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A stance to stand apart - Virat Kohli's evolution as leader and statesman

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A stance to stand apart - Virat Kohli's evolution as leader and statesman

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Bastab K Parida

01/07/2020

After India outclassed South Africa in late 2015 to usher in a new era, it was Virat Kohli’s comments that was the major talking point. He sounded annoyed about 'our own people' who he believed went looking for “areas of criticism” instead of talking about the good cricket played by the team.

"It is a pity. The series happened in our country and our own people are looking for weaknesses and areas of criticism, and not speaking enough about the kind of good cricket we played. They have been talking about the pitches and how that has been a factor. In this series, four of the top five run-getters were Indians. Top two wicket-takers were Indians. We have had no excuses, we played honest cricket and we got the results in our favour. We are proud of what we have done and how we have played," Kohli had said then.

The reason I started with a throwback was to identify a bigger cause. It was the brashness of a 26-year-old, who had just been bestowed with the responsibility of leading an Indian team. Nevermind the lack of perspective, it was the rawness of a man that came out to give a picture of what he believed in and finding the world a strange place. Four years have passed by since then, and it is still difficult to say if he has changed his opinion on the “support” but one can easily see through the newly-acquired mature persona - a statesman, to put it in one word.

Human evolution is a natural thing. We get perspectives as we experience new things in life and sometimes when we look back at the things from a definitive vantage point, it seems different. But more importantly, it tells us about our growth as an individual. Virat Kohli is exactly like all of us, who checks their Facebook memory as the first thing in the morning and deletes them permanently in embarrassment; Because, you can’t otherwise explain the mature way he is handling everything as an Indian captain, speaking his heart out on issues pertaining to the sport.

MS Dhoni, for all his wittiness, didn’t cross the line to take a stance. He might have been stoic about not using the Decision Review System but that was never a real stance for the game. India have been opposing all the radical steps taken by the ICC from time immemorial and Dhoni’s opposition was the byproduct of a singular-looking BCCI vision. It might come down to the fact that Dhoni never really had sustained success in red-ball cricket which forced him to take the backseat but we’ll never know.

As a captain, Anil Kumble was a visionary and stood for his team like a rock during the Monkeygate controversy in 2008. He was everything India wanted after Rahul Dravid stepped down but it was just for a year. Once India put up a strong fight in Australia and eventually won the series at home the same year, Kumble hung up his boots in his international career, doing more than just enough.

If anything, Kumble and Sourav Ganguly’s tenure taught Indian cricket how to fight big battles, and it was also the beginning of an era where winning mentality just started to creep into the Indian mindset. It was Kohli who took it a notch higher than it was previously imagined to be, with grace and dominance that was a resemblance of the great Australian teams of yore. In the amount of team success, Kohli has been on a different plane altogether but then again comes the same thing - of living upto the expectations, giving back to the sport in his own unique way while ensuring things that warrant importance get the importance.

Be it his stance against four-day Tests or asking the BCCI to have only five Test centers to centralise Test cricket’s importance in accord with England, Australia, and South Africa, or giving his honest opinion on how host broadcaster shouldn’t stop looking for opportunities to market red-ball product better instead of only relying on day-night pink-ball Test matches, the Indian captain has been at the forefront of many an important conversation. 

None for me took the cake as much as his open admission of the anxiety issues that he had to face after the 2014 Test series against England. On the back of Glenn Maxwell taking a break to tackle anxiety issues, Kohli threw his support behind another fellow sportsman, speaking up on the issue that has been a grey area in sports. It was an honest confession by a cricketer who understands the hardcore and unforgiving dynamics of international cricket. Through this, Kohli gave a very important message that if it can affect him, it can affect anybody.

The Kohli persona that we are witnessing right now not only has a  mature body of work but also has a sensitive understanding of all the virtues that is required in a cricketer. By virtue of being an Indian cricket captain - undoubtedly the most tenuous and scrutinised job in the sport - Kohli has the responsibility of standing for certain things that would enrich the game as a whole. He might not have done that four years ago, but what we are witnessing is a phenomenon, a leader, and a statesman. 

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