Virat Kohli, as cricketer and captain, is a cult hero; can he become a legend?

Like Amitabh Bachchan during his 'Angry Young Man' days, Virat Kohli too wears his heart on his sleeve. Contrast this with the cool demeanour of MS Dhoni.

Austin Coutinho, Feb 17, 2018 13:04:28 IST

In India, the ‘angry young man’ label sells, and how.

Amitabh Bachchan is just one of those who rode into people’s hearts — like many writers, poets, social activists, politicians, and actors before and after him — wearing his heart on his sleeve. Most of these ‘angry young men’ made their millions too, for we in India love our heroes being emotional. Big B, for his expressive flare ups in Bollywood blockbusters like Zanjeer, Deewar and Sholay, was even crowned the ‘star of the millennium’.

Like Bachchan, in the movies, Virat Kohli too wears his heart on his sleeve and most of India’s noveau cricket fans love him for it. He is a sort of cult hero. (By noveau I mean the ones who can’t distinguish between Tests and limited-over matches, but have taken a liking for cricket only after the coming of the IPL).

During a recent ODI in South Africa, a TV commentator said that one could easily guess what Kohli was thinking from the expression on his face. As a skipper, in corporate management lingo, he would be known as a ‘screamer’ boss.

Can ‘screamer’ bosses win in today’s tough times, in business or in sport? They sure can, if they empathise with their teammates, and that perhaps is the lesson that Kohli needs to learn. The earlier the better!

Virat Kohli's style of leadership is billed as aggressive by most pundits. Illustration courtesy Austin Coutinho

Virat Kohli's style of leadership is billed as aggressive by most pundits. Illustration courtesy Austin Coutinho

Kohli’s pet expletive on the field is now part of cricket’s folklore. Stump microphones and the dozens of cameras in use have brought international cricket matches, from far corners of the planet, into our living rooms. Therefore, when the India skipper reprimands his bowlers for bowling a wrong line, when he stares at fielders for dropping catches or when he pumps his arms in the air to celebrate a wicket, we see him showing off his emotions real-time, in high-definition.

Contrast that with the leadership style of his predecessor, MS Dhoni. A ‘cool dude’ who wouldn’t wilt under the most trying circumstances, he was hardly heard both on and off the field, except when giving instructions — sometimes hilariously — to bowlers from behind the stumps. His level of success was right up there too, winning World Cups for India in both the shorter formats, and also leading India to the top Test spot.

Kohli is different. His style of leadership is billed as aggressive by most pundits. His captaincy, as long as it intimidates the opponents and is within the conventions of the gentleman’s game, can only make cricket more interesting. However, if it means coercing your teammates or gamesmanship of any sort, it can be detrimental to both game and country.

The India skipper is well aware that he is a role-model to millions of young Indians who aspire to excel, like him, in their own fields.

Ray Jennings, the former South African coach and somebody who has watched Kohli grow up into the ‘giant’ that he is today, believes that his teammates could perhaps feel intimidated by Kohli’s presence in the Indian dressing room. In a recent interview, he said that without really intending to, he could possibly terrorise the ‘lesser mortals’ in the squad, making the players wonder who the real Kohli is.

Author Brigette Nicole, who espoused the cause for being sensitive and emotional, and said that showing your emotions is a sign of strength, also wrote, “Be careful not to hurt people, they can begin to love you less. The pain you cause can chisel their hearts until there’s nothing left.”

The Indian skipper is by far the best batsman there is in contemporary cricket. He is fit, he is technically outstanding and a mental toughie to boot. He is also one of the richest cricketers ever and is married to a Bollywood star. These aspects, by themselves, are good enough reasons to overawe young players coming into the Indian team.

Kohli, however, can’t afford to alienate his teammates either because of his superstar status or because of his intensity towards the game.

Therefore, if youngsters are ridiculed or reprimanded for not being good enough, they can sure feel intimidated; provided, of course, they are putting in the effort. The junior players need empathy. Not all players can have the passion or the grit that Kohli can probably call up at will.

Players like KL Rahul, Ajinkya Rahane, Manish Pandey, Shreyas Iyer and others, and to some extent, Rohit Sharma and Hardik Pandya have had a patchy time in South Africa. Iyer, for instance, has not only struggled with the bat but has dropped some easy catches. Do these talented players lack commitment or are they confused about the team’s expectations of them?

With the high standards that he has set for himself, Kohli may never understand what his players are going through. Nevertheless, he shall have to put himself in their shoes and find out what is troubling them. Team India can thrive only if there is effective teamwork, shared goals and open communication.

Kohli, even if he a ‘screamer’, as leader, will need to spend time with his teammates, helping them understand not just what to do, but why.

Empathy is a two-way street and Kohli needs to listen to what his teammates are saying and, perhaps, not saying. As long as he makes use of his emotions wisely, honestly and graciously as a means to create deeper connections with players with whom he spends such precious time, he will remain a great skipper.

At a book launch a few months ago, Sachin Tendulkar said that Kohli’s attitude towards his game has always been intense, right from the time he made his debut. “His intensity is unremitting and his passion is now rubbing off on his teammates,” said the legend, explaining why the Indian team is doing well. The question that remains to be asked is, “Are they being overwhelmed by his demands?”

With the passage of time, and more experience, Jennings believes that Kohli would cool down and get better as a skipper. But with Ravi Shastri by his side, as coach, that isn’t going to happen very soon. Both of them are of a similar disposition.

One reason why India did well in the ODI series against South Africa, in my personal opinion, could be Dhoni’s reassuring presence in the squad. Kohli trusts and respects his views, and bowlers like Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav too seem to enjoy bowling with him behind the sticks.

In the run on to the World Cup of 2019, therefore, it would be in Kohli’s interests to grow as a skipper, be more empathetic with his teammates and perhaps have the reassuring presence of a senior player like Dhoni to lighten his burdens in the field.

And if he can win for India the World Cup in England, in 2019, Virat Kohli will no longer be a cult hero. He’ll become a legend!

The author is a caricaturist and sportswriter. A former fast bowler and coach, he is now a mental toughness trainer.

Updated Date: Feb 19, 2018 13:50:30 IST

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