In another era Rahul Dravid might well have said “to thine own self be true”. But speaking at the Bangalore Literature Festival he opted for a more circumspect approach and told youngsters that aping iconic Indian skipper Virat Kohli was not really his idea of being kosher.
Of course there is much to marvel and admire in Kohli. But is he the ideal role model for youngsters? Well, that’s debatable.
A role model serves as an example of the values, attitudes and behaviours associated with the role. Dravid’s argument is that Kohli’s disposition to some of these attributes need not necessarily work for others.
Kohli is an outstanding success as a cricketer. His work ethics have been brilliant. The effort and thinking he puts into batting, fielding and fitness are stupendous and certainly a solid lesson for youngsters.
The jarring note, if you call it that, is his in-your-face aggression; a willingness to go on an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation with the opposition — even if it means he has to initiate it — and the propensity to make provocative comments at the drop of a hat.
These, as Dravid pointed out, may actually be the fuel that powers Kohli. He gets charged up, focused and extremely determined after a confrontation. Maybe it even helps him get into the ‘zone’ and opens up mental channels that might otherwise lie dormant.
In fact former Australian pace bowler Jason Gillespie alluded to it when he said that his advice to his compatriots would be to not needle Kohli. He had said before the start of the series earlier this year that confrontation brought the best out of Kohli and the Aussies would be better served to leave him alone.
Kohli’s aura actually expands in a confrontation. He gets alert, alive and primed for action after a skirmish or exchange of words.
Dravid said as much: "Sometimes, especially before an Australia series, you'll find Virat saying the most outrageous things. And I read the paper and cringe at times. But then I think back, maybe he actually wants that contest. He wants that lip on the field because that gets the best out of him. Now that might not be everyone's cup of tea. But at the end of the day, he's got to do what gets the best out of him.”
Much before Kohli that genius of a tennis player, John McEnroe used to work himself into a frenzy in an attempt to lift the quality of his game. McEnroe was a sensational left-handed player. He was supremely gifted and made a mickey of most opponents. But McEnroe’s behaviour was outrageous. Nobody would know for sure on whom his ire would be directed at during each match —chair umpire, balls boys, spectators or opponent, all came in the ambit of his outburst.
His comments on court were caustic and even insulting. He once screamed at an umpire: “There are thousands of umpires in the world and I end up with a moron like you!”
Kohli, though, is definitely not as insulting as McEnroe. But he’s had his moments.
His retort to Australian fast bowler James Faulkner's sledge during an innings Down Under: “You're wasting your energy. There's no point. I've smashed you enough in my life. Just go and bowl."
Or his saying that he won’t be friends with Australians.
Or his ‘cheating’ comment at the Bengaluru Test after Steve Smith had his now infamous “brain fade” moment: “There is a line you don't cross on the cricket field — sledging and playing against the opponents is different — but, I don't want to mention that word but it falls within that bracket.”
While this approach has got Kohli’s competitive juices flowing, Dravid is well aware that the same stroke cannot be used for different folks.
The India ‘A’ and Under-19 coach is in charge of a bunch of young, promising cricketers. He probably wants to guard his flock against negative energy even as he is aware of the tremendous influence that a charismatic role model like Kohli could have on aspiring youngsters.
Just like it is said that `when the student is ready, the teacher appears’, Dravid’s cautionary advice could be a timely one for the likes of Prithvi Shaw and others.
Years ago, master batsman Viv Richards walking in to bat was a sight to behold! He would conspicuously chew gum, slap the top of his bat handle a couple of times, pull down the peak of his cap and swagger all the way to the batting crease. He would proceed to effortlessly demolish bowling attacks. A legion of young aspiring cricketers all over the world took to chewing gum and swaggering around in imitation of the great batsman. But none could be even a patch on the maestro’s batting expertise.
Likewise it would be a shame if young cricketers imbibe Kohli’s brashness rather than his dedication, discipline and dexterity with the game.
It is in this context that Dravid's advice to each cricketer to make his own bed must be seen. Imitate all that is Kohli at your own peril!