If Virat Kohli was Australian, his aggression would have been welcomed with open arms. It would not be debated. It would not be looked at with suspicion. It would not even be seen as an un-Australian thing to do. But as luck would have it, one of the best and most aggressive players in the world happens to be Indian… I-N-D-I-A-N and not A-U-S-T-R-A-L-I-A-N.
So the question must be asked — over and over again without fail and with a straight face — what do you make of Virat’s aggression? Is it not fit for the gentleman’s game? Is it teaching youngsters the wrong things? Is it right? Is it wrong? Is it what a role model should do?
The media asks the question because they know that any answer will make news. For example, when Rajdeep Sardesai decided to ask the question of Rahul Dravid at the Bangalore Lit Fest recently, it for all purposes had little to do with the book. It did, however, get the discussion and by association, the book, a lot of space in the media.
Much has been said about how the quotes were reported. And (if you still haven’t watched it) watch the entire discussion here.
Problem child or dreamer?
And since the news was doing the rounds anyway, Hindustan Times decided to ask former Australia legend Adam Gilchrist questions along a similar tangent. The headline for the piece read: ‘Why Virat Kohli is not good for young cricketers, explains this great’ but when you read the copy it has precious little on that. Rather it talks about why youngsters should not follow Kohli half-heartedly.
“If it’s a false bravado, at some stage it will let you down,” said Gilchrist.
But still the larger issue is that beyond the headline-grabbing tactic… should the question have been asked… should Kohli’s aggression be questioned at every available opportunity?
We now remember Sourav Ganguly as the man who changed the face of Indian cricket. Some even say that his combativeness was suave and classy. But for every person who says that we can surely find those who will say that it was brattish and petty.
‘Brattish and petty,’ words that are being associated with Kohli all the time. Still, very rarely, if ever, was Ganguly (in the early years) questioned in quite the same way by the Indian media. Yes, the British press took to calling him Lord Snooty and what was that phrase again? – ‘the problem child of international cricket’ but in India, he was loved. He was a dreamer, an achiever and he wanted to win ‘away’ from home. We applauded him when he gave it back to the opponents. We said, ‘India finally has some spine.’
But when Kohli does it, we say he is being childish or even more so, a petulant brat. It’s downright unfair to a man who is redefining cricket as we know it. Perhaps it hurts that he took over from Dhoni — who is as a cool and calm a customer as the game has ever known. The contrast has never been sharper. Still, Kohli needs to be judged by his results – results that simply wouldn’t be possible if he is incapable of inspiring his team and others around them.
Numbers don’t lie
In 29 Tests, he has racked up 19 wins with a winning percentage of 65.51. In 60 Tests, Dhoni had 27 wins with a winning percentage of 45.00. And Ganguly’s team won 21 in 49 Tests with a winning percentage of 42.85. They are the three most successful skipper’s in Indian cricket history. In his 29 Tests as captain, Kohli’s batting average has been 59.53 — almost 10 percentage points higher than his career average.
A bad influence? One doesn’t know much about that but the results certainly haven’t been bad.
His record in ODIs isn’t bad either. In 43 matches, his team has managed to win 33 for a winning percentage of 78.57. Dhoni is the most successful Indian skipper with 110 wins in 199 matches for a winning percentage of 59.57. Kohli’s batting average in his 43 matches as captain is 74.51 — almost 20 percentage points higher than career average.
These numbers are clear signs that India enjoys playing under Kohli and that Kohli enjoys leading India — so why must his aggression be judged at all?
Why must youngsters be warned against emulating him? Why should someone say he isn’t the perfect role model? A whole generation grew up emulating Sourav Ganguly and it turned out just fine… didn’t it?
As kids, we see our idols and we try and emulate then. We do it across sports and we also do it without prejudice. That’s how it has always been because kids will be kids. Also because kids will be kids, they quickly abandon something that is too difficult for them or they gravitate towards a style that suits them more. For every Kohli or Pandya, there will always be a Pujara or a Rahane or even a Rohit. That is just how things go.
Many will hold what transpired in the Kumble saga against him but what else could Kohli have done? He went to the BCCI and aired his views. Perhaps he will never do that again. But you live, you learn and he played by the book. Very rarely does Kohli start a fight but you can be pretty sure that once it starts, he will finish it. That may be the Dilliwallah in him but surely, we would like our younger cricketers to pick that up too.
As someone once said, ‘He who thinks he leads, but has no followers, is only taking a walk.’ Kohli is evolving into a leader his team respects and one that will fight like hell when he asks them to because they know he certainly will. So the next time someone throws up a question about his aggression, perhaps the best answer would be this: “Times change, and perhaps so should our attitudes.”
Either way, do all these opinions keep Kohli awake at night?
One doubts it but seriously, we should all just let him be. He’s doing fine… well, more than fine. And for now, that’s all India needs him to be.