Problem with Virat Kohli's aggression is us; we call it passion when we win, bad behaviour when we lose

  • Sandipan Sharma
  • December 19th, 2018
  • 19:21:35 IST

The world around us is bad, why should Virat Kohli be a good boy? Let him reflect the morals and manners of our times, give back as good as he gets, let him not concede even an inch on the cricket field, let him just play fluent cover drives without thinking about the words that may flow from his mouth or the finger that may rise from his palm.

Aggression has always been the middle name of his game. Don't try to curb it, don't try to tame him, and don't try to change Kohli with all the 'it's-a-gentlemen's-game' balderdash. Because it is not. Those who think cricket is a gentlemen's game live in an age where men in suits, stiff collars and hats would sit in the lawns of the Lord's and applaud cricketing shots with a gentle "well played, sir."

For Indians, the sun set on that British tradition the day Sourav Ganguly took off his shirt in the balcony of the Lord's and announced the arrival of the bad guy who knows how to win.

Virat Kohli was involved in a sledging spat with Tim Paine during Perth Test. AP

Virat Kohli was involved in a sledging spat with Tim Paine during Perth Test. AP

That day, after India won the NatWest Series final, we dumped the self-defeating, polite-verging-on-the-apologetic brand of captaincy. Kohli is just a natural product of that process. Don't try to reverse it.

It is difficult to understand, to rephrase a popular couplet, the hungama because thodi si sledging kar li hai (Kohli has resorted to some aggressive banter). The Indian captain has always been like this on the field — a mild example of what John Green would have loved to call 'shitty person, good cricketer' in The Fault in our Stars. (Ok, the original was for a writer).

But the thing about Kohli is this: He has always loved the middle finger, his choice of words has always been variants of maa-behen cuss words, which, by the way, have been pronounced on the field by many gentleman before him on the field, including his predecessor. In your face, up your nose…that's always been Kohli's game, his persona, the type of cricket that brings out his A-game.

So, why this sudden sypapa? Is it because Kohli's team ended up on the losing side? (That, incidentally, has got more to do with the choice of players not words). We love it when Kohli scores a ton both with the bat and the mouth and wins games for us. If he is aggressive and wins the game, we call it passion. If he is aggressive and loses a game, we call it bad behaviour. As fans and commentators, we have to make up our minds on what we want Kohli to do. We can't like a bit of him here and hate a bit of him there because he is every bit the same Kohli, win or lose. Plain aggression.

Till a few years ago, Indian teams visiting Australia used to return with a bloody nose and a mind ringing with nasty slurs. The then Aussie captain Steve Waugh even had a polite word for it: mental disintegration.

His teammates justified it by saying they believed in playing in a more 'robust' fashion and 'combative cricket'. For their profanities, their team earned the tag of Ugly Australians. Sledging is a bitch, what goes around comes around - in this case through Kohli. Now that the cuss word, like the proverbial boot, is in the other mouth, not a bad deal at all, I would say.

The players themselves are not complaining. As the Aussie captain Tim Paine said after the second Test at Perth, it was just 'competitive banter', something that stayed on the ground. Justin Langer went a step further and called it humorous, like Ravi Shastri's frank admission of having a certain part of his anatomy stuck in the mouth that triggered guffaws in the commentary box in Adelaide.

There is, of course, the argument that aggression doesn't imply a license to bully, brag or resort to crass language is perfectly valid. In fact, it doesn't even need to reflect in a player's behavior, but only in their game. But, bad boys — like Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Diego Maradona, Javed Miandad, Ian Chappell and Rodney Marsh (and bad girls like Serena Williams) — have been part of sports lore. It is as simple as this: some athletes can internalize their anger, some can't. But, that doesn't make them lesser players or competitors.

And, an insult, like a good straight drive also has its charm. Winston Churchill, the man who inspired the British with his classy oratory, topped the list of the history's most caustic insults with his jibe at a female MP. When accused by one of them of being 'disgustingly drunk' the he responded: 'My dear, you are ugly, and what's more, you are disgustingly ugly. But tomorrow I shall be sober and you will still be disgustingly ugly.'

Kohli's reported brag to Paine -"I'm the best player in the world and you are just a stand-in captain - may not be in the same league. But, some day it just might find itself ranked atop the list of cricketing history's most iconic barbs just like Steve's Waugh's "son you just dropped the world cup" barb (which he apparently never said).

Why remember Kohli for just his cricketing shots?

Updated Date: December 19, 2018 19:21:35 IST

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