Kirsten was appointed as the coach of the Indian side in late 2007, after their victory at the inaugural T20 World Cup. In a four-year association, which culminated in the 2011 ODI World Cup triumph, the former South Africa opener was hailed as “the best thing that could have happened to Indian cricket” by then-captain MS Dhoni.
It was during his tenure that a 19-year-old Kohli made his ODI debut for India. Recalling the now-India skipper’s early days in the team, Kirsten pointed out that, though it was clear that Kohli would become a great player, he “wasn’t operating in the best version of himself.”
A few discussions later, however, Kohli started showing glimpses of what was to come. “We always knew he was going to be a great,” Kirsten said on The RK Show, “but like anyone of us, there are certain things that you need to take into the next step of your journey to make sure that you know you are presenting yourself as the best version of yourself.
“And when I met Virat first up, he had great abilities and talent, he was a young guy. I kind of knew straight away, when I saw that he wasn’t operating in the best version of himself. So we had a number of discussions.
“I’ll never forget one when we were playing an ODI series against Sri Lanka, and he was batting beautifully and he was on 30-odd not out. He then decided that he would try and hit the (bowler) over long on’s head for six. And he holed out. I just said to him, ‘If you’re going to take your cricket to the next level, you need to hit that ball down the ground for one, to long-on. Because you know you can hit a lot of balls up the ground, but there’s a lot of risk attached to that.’ I think he took that on board, he got a hundred in the next one-day in Kolkata.
Chasing 316 to win, coming in at 23-2, and taking down Lasith Malinga in his prime, Virat Kohli’s maiden ODI hundred is still one of his best 🙌 pic.twitter.com/MofLMImVJR
— Wisden India (@WisdenIndia) June 19, 2020
“I think our relationship was formulated around him as a young player coming in and me trying to say to him, ‘Listen, you might think you have got it, but you have got a long way to go’ – kind of that, not in a direct way but … ‘You’ve got a long way to go and you need to start building in some consistent behaviour into the way you play this game that is going to allow you to be successful.’
“He certainly did that, got himself properly fit, and started to hit the ball down to long-on for one and just helped himself to 40 hundreds.”