One can almost imagine Virat Kohli’s response to the criticism surrounding his controversial statement to a fan. First, there will be a sense of disbelief. It will be followed by anger. Then, a few choice words will be unleashed. At no point will a note of apology touch his lips because he won’t believe he said anything wrong.
And we know that because that is typical Virat Kohli. His undying belief in everything he does and says makes him a very good sportsman but it also invariably lends itself to an arrogant state of mind. He struts. He swaggers. He preens. He poses. He believes... even when no one else does. He doesn’t see risks... he sees opportunities.
The power of the ego serves him incredibly well on the sports field. It helps him overpower the opposition by the sheer force of his personality but in the recent past, we have seen instances of it starting to spill over into regular life outside the sport as well too.
Kohli has been getting ticked off in press conferences by journalists who merely wanted his opinion on whether he still believes in what his coach (Ravi Shastri) had said.
He gets ticked off if someone asks him what his best XI is.
He gets ticked off if someone wants to show him the mirror.
He gets ticked off if someone talks about liking Australian and English batsmen more than him. His response to the tweet on his official app has kicked off the latest controversy.
He first read out the tweet that said: “Over-rated batsman and personally I see nothing special in his batting. I enjoy watching English and Australian batsmen more than these Indians.”
In response, Kohli said, “Okay, I don’t think you should live in India then... you should go and live somewhere else no. Why are you living in our country and loving other countries? I don’t mind you not liking me but I don’t think you should live in our country and like other things. Get your priorities right.”
The ego has to be harnessed correctly to ensure an athlete steers clear of controversy and continues to develop. In Kohli’s case, the ego now seems to be driving him to places where he’d rather not go. The brakes, as someone might... rather, should point out, are gone.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s response to a tough question would often be a ‘no comment,’ with a huge grin plastered across his face.
Sachin Tendulkar would steer clear on controversy even when others wanted him to get involved.
When India would lose a game, former skipper Rahul Dravid would genuinely call for perspective. “Cricket,” he would say, “is just a game.”
Against that background, you have Virat Kohli – who is not just India’s finest cricketer currently but also the captain – come out and publicly admonish a fan for liking another country despite living in India.
Was he trying to be sarcastic? Was he trying to be genuinely funny? Was he opening a window to his true self? Was he trying to show what a true India should think like? Whatever it is, he was trying to do – it failed badly. He not only let himself down but also, his fans and his country.
Kohli likes to say that he doesn’t read newspapers but then there have to be other ways to gain perspective. Right now, he seems to live in an echo chamber that seems to repeat what he says to himself over and over again. And that cannot be good.
Hyper-nationalism does not allow critical engagement and that perhaps is its biggest flaw. Love your country, yes. But does that love for the country need to be forced? Does it mean that you cannot appreciate another sportsman from another country? Does any of this make you anti-national?
With Kohli, one is used to theatrical displays of inner confidence. But this wasn’t inner confidence – this was an immature statement made by a man who wasn’t even aware of the complexity of what he was saying.
As captain of India, he needs to realise that his words have greater meaning. They have since gone viral. Can one even imagine the impact they could have on impressionable minds? Is this what Kohli wants them to believe? Is this what he truly believes is right?
This shouldn’t be about getting some cheap numbers for his app. Kohli should know and do better and for that he should be held accountable. If it ticks him off... then so be it.
Editor’s note: Virat Kohli responded to the criticism after this article was published.