Virat loves to spend time with three-year-old Beagle, Bruno. (HT Photo)
One of the things coach Raj Kumar Sharma treasures is the picture of a chubby Virat Kohli getting an award from former India pacer Ashish Nehra. The picture still has a sheen, reminding Sharma of the pace at which his ward's career has progressed.
Just last month, Virat, who turns 25 on Tuesday, was giving directions to Nehra while leading Delhi in the Challenger Series.
"Isne to cricket hi badal dee (he's changed the way we look at successful cricketers)," says Jagdish Chhabra, a property dealer whose son Gaurav played with Virat at the junior state level.
For people close to Virat, the India batsman is a child at heart and his antics on the field don't come as a surprise. On August 15 this year, a rare off-day in Virat's life, Ramandeep Singh, Geet Vats and Vartik Tihara, childhood friends, gathered at his Meera Bagh residence. Chola bhaturas from a Rajouri Garden outlet, pizzas and some homemade rajma rice were followed by the reason they'd gathered for - flying kites and Playstation, two things he is an expert at.
"He can't bear to lose in Plays-tation. He gets competitive while playing FIFA," says Ramandeep.
It was a rare day when Virat broke his stringent food habits. "He has sushi (the rawness isn't appetizing for Indian palates). He gave me juice to drink, it was disgusting and I had to ask for sugar," recalls Geet. "He keeps explaining the negative points of what we enjoy eating and talks about fitness. Frustrated, I told him you better find new friends."
It is a far cry from the junior days when he would order butter chicken, chicken biryani and gravies first up whenever on tour.
Apart from food, there is little that has changed in Virat's nature.
"I have clippings where we figure together. Sometimes, I would outscore him, but we always knew he was destined for greatness," says Ramandeep.
Vartik was his captain in U-17 days and he recalls Virat would cry when he got dismissed cheaply. "Once we were playing against Haryana in Gurgaon and he got out for 1. He started crying."
It was under Vartik that Virat scored his signature knock that launched him onto the scene. "We were playing in Una, Himachal, and were faced with a big score in the first innings. He hammered 251 and shared a last wicket partnership with Ishant (Sharma)."
Virat was rejected for the Delhi U-14 squad but has never looked back since, getting into every state team till he eventually captained it despite some opposition.
Vartik spoke about his fighting spirit, something that singles him out today. "He was down with fever when he was U-15. We had completed our practice. Bishan Bedi (coach of the senior team that time) asked us to do a fresh round of fitness. Virat didn't seek an excuse and finished it with us."
They all agree that he has this zid and that is paying off. It has to do with the early demise of his father to whom he dedicates everything. "Others had businesses to fall back on. He had only cricket. That's why he doesn't let go," says Vartik. "People have this strange perception about him. But, if he had an attitude he would've forgotten his friends," says Ramandeep.