Virat Kohli is visibly uncomfortable. Sitting in the Delhi dressing room at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore, India's new U-19 skipper watches the unrelenting rain batter the venue of Delhi's match against Karnataka.
He had scored a superb 169 the previous day and HT has finally got the young man to sit and talk about himself.
Kohli would have preferred to join teammates at the indoor nets at the National Cricket Academy (NCA). But success has its own price and for Kohli, it means not being able to always do what he would like to. "You guys go ahead, I'll join you soon," Kohli tells his teammates as we settle down for a chat.
Kohli's tale starts at the West Delhi Cricket Academy in Vikaspuri. He joined the centre as a 10-year-old and still practises there. "I always loved cricket and signed up for formal training pretty early," Kohli says. "I have learnt a lot in the academy."
Standing out among peers
At the academy, among hopefuls his age and older, Kohli stood out as a player with promise. This catapulted him to the Delhi U-15 captaincy after just one season in the team.
But that, as Kohli says, was just the beginning of his rise.
"Though I scored tons of runs for the U-15s, my big break was the season I had with the U-17 side," Kohli grins. So good was Kohli that he notched up 800 runs in just seven games at that level, including a double ton against Himachal during which, according to many who saw that knock, he hit the ball the hardest they'd seen.
Kohli remembers that innings well. "That was my ticket to the big league. Hadn't I scored runs then, things would have been very different," he says with a sudden air of seriousness.
Kohli never looked back after that, being called up for U-17 camps at the NCA. He shone there too and caught the eye of NCA coach and junior selector Praveen Amre who called him for an India U-19 camp.
Passage to England
In July 2006, Kohli made it to the India U-19 team's tour of England. "Seeing my name on that list was a little funny," Kohli smiles. "After all, I hadn't played for Delhi U-19, and suddenly there I was off to England with the national team!"
But the choice wasn't without good reason, and that became clearer when, batting at his favourite No. 4, he became the highest scorer for India with 675 runs as India won the series.
"It was a great feeling, scoring runs on foreign soil for my country… The wickets weren't easy to bat on, and that made me happier," Kohli says, glancing uneasily at the door, perhaps wishing to escape to the nets.
Boy to man
Conversation turns to Kohli's debut Ranji season, a season that taught him much in a very short span of time. It was, in many ways, the maturing of Virat Kohli, a coming of age. And he agrees. "My first Ranji season taught me a lot - it was a great learning curve, a perfect opportunity to learn from players who had been around for a while," Kohli says.
But that season taught him much more than just how to become a better cricketer - it taught him how to face life, triumph over tragedy and come out stronger. Playing just his second Ranji game, Kohli showed maturity much beyond his years to rise above personal tragedy. A day after he lost his father, Kohli hit a stirring, emotional 90 to bail Delhi out of trouble against Karnataka. He proved he had it in him, though he would have undoubtedly liked to pass this test in a different way.
But Kohli is a strong man - the word 'boy' can't be applied to him any more - both physically and, more significantly, mentally.
And teen again
Kohli's career seems devoid of troughs though it isn't quite that. He mentions an U-19 tour of Sri Lanka when things were just not working out for him. He was unable to convert good starts into big scores. "I was falling to the flick so often that it was frustrating, so I decided to not play it at all."
And there appeared to be some other issues as well on that tour. According to reports, after being reprimanded by his coach for the way he once lost his wicket, Kohli broke a mirror in the dressing room. He readily admits this indiscretion: this moment, in a way, encapsulates the entire conversation - unbridled, honest and without pretences.
Kohli has come a long way since those days of self-doubt. He has learnt to wait and build an innings, to give himself time in the middle. "The seniors have helped me a lot, they told me I had it in me to do well and made me believe in myself, I owe them much," Kohli says.
During the conversation, talking of his beginnings and his hopes, Kohli spoke with the maturity of a veteran. But then, in a flash, he is a teenager again. "Your favourite shot?" I ask him.
"The flick, undoubtedly. I love it."