The King and I: How Kohli and Zampa bonded over meat-free diets

On Adam Zampa's first day in this year's Indian Premier League with Royal Challengers Bangalore, a WhatsApp message popped up on his phone from a number he did not recognise.

"Zamps, here's the $15 off voucher at a vegan restaurant from Deliveroo," it read. "It's a really good restaurant."

Adam Zampa and Virat Kohli have become good friends through their time together playing with Royal Challengers Bangalore in the IPL.Credit:BCCI

Zampa's early interactions with Kohli were in keeping with the Indian great's public image as a combative batting maestro who thrives on conflict, in contrast to the "chilled out guy" the leggie has come to know.

In a match that would decide who qualified for the semi-finals for the 2016 Twenty20 World Cup, Kohli played an innings that Zampa describes as "unbelievable, probably the best T20 innings I've seen live", carving an unbeaten 82 off 51 balls to see his team home by six wickets.

"Around that time I first played against him he definitely had that aura," Zampa says.

Soon after came Kohli's record-breaking 973-run season in the IPL, Zampa's first in the world's richest T20 league. On debut, a comment made in jest about a picture close friend Kane Richardson had posted on Twitter of Kohli with South Africa superstar AB de Villiers came back to haunt him.

"I replied, typical, just taking the piss, 'Who are they, mate?'" Zampa explains. "The Indian fans did not let me live it down. Virat had obviously seen it.

"I played my debut, bowled an over to him, the last ball of the over he smacked it for four, came down to me and said, 'Stay a long way from Twitter, mate'. Basically, pipe down.

"I was like, 'Geezers, this bloke reads everything on Twitter'. He went on to get 120 that day. I stoked the fire."

You don't get a second chance to make a first impression, but Kohli's ice-breaker had a pronounced effect on Zampa.

"It was the first day I arrived [and] he WhatsApped me," Zamap recalls. "I didn't have his number. He made it as if we've known each other forever."

Those who know Kohli personally say the man in private is far removed from what fans see on the field: he is generous, caring, a deep thinker. The Kohli that Zampa came to know through post-match beers and sodas in the team room, chats by the golf simulator and laughs on the team bus is no different.

"He's absolutely not what you see on the cricket field," Zampa says. "He always brings his intensity to training and the game; he loves competition, he hates losing as much as anyone. He probably shows it more than anyone.

"Once he's off the park, he's the most chilled guy. He's watching YouTube clips on the bus, he'll laugh out loud.

"There was a cricket clip recently from cricket.com.au, there was a funny run out, he was laughing about it for three weeks' straight. He loves holding onto jokes like that.

Adam Zampa celebrates his wicket of Virat Kohli during a game in India in 2019.Credit:Getty

"He talks about coffee, travelling, food – 'Zamps, do you want a Beyond Meat burger?' – because he's a vegetarian himself. He's a really cultured guy. He's good to talk to, good fun.

"One night he took me aside and talked to me about his travels through Nepal. He's always talking to me about his new coffee machine. He's a pretty normal bloke.

"The one thing you take away from spending time with those guys is they're as much of a human being as you are."

Their blossoming friendship adds another layer to what will be one of the more intriguing duels of the summer.

It is a mark of Zampa's improvement that he is now viewed as Australia's key bowler in quelling the one of the best players the game has seen. He has claimed Kohli's wicket seven times in international cricket. Only three players have dismissed him more.

Teams now feel Kohli has a weakness against leg-spin, a theory based largely around Zampa’s success against him. And if you told Zampa that Kohli had become his bunny?

"I would laugh at it, " Zampa says. "And really appreciate it. I've got him out seven times, but they're at a good click; the economy is well and truly over six runs per over as well. It'll be interesting now we're closer."

Kohli admires Zampa's self-confidence and competitiveness – traits the 28-year-old white-ball specialist says he needs to make up for the gap in skill. What their battle will not degenerate into, Zampa says, is a "war of words".

"Virat won't say anything to me because he knows it doesn't really faze me," Zampa says. "It's exciting for me that I've gotten to this point. I do always love that challenge. I love the challenge of bowling to Virat. He's probably the best player of all time."

As for Kohli's aura? One gets the sense that through familiarity it is no longer there.

"You see he has 43 hundreds or whatever it is and you go, 'Wow, he's a big wicket, he's superhuman', but at the end of the day you're spending so much time around these guys," Zampa says.

"They go through their own emotions. They're living the bubble life away from home, they're all as human as you are and make as many mistakes as I do or anyone else. That's what I've taken away from it."

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