Losing hurts. No matter how much you talk about sportsmanship being about taking defeat in your stride, the moment of loss can break the most stoic of champions.
Losing hurts more when you think you had a chance to win if you had done better in certain key moments. Roger Federer broke down on the court after his Australian Open final loss to Rafael Nadal in 2009. "God, it's killing me", he exclaimed during the prize giving ceremony.
Faf du Plessis, in his interaction with the press, talked about the gruelling nature of the Test."It was a game of grinding, a lot of hard work and it needed you to push yourself for longer and longer. That is what makes this Test match special."
Indeed the toil makes winning special, but it also makes the loss that much harder to digest.
Virat Kohli took no prisoners in his interaction with the press right after the Test match. He knows the cricket pundits have been critical of his tactics on this tour, especially with regards to selection. He knew they would be out in numbers and will ask tough, uncomfortable questions. When confronted, Kohli knows only one way out, to fight fire with fire. He answered questions with questions. On being asked about not being able to play the best XI on a subcontinent-like pitch, Kohli shot back and asked what the best XI of the reporter was. On being questioned about lack of consistency in selection, he was quick to grill the questioner about his win/loss record.
Kohli's lowest point was in questioning South Africa's performance in India while answering a question about India's overseas record. It was a grim reminder of Gautam Gambhir's "Come to India; we'll show you" jibe during India's tour to Australia in 2011-12.
Kohli claimed his side came close to winning in the last two Test matches while South Africa hardly created any chances during their visit to India. Factual correctness of his claim aside, trying to claim a moral victory after a contest is always lame. What's worse is it belittles the winners in their moment of glory.
Kohli should leave the job of attributing moral victories and near-chances to the critics. For the team, a loss is a loss and always calls for introspection. Yes, the whole world seems intent on revenge and is giving an eye for an eye and serving a doctored pitch for a doctored pitch. His job is just to look at his team and give it the best chance of winning every game, rather than analysing the other team's record.
One can also sense a general mistrust for press in Kohli's interactions. It was also prevalent in MS Dhoni's days as captain, but Dhoni had the skill to mix his counterattack at the press with humour and sarcasm that made his comments not just palatable but also entertaining for everyone, including the journalists. Perhaps that's a skill Kohli can learn from his predecessor.
But handling the press is just one of the many areas where Kohli can use some candid advice. Kohli can be likened to a flamboyant business leader who needs adult supervision from a seasoned CEO. Dhoni does that job in ODIs and T20s, and it is easy to see how much Kohli appreciates having him around. He needs a similar figure in the dressing room during Test matches too, especially when the team is touring. At the moment it may appear that Kohli may have surrounded himself with a few too many yesmen.
Kohli is the natural leader of this Indian team. He sets high standards, leads from the front and keeps his players motivated at all times. At the moment, it's unthinkable to have someone else lead this side. Introspection doesn't come naturally when your reign at the top is undisputed and unquestionable. It's similar to how politicians and businesspeople lose the plot when there isn't a worthy opposition. But even as King Kohli rules supreme in this Indian team, he must find ways to improve and surround himself with people who can regularly challenge him to get better.
Kohli has no shortage of drive. In the same press interaction, he remarked, "It almost has to be a madness to be able to win away from home." Kohli has the madness part sorted out. He only needs to work on finding a better method to his madness.
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