Virat Kohli: This IPL, we’re playing to bring smiles back on people’s faces

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Virat Kohli watches the ball dribble away after dropping a catch (BCCI)

Virat Kohli feeds off the energy of crowds and packed stadiums, but despite IPL 2020 set to be played behind closed doors in the UAE, the Royal Challengers Bangalore captain foresaw no drop in his playing intensity.

“The intensity and passion won’t drop even if there are no crowds,” Kohli said at a media session to launch Royal Challengers covid warriors campaign. “Yes, empty stadiums will give us a strange feeling, and I won’t deny it’ll not be different when we walk out. But the feeling has changed a little after many training sessions and practice matches.

“You understand why you started playing – because you love the game. This is a chance for us to play with that feeling with the entire country watching. As long as we’re playing for the right reasons, all external factors become irrelevant. Yes, crowds are an amazing part of the game but this time, that’s not what we’re playing for. This time we’re playing for a bigger reason. To bring smiles back on people’s faces, those who’ve faced tough times due to the pandemic.”

Being in the bio bubble has also given Kohli a new perspective and a new appreciation for the sport.

“We’ve all become more accepting of the situation around us,” he said. “Acceptance is the biggest change I’ve experienced. Even in this bubble, when we spoke for the first time, we discussed the need to be appreciative of what we have. It’s easy to think of what we can’t do, but all of us have become relaxed. If people aren’t, they’ll be sad or upset. I don’t see any of that. Also there is no desperation of any kind in the ground. The biggest learning has been to become more accepting and appreciative of things around us.”

“As long as we’re playing for the right reasons, all external factors become irrelevant. Yes, crowds are an amazing part of the game but this time, that’s not what we’re playing for.”

Rohit Sharma, the Mumbai Indians captain, also touched upon the challenges of being in a bubble. He admitted being in one was “tough mentally” but having families around – something the Mumbai franchise was happy to facilitate – as well as trying to create a “fun environment” with play stations, golf simulators, F1 simulators, virtual reality games, pool and table tennis, would provide some much-needed downtime.

“Mentally it is tough [being in a bubble], but hats off to the MI management and the support staff,” Rohit said. “They have done an excellent job here in our hotel, they’ve created some amazing space for us in the hotel where we can relax and spend time with family and kids, so that mentally you’re fresh and not drained. We’ve been here for three weeks, all of us are in good spirits because of the space we have created here at the hotel. Hats off to the team management, now it’s all about our preparation and getting into game face mode.”

Rohit’s words were echoed by Mahela Jayawardene, the Mumbai Indians coach. “A lot of the players will be away from home probably for more than two months, because of other commitments [after the IPL],” Jayawardene said. “It’s god to have this environment within the hotel, where everyone’s looked after.

“Most of our players are with families, so that is good. They get to spend quality time with them. The rest of the guys are also trying to keep themselves occupied with different activities. It’s not just cricket-oriented, but we have different activities. Yes it is a challenge, but we’ve looked at all aspects, making sure it’s not just the cricket, but creating a good environment around the players so that they can grow, focus and enjoy the job at hand.” (ESPNCricinfo)