Cricket might be played across 22 yards in a stadium but it is widely discussed across schools, offices, parks, restaurants, tea stalls and homes. Everyone has an opinion and everyone loves to compare the greats. Being one of the modern powerhouses of the game, the passion has not only grown on the field but off it too. Gavaskar or Tendulkar? Ganguly or Dhoni? Tendulkar or Kohli? The comparisons will keep continuing, whether it’s Kohli today, Shubhman Gill tomorrow or be it anyone; we love our heroes only until there is another one for us to compare with. King Kohli is currently the country (or the game’s) biggest brand ambassador. Be it his extremely passionate approach while leading the team on the field or his sharp and unapologetic attitude off it, you either love him or hate him but there’s no denying he doesn’t live in our minds (rent-free).
The brash youngster from Delhi, who never cared what the world thought of him has only grown in leaps and bounds, he leads the team from the front not only on the field but off it too, Kohli has given Indian cricket a new look, a new, fitter and meaner India, he wants his team to be ruthless, just as he is. There definitely is a method to this madness, the madness and the hunger that drives the King. The only time you will find Virat Kohli calm and composed is probably when he’s facing a 140+ kmph bumper. In fact, growing up, I absolutely loved Kohli, something about his rebellious attitude, spiked hair, tattooed arms and ear studs did strike to the teenager who loved cricket and wanted a change with the Indian cricket, Dhoni had just taken over the captaincy reigns and caused a major uproar in Johannesburg after the debacle in West Indies earlier that year. I wanted change, the country wanted change and change had come in the form of this soon-to-be run machine.
If you look at Kohli’s numbers in the initial few years, it really did not stand out and you could be forgiven to look past him. If you compare numbers of some of the youngsters of today, they might just pip Kohli but then again as much as we may agree to disagree, cricket isn’t just about numbers, well if it were, it would do no justice to some of the greats like Gavaskar’s technical purity or Laxman’s artistry, the elegance of Ganguly of Rahul Dravid’s grit to score in extreme conditions. MAK Pataudi has modest records but there’s no denying that he is a legend who took Indian cricket forward. He has won more matches than any other captain in Indian history. Last year, his team beat Australia in a Test series in Australia, the first Asian team to do so. Compared with other sporting megastars, he isn’t even that objectionable. How did it happened? For Kohli, cricket is not just a game. He’s competitive about everything he does. In 2006, he scored 90 for Delhi — just 12 hours after his father had passed away — then attended the funeral. Arguably the best batsman in the world today and captain of team India, Virat Kohli has a lot going his way right now. Kohli recently led India to a historic wins in South Africa and Australia.
So while there are many reasons to love and praise Virat Kohli, why are there so many people who dislike the man? The Kohli hate club is sizable and not just a minority in the country. There is no doubt that his histrionics on the pitch rub many people the wrong way, as many do not appreciate his over exuberant celebrations during the match. His fans call it passion, while his detractors call it arrogance. Even during the third test match, Kohli started trending on social media as people felt that he did not understand the difference between poor sportsmanship and on-field aggression. So why he is so polarizing? People often criticize India for idolizing cricketers, but the truth is that India as a country is always looking for heroes. A billion people select a few chosen ones, and put them on a pedestal so that they can serve as beacon of hope and inspiration to the entire nation. Cricketers and movie stars have invariably become the icons that our politicians could not, as the eyes of the entire nation remain transfixed on these icons. For the longest time, Sachin Tendulkar was one of those icons, as he held a special place in the hearts of Indians all over the world. After Sachin, the baton was passed on to MS Dhoni, as the Ranchi man was anointed the next national hero.
Both Sachin and Dhoni were inspirations to kids all over the country, who were also encouraged by their parents to consider the two cricketers as their role models. Humility, respect and politeness are three qualities that every mother wants their child to imbibe, something that both cricketers have in abundance. This is one of the main reasons why parents were quite happy for their children to idolize both Sachin and Dhoni. But what about Kohli? Yes, the Delhi batsman shows humility and politeness in spades, but that is often punctuated with his over aggressive exertions on the cricket field. Parents want their children to learn the good in Kohli, but nobody wants their child to fight with opponents and vent out his emotions using the choicest of swear words do they? To cite an example, India and Sri Lanka played a controversial test match at Delhi two years ago. Due to the pollution levels in the city, several Sri Lankan cricketers resorted to face masks as they tried off- handed methods to stop the match. Kohli was furious, as he wanted to restart the match at all costs, something that did not go down too well with school teachers and parents. Their argument was that now every child in the country will want to play in the polluted environment, as the Indian captain says it is okay to do so. Is it Kohli’s fault? Not really, but many people felt that he set a bad example. In all fairness, Kohli goes out on to the cricket field to win matches for India, and should not bother about what the country thinks of him.
But unfortunately for him, he has now entered the stratosphere of Sachin and Dhoni in terms of what he represents for the nation. The fact that Kohli is a product of a new age India, one that sports tattoos, funky hair styles and wears his emotions on his sleeve, is not lost on everyone. But there is a considerable chunk that still looks down on this modern great, and will never truly embrace him as a national hero. Eventually it comes down to one’s personal taste, as Virat Kohli certainly polarizes the nation. While there are many who passionately cheer for him, there are others who will cringe at some of his actions on the pitch. So whether you love Kohli or loathe him, what you can’t deny is he is damn good at what he does.
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