Manchester: A "mentor without being assertive" was how Virat Kohli Monday described Mahendra Singh Dhoni, whose seamless transition from a two-time World Cup-winning skipper to just another player in the team earned him "sky-high respect" from his successor.
Playing in his last World Cup, Dhoni has been a mentor to all the current players including the skipper himself, and all of them are fiercely loyal towards the former skipper.
"From the respect point of view for MS, it's always going to be sky high, especially in my eyes, because I know how difficult it can be to make a transition from captaining also," Kohli's reply to a question on the former skipper was filled with admiration.
"It's not easy to be another player in the side after captaining it for decades and therein lies Dhoni's greatness. Being a mentor but without being assertive, which the team acknowledges."
The batting mainstay took over the Test reins from Dhoni in December 2014 and the limited-overs captaincy in January 2017.
"You know, within the same team, just playing as a player after being captain for so many years and still not being too assertive or too pushy in anything. He gives you space to make your own decisions and to actually discover yourself, so I think that's been his biggest quality," Kohli said.
Getting Dhoni's inputs is pure gold and a privilege that he has enjoyed as a skipper, according to Kohli.
"At the same time, I go ask him anything, he's there giving me advice and he's never shying away from that. So yeah, he's been outstanding and I'm delighted that I have been able to play for so many years alongside him."
There is a sense of gratitude in him as well as the likes of Rohit Sharma, all of whom Dhoni had backed to the hilt as skipper despite initial failures.
"The respect will always be there because of the opportunities that he gave us and the faith that he showed in us and the way he's handled the whole team in transition over so many years.
"And now we are the ones who are taking Indian cricket forward," the eloquent skipper said.
Dhoni's international retirement has been a hotly debated topic but Kohli felt that the focus should be more on "MS the personality".
"We understand the importance of that process (of transition). So I'm glad you asked about MS, the personality because a lot has been in focus otherwise," the skipper said.
The respect that the current Indian team has earned is because of how Dhoni built it, said the skipper.
"When a person has done so much for the team you have to appreciate and acknowledge how he's handled and taken the respect for Indian cricket so high all over the world. We are all very grateful for what he's done for Indian cricket and for us."
Kohli paid an emotional tribute on Dhoni's 38th birthday and said that the former skipper is in a happy and comfortable space.
"And he's always been in a very happy, jovial mood all the time whenever we see him. Yesterday again was a very happy moment for him, for the whole team, to see a smile on his face and he's in a very comfortable, very happy space at the moment," Kohli said, speaking about the birthday celebrations.
After winning the 2011 World Cup on home soil, Kohli had famously said: "Sachin Tendulkar carried Indian cricket for 21 years and it's time that we carry him on our shoulders".
He later said that it was impromptu. Asked if something similar could be on the cards if India win this World Cup and he responded, "I didn't prepare that one in 2011 so I'm certainly not going to write anything down," he quipped....