are hesitant. We don't want to be looked at as mentally weak. Trust me, faking to be strong is far worse than that. I'm not feeling any shame that I was feeling mentally weak."
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