Virat Kohli could well have left that ‘delivery’ alone. But he fished outside the off-stump and is paying a price in the form of a fan backlash. His video, ostensibly castigating an unnamed fan for appreciating batsmen from England and Australia, caused distress and anger, disappointment and angst among fans.
It does come as a shock that the Indian cricket captain, expected to possess the quality to calm distressing emotions in others, has done just the opposite this time. His response to the fan’s viewpoint does not portray him in the best light. He would rather be left with a willow to wield rather than wear a diplomat’s cloak each time he expresses an opinion.
Should there be a disclaimer that this seems to be a marketing gimmick gone sour? May be. Since the video is not found on Virat Kohli’s timelines either on Twitter or Instagram. And it does not seem to have been sourced to him in the first place. It should not be surprising if someone clarifies that this was a prank and not meant to be out on public domain.
Surely, to those who know Kohli to be sensitive to his fans, there is more to it than meets the eye. Yet, if this leaked video were an idea aimed at marketing some product, it was always destined to backfire. Unless of course, his team that looks after his brand and marketing believes strongly in the adage that any publicity is good publicity and has managed to convince him to act.
It would mean that, unlike on the cricket field, he has allowed someone else to make a crucial decision for him. If that is true, Kohli can himself embrace the get-your-priorities-right advice he had for the fan. For, sport and its entertaining practitioners are so dependent on the buy-in of their fans. And trolling fans is the last thing athletes should risk.
Be that as it may, until a clarification surfaces, Kohli’s opinion will be judged and he will be seen as having double standards. For, among the range of products that he endorses are a German car, American shoes and Swiss watches. If he wanted to be seen as espousing nationalism, he should have chosen to address a different question. It is the question that gives his words a weird context.
Kohli could have easily accepted a fan’s right to criticise him and admire batsmen from other lands. By drawing what could be an erroneous conclusion that the fan’s appreciation of batsmen from England and Australia was actually the fan’s love for those countries and therefore suggesting that fan should live elsewhere and not in India, he has gone overboard.
As the Greek philosopher, Aristotle, said: Anyone can become angry – that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose and in the right way – that is not easy.
For a man who has openly admitted several times that he is a fan of AB de Villiers’ batsmanship and has spent time watching tennis in Wimbledon — he was not admiring Indian talent there, was he? — you would expect Kohli to know the territory he was adventuring into when apparently ticking off a fan for his choice of batsmen to appreciate.
Surely, he knows that sport has the amazing ability to transcend boundaries of region, of culture, of race, of all kinds. It offers fans a wide range of choices of sport, athletes and competitions to pick from to watch and celebrate. More so in these times when the fan has great access at the flick of a remote control or even by swiping and tapping on the mobile phone.
For, India and Indians have never stopped themselves from admiring overseas talent across several walks of life. Despite its own heritage of music, it has embraced musicians from abroad. Look at the number of lives Michael Jackson has touched in these parts. Bryan Adams drew vast crowds on his recent tour of India.
India has a rich history of adoring athletes from other lands despite having our own homegrown heroes. Did India not celebrate the genius of Pele, Muhammad Ali, Bjorn Borg, Michael Jordan, Vivian Richards and Michael Schumacher? And, more recently, has not India idolised Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo?
As for fans, they will have to learn to separate their expectations from high performance athletes and their opinions. They can keep expecting the athletes’ pursuit of excellence to be inspirational and perhaps will have to lower their desire to see them hold opinion that will match their own lofty standards. It is perhaps not possible for anyone to excel in all areas of life.
Of course, Kohli could have been more careful with what he said. Cricketers – and, in fact, especially all social personalities who have massive following on social media – have an immense responsibility to their fans and must be extremely careful in what content reaches social media and is attributable to them. Suffice to say, this video has left Kohli with a lot of work to do.
Many years ago, Sir Donald Bradman wrote of the camera – still and movie – as doing great service to mankind and making a contribution of untold value to science. “But they (the inventors of the camera) also created weapons of publicity which are almost frightening to a team of international cricketers,” he wrote in The Farewell to Cricket.
If he reflects deeply enough, Kohli may say something similar about social media now, even if does not resist the temptation of reacting so spontaneously to such ‘deliveries’ in the time ahead.