MUMBAI/DELHI: Indian captain Virat Kohli says he is surprised at winning the ICC's Spirit of Cricket Award after "years of being under the scanner for the wrong things", referring to his past flare-ups.
He won the award for his gesture at the 2019 World Cup, when he egged the crowd on to support and not boo Steve Smith soon after his return to international cricket from a one-year suspension for ball-tampering.
From once stopping short of calling his Australian rival a cheat to urging the crowd to back him, it has been an incredible turnaround for Kohli, one of the world's best batsmen alongside Smith.
"I'm surprised that I have got it, after many years of being under the scanner for the wrong things," Kohli said in a statement issued by the ICC.
Speaking at an event in Mumbai on Wednesday, Kohli said people should avoid being too judgemental.
"Sometimes we are too judgemental of someone in their early years and that's exactly what I don't want the younger players in the team to face. Everyone should be given space to realise themselves and who they are," Kohli said.
Explaining his reasons for backing Smith the way he did, the 31-year-old dasher said, "That moment was purely understanding an individual's situation. I don't think a guy who is coming out of a situation like that needs to be taken advantage of."
The passionate Kohli, who was once fined 50 percent of his match fees after he was seen showing the middle finger to the crowd as a reaction to some hostility from fans, is strictly against booing.
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"That should not be a representation of our fans and what we stand as a cricketing nation, a sporting nation.
"We need to all take responsibility towards that. Intimidate the opposition, definitely try and have an upper hand but in a matter that is not targeting someone emotionally. "That is not acceptable at any level and people should be wary of that."
Nearly three years ago, Kohli stirred up a major controversy by virtually accusing the then Australian captain Smith of cheating in the usage of DRS.
Smith had looked towards the dressing room for instructions at that time and had apologised for the "brain fade".
The incident had escalated tensions between the two sides during a heated Test series in India.
Smith had a torrid time in the aftermath of the ball-tampering scandal, including a public breakdown.
"...I could feel what the individual must be going through after coming back from a time like that. To take advantage of someone's emotions wasn't correct so I stood up for that. It wasn't to gain something. It was also a representation of who we are as a nation," Kohli explained.
"I was happy ICC recognised it but also for people to remember our thinking should be right in whatever we do. I used to look forward to these things when I was younger, some sort of global recognition, now I have started to realise it's just an appreciation of work that you do.
"It's not something I chase but (it is) a matter of respect, not gaining attention. But when the cricket fraternity looks at you with respect it means more to me then numbers, performance or things that are materialistic in the sporting world," he said while in Mumbai.