Virat Kohli, in a video posted on his newly-launched mobile app, reacted angrily to a comment from a fan, asking him to live in a different country if he didn’t like Indian batsmen (Pic: IANS).
Virat Kohli, the batsman, is invaluable for the Indian cricket team. There should be no second thoughts about that. But, over the years — through his tenure as skipper to be exact — he has increasingly made one feel the side would be better off without Kohli, the leader.
The batting machine’s arrogance and related transgressions have been justified repeatedly in the past with subjective sports cliches such as ‘fighting spirit’, a ‘player’s pride’, and even as a ‘sign of greatness’ — the idea being that many geniuses across many fields had tumultuous temperaments. This, even while he has been borderline autocratic, bullied the BCCI, coaches, fellow players, the opposition, and, last but not the least, his favourite punching bag, the media. All this has been bolstered and swept under the carpet by his record-breaking batting.
Yesterday though, Kohli clearly crossed the line, overstepping his mandate as Indian skipper, when he asked a fan to leave the country just because he found the captain less attractive as a batsman. The trigger point was when the fan said he preferred the Aussies over the Indian batters including Kohli, whom he felt were overrated.
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Kohli’s statement has stark, dark implications. Beyond revealing the shallow side of the skipper’s psyche and personality, and the rather twisted nature of his mindset, it is reminiscent of Donald Trump’s statements on the national anthem fire that is still raging across America.
When NFL players decided to kneel during the national anthem before matches, in protest against police violence against African Americans, the US president came out saying they should all leave the country, if they didn’t respect the flag.
Closer to home, a similar narrative is being propagated by the Indian government — from the directive to play the national anthem at cinemas, to facilitating the branding of every citizen critical of the government as anti-nationals, and people who express dissent as ‘Urban Naxals’.
Perhaps, applauding a six from Kohli, could get you into the infamous National Register for Citizens (NRC) which has torn apart the lives of many Indians who became “non Indians” overnight. Will it, Mr. Skipper? Or should the thousands of NRI and PIO fans, who throng for the team’s matches when they tour abroad, relinquish their careers, lives and foreign credentials in order to properly demonstrate their loyalty to your team?
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Kohli, as skipper, has perhaps taken it upon himself to ensure that the dangerously over-nationalistic narrative the government is taking India through at the moment is reflected in Indian cricket as well. The Delhi boy — his antics stereotypical of the road-rage inclined teenagers that one finds a lot in the national capital and its suburbs — should stick to batting, please. The moment he steps away from the crease to aver on something — be it political, social, or economic (his statements during demonetisation were silly) — he has always sounded out of his depth, thereby putting his sport and the exalted idea of the Indian cricket team skipper in disrepute.
The reach that the captain of the Indian cricket team enjoys is something sports stars across the globe could only dream of. The following for the sport in the country, which rarely sees emergence of world class sports heroes, is such that the captain is lifted onto a pedestal from where he not just leads the side, but also wields enough power to sway the mood of the nation. The team’s ups and downs are taken personally as if the common man’s lives depend on it, much more than say, economic policies, inflation, or the wasting of funds and taxpayers’ money on public display of national ego — statues!
That Kohli is the best batsman in the world at the moment makes his anointing to the rarefied realms by Indian fans that much easier. So much so that his every action will have justifiers and supporters, including ones who applaud Kohli’s dirty mouth — there is no exaggeration here as he uses the choicest of Delhi’s street expletives. Its bitterness is ignored, glossed over by flourishes from his willow. Sixes, after all, wash away all sins!
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However, it is evident that Kohli’s influence on the team is not exactly positive, as his hard-handed leadership is breaking the morale and confidence of the team more than building it. Midway through the last Indian Premier League (IPL) season, one noticed that Kohli stepped back from taking calls as a leader on the pitch despite being the official skipper of Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB). Now RCB’s results over the past seasons under Kohli has been atrocious, despite having a lot of world class players in their roster.
Stepping out of the IPL, the iffy results of the Indian cricket team against strong teams, and the numbers, do not paint a picture of good health either.
Beyond Indian cricket’s fortunes, Kohli’s latest verbal transgression has taken cricket in general into disrepute too. Cricket’s biggest star of a generation seems to have forgotten that sport, despite being used by many for enhancing political agenda in history, has always played a role in breaking barriers and not building them. Cricket, played in a handful of nations, is striving for a global foothold, and would need a star who could rise beyond petty verbal assaults and shallow political agenda.
Kohli, by his actions, has ensured just one thing. He will never touch greatness. He is no Muhammad Ali. Can never be, even if he tried to.
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Sports — be it football, basketball, athletics or boxing — have produced superstars who were unifying symbols for the whole of humanity to celebrate. They never were symbols of nationalistic fervour. National and state boundaries are fluid in sporting loyalty. And the men and women who have been celebrated as icons of their sport were aware of their stature and ensured that they paid justice to the faith that millions put in them.
Kohli with his best years still ahead of him, would do better to expand his understanding of the world. His fans deserve more, and so does the Indian team and cricket.
(Views expressed are personal)
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