Virat Kohli is, possibly, the most complete batsman of his generation. Batting records tumble, or are set to tumble at his will. It is just a matter of time. He is the most followed cricketer on social media. He is a decent skipper — going by the record of the teams under him, who have won some, but have never lifted a major International Cricket Council (ICC) trophy. He is this, he is that, but one thing he is not. Kohli, the supreme leader, is not a great ambassador of the game, not by a long shot.
It is a given that the cricketing establishment would think otherwise. Understandably so. He is the game’s biggest star, after all. They go by Kohli’s tons, his reach, his potential to garner eyeballs, and, along with that, the hard cash that he ropes in for himself and all stakeholders.
The International Cricket Council (ICC), for instance, was one of the first to congratulate Kohli when he became the first cricketer (and Indian) to cross the 100 million followers mark on Instagram. The world body felt the moment was a sign of Kohli’s arrival onto a pedestal where the global sports superstars reign. Kohli’s reach would mean cricket’s magnification. Or at least that’s what the ICC thinks.
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Well, it could be. Then again, without reading much into the nationality of Kohli’s followers, one can (safely that too) make an educated guess that most of those 100 million (10 crore in Indian parlance) come from a fraction of the Instagram-using cricket fans of India. This educated guess is fueled by the established knowledge that cricket is a non-global game, and is likely to remain so going by how the ICC and the big national boards including the Indian body, are going about its expansion. Kohli’s global stardom will probably look typically desi on closer inspection.
That, however, is not what makes Kohli a lesser ambassador of the game. It is Kohli’s uncanny ability to not see the larger picture when it comes to the game. He, considered and touted as a global cricketing statesman, acts petty and churlish when it comes to things above and beyond hitting tons and making field placings and displaying overt aggression on field.
The pre-match press conference in Ahmedabad, ahead of the fourth Test against England, is the latest proof of Kohli’s immaturity and inability to rise to a level beyond the count of victories and losses. A level that would truly get him into the league of the GOATs, with or without Instagram numbers.
Kohli, when questioned about the Pink Ball Test match which ended in two days on a pitch where both sets of batsmen struggled, went on the offensive. Typical Kohli move. He questioned whether victory was important or playing five days of a match.
“You play the game to win it or to make sure it goes to five days and there is entertainment?" he asked.
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"I believe there is too much noise about spinning tracks," Kohli added. "The reason behind our success as a team is that we haven't cribbed about any surface we have played on. We have always tried to improve.”
He then took a jibe at the media, the usual route all supreme leaders in India take these days when the Fourth Estate, whatever that’s left of it, criticises them.
"I am sure if our media is in a space to contradict those views or present views which say that it is unfair to criticise only spin tracks, then it will be a balanced conversation," Kohli said.
"But the unfortunate bit is everyone plays along with that narrative and keeps making it news till the time it is relevant. And then a Test match happens, if you win on day four or five, no one says anything but if it finishes in two days, everyone pounces on the same issue," he added.
"I am sure even our people never wrote about the pitch when we lost in three days in New Zealand," the skipper said. "It has always been the case that spinning tracks are criticised but when the ball seams a lot and teams are bundled out for 40-50, no one talks about it," the India captain concluded.
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It sounded like an aggressively toned crib. No, one is wrong. Neither this Indian team, nor its leader, “crib”!
To be fair on the skipper, Kohli must have been wondering what the fuss was all about. It was a perfect Test match to begin with. In a setting that had larger implications for the future of the country. It will forever be known as the match that facilitated the rechristening of the Sardar Patel Stadium in Motera, Ahmedabad, to the Narendra Modi Stadium — a victory for New India even before a ball was bowled. The Test match, supposed to last five days, wound up in two. But India won there as well.
In sport, it is victory that matters after all. How, why or where, does it need consideration?
For Test cricket, struggling as it is for eyeballs and relevancy, it would matter. The format is facing a crisis and Pink Ball day-and-night matches were supposed to improve viewer attendance, and possibly spark a revival. At least that’s what the ICC had in mind when pushing for the day-nighters in each and every bilateral tour. And, for the format to survive, matches simply can’t wind up in two days. It needs to play out the course and bring to the fore the beauty, romance and tragedy one grew up associating Test cricket with. Not to mention good competition.
Sport, any form, at any level, should encapsulate the ideal — the one we used to hold so dearly — that the game is larger than victories. This is not about “entertainment” by the way, Kohli sir.
The contest part — high intensity match-ups in Tests — is lacking at the moment. And each match which ends before its stipulated five days, is a nail in the format’s coffin. Whatever or whoever the reason for that be.
It is evident that one can’t simply blame the pitch for the poor showing. It is the batters too. With the money, glamour and relevancy lying in Twenty20 cricket, modern batsmen have honed and primed their batsmanship to suit the short format. The current Test batters — barring a few that includes Kohli — neither have the temperament, nor the technique to play long grinding innings, face unplayable balls and hostile spells on less than ideal surfaces.
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In such a precarious scenario the least the cricketing fraternity, establishment, and the players could do is to ensure decent competition between the bat and ball when two sides play. And we are talking about the two top sides in the world. India vs England is not a minnows vs top dog mismatch by any stretch of the imagination.
Kohli, as is his habit, missed the entire point. Also, he either chose to ignore or does not realise his responsibility to the game as one of the biggest stars of the generation.
Just to be clear, one is not blaming Team India or Kohli for the match ending in two days. He is criticized here for not understanding its implication, and brushing it aside since victory was his and India’s. He may have had a different view if it was the other way round. But that’s not the issue here. The point — which was missed by the skipper supremo — is that victory is fun, and works too, only as long as the cost is not the game itself.
(India lead the series against England 2-1. The fourth Test will begin at the Motera Stadium on March 4)
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