New Delhi: With the World Cup round the corner, India captain Virat Kohli has revealed that the presence of former skipper M.S. Dhoni in the team, especially behind the stumps, is "priceless". Kohli said the selflessness with which Dhoni conducts himself makes him a delight to play alongside.
"The fact is Dhoni is among the smartest guys in the game. Behind the stumps, as I said, he's priceless. It gives me the freedom to do my thing. Someone like MS is a wealth of experience," Kohli told the Times of India in an interview.
"What can I say about him. My career started under him and few have seen him from so close over the last few years as I have. There's one thing about MS that's far more important than anything else -- and there's a lot to him.
"For him, the team is always above everything else. It's always about the team, no matter what. To top it, look at the experience he brings to the squad and we're richer with it.
"Some of his dismissals behind the stumps, even as recently (as in the IPL), were match-changing," the skipper added.
Kohli said that there will be expectations from both Dhoni and Vice-Captain Rohit Sharma from a leadership perspective at the World Cup that starts on May 30.
"The way they've gone about their respective roles -- as captains (in the Indian Premier League) -- speaks volumes of what they bring to the table. MS in particular has a legacy. So, it augurs well for this team to have both of them in a leadership role.
"That's why, the team management decided to have a strategy pool in place which MS and Rohit are a part of," he said.
Kohli's personal performances over the past two years has led commentators and pundits hailing him as the best batsman in the world and one of the all time greatest.
It has also seen him leading the Indian Test team to a historic series win against Australia. The team also won ODI series in England and Australia. All this has led to the side going to England as one of the favourites to win the Cup.
"It's been a challenging year and one that has left us very proud of the way we carried ourselves. To head to the toughest of destinations with a young but fiercely proud bunch was amazing. That's precisely how we have approached every big series that we played between January 2018 and now. We were very clear about what we wanted to do as team and where we want to head," said Kohli.
"I never thought that one day so many people will get inspired by what I do. My priority was to play for the Indian team for as long as possible. That stays my priority even today and shall continue to be. Honestly, these things are very organic.
"The one fact which continues to remain is that everything about my career, my life, on the field, off it, my heart has been in the right place," he said.
As India captain and as one of the most popular players in the world, Kohli's rise has also coincided with an increase in scrutiny. His captaincy has often come under the scanner, especially in England and South Africa where India lost their Test series.
However, Kohli said that it has been something he has come to make peace with and he doesn't think about what people say about him.
"Honestly, none of that makes a difference. I don't want to be the centre of everything. Nobody wants that. But when your intent is to make the team win, eventually you end up doing things which are always going to be seen because I would always put my body on the line for the team.
"I'll do all it takes when I'm batting, I would run as hard as I can ... So, once you're committed and giving all that you can for one cause, you're obviously going to end up being noticed.
"And that has to be fine with me, I have to live with it -- because that's how I want to play my game, that's how I want to live my life. That, I think, is a blessing God has given and I want to continue doing that as long as I'm playing the sport," he said.
Kohli also said that his relationship with coach Ravi Shastri has gone into "auto-mode" now. "The reason is because of the work that's been put in over the last 15-odd months. Culture management has been the calling card and that's something the team management has been particularly convinced about...
"The guys have responded to it beautifully. It's a different picture that's been pasted outside. Within the team we know the mindset we carry. We're going with a group of people and this is not about individuals. This is everybody's effort," he said.
Kohli said that his decision to focus on his fitness was a turning point for him in his career and has helped him avoid being an average cricketer. "I knew that I had to change everything about my life, about myself, to be able to be at the top of my game, to be in sync where the world (of sport) is heading to," he said.
His attitude towards fitness spread to the rest of his teammates and Kohli said that if it wasn't for that, India wouldn't have been the kind of force they are now in world cricket.
"If we did not do that, as a group, India would not have been dominating in world cricket. So, we recognised pretty early that you need people who are willing to work hard on a daily basis, not just physically but mentally as well," he said.
"Look at it this way: I know I can play 49 overs and still run 10, 12 in the last over to win a game. So, you open up so many options for yourself, and definitely become more confident because you're not a one dimensional player any more. You can do everything if you're working hard.
"When you have 11 such guys stepping out on the field and the first thing that the opposition begins to think that we have to get past each of those eleven to make it count, you know you're making it tough for them," he said.
Kohli said it is this readiness to do hard work that made the Indian pace attack one of the best in the world. "They asked themselves 'Why can't the Indian pace bowlers be the best in the world?' They simply knew they had it in them to realise their potential and be among the best.
"They set a goal for themselves and worked towards it. Sticking to line and length in all walks, outperforming the opposition and not each other in a game. Bit by bit, piece by piece, constructing those magical performances.
"Nothing happens overnight and they've worked hard for it. 'Why can't ...?' gradually turned into 'Why not ...?' This team never believed that it couldn't go out there and give it to the opposition," he said.