He has been on this journey of self-discovery and, every once in a while, Virat Kohli would give us some evidence of his sensitivity with a video wishing soldiers on Deepavali, an Instagram post and tweet shaming those trolling actor Anushka Sharma but as things go, his decision not to renew his multi-crore endorsement deal with Pepsi will go down as a huge landmark.
Many have seen his move is a sign of a man who believes in himself and makes a total commitment to his career. This decision also suggests that he has invested his mind, his heart and his body in his role as a leader in society. It is reflective of a person who has looked within himself, found his own personal dream and is shaping that in the best way be possibly can.
“I want to give something to people that I use myself. One of the reasons I decided not to sign Pepsi is that I have undergone lifestyle change," Kohli told BW BusinessWorld. “It might have been big money for me. It might have been a very lucrative deal but I opted out. We need to have some thought behind the products we promote. We must understand that people trust us.”
He appears to have realised that he can change much more than the menu in the Indian cricket team’s dressing room. He knows that by setting the right examples he can inspire people to apply their thoughts and energy with great determination when taking the first steps towards accomplishing their own distant goals.
Kohli once told The Hindu that he doesn’t demand anything of his teammates that he first can’t do himself. “I first convince myself I can do it and only then ask my teammates to go for it,” he said. Clearly, his fitness journey is being a strong influence in more ways than one on his team-mates who not only buy in his philosophy but appear to embrace it too.
He has worked real hard on his fitness, driven by the urge to be relevant after a dismal time in the Indian Premier League in 2012. “I came out of the shower one day and looked at myself in the mirror and said ‘You can’t look like this if you want to be a professional cricketer’. I changed everything — from what I eat to how I train. I was off gluten, off wheat, no cold drinks, no desserts, nothing,” he told The Telegraph.
"From 2015 I changed my training again. I started lifting, snatching, cleaning and dead lifting. It was unbelievable. I saw the result. I remember running after a ball in a Test series in Sri Lanka and I felt more power in my legs. It was like, ‘Wow’. This training is addictive. It has taken my game to another level,” he had said.
There is no doubt that Kohli recognises that he is no longer just a leader of the Indian cricket team but also someone whose words and actions can make a difference to society at large. It seems more natural for him to understand the potential of and embrace social media than some of his predecessors to get his point across.
His posts on social media about some public issues are a good indication of this growing awareness that he can seed some positivity with his stance. Take, for instance, one of his more recent posts in response to a video doing the rounds of social media where a child is put through pain when forced to learn.
“The fact that the pain and anger of the child is ignored and one’s own ego to make the child learn is so massive that compassion has totally gone out of the window. This is shocking and saddening to another dimension. A child can never learn if intimidated. This is hurtful,” he wrote, anguished and moved to appeal against forced learning.
Yet, with this one decision to give up the Pepsi contract, he has set the bar so high that he will now be judged by this yardstick. Will he, for instance, refrain from wearing all logos that could be in some conflict with his lifestyle change? Would he emulate Hashim Amla who is said to be giving up half his match fee for not wearing the logo of the beer company that sponsors the Proteas?
It remains to be seen whether his decision to endorse only products that he himself consumes would not be challenged in a team situation, whether as a member of the Indian cricket team or any Indian Premier League side that he may be part of. Indeed, there are expectations that he would continue to walk in the direction he has chosen for himself.
Unsurprisingly while a vast majority has praised his decision to stop endorsing the aerated drink, there are already demands that he stops endorsing fairness creams and Chinese mobiles besides surrogate products. Surely, he would have anticipated such a response and would be ready to make crucial calls each time a contract comes up for renewal.
He may not have been under such scrutiny had he stopped with speaking the lifestyle change that he has undergone. But when he went further and spoke of the need to have some thought behind the products promoted by and that the people trusted celebrities, he was perhaps giving some licence to those prone to hold on to words.
Those who know him more than a fair bit beyond the boundary will encourage you to believe that Kohli’s evolution and growing maturity is a fascinating journey that bears more than mere watching. On the basis of available evidence, the Indian cricket captain is a man on a mission and with a mind – and a sensitive heart – of his own.