By Kanishkaa Balachandiran/The Hindu
There isn’t a universally accepted definition of the word “aggression” in the cricketing context. In Australia vocal, in-your-face intimidation that might pass as banter is considered sporting aggression. As it turns out, Australian cricketer Matthew Hayden offered an interesting take on the aggression in the Indian context: he said you needed to look at Rahul Dravid’s eyes to see that he had the fire in his belly, and that his inward aggression drove him.
Yet for other Indian cricketers, such as Virat Kohli, the outward variety may work better, and help infuse self-belief in his team. His fist-pumping, animated celebrations and less-than-diplomatic send-offs to batsmen make him a television favourite. Recently, Dravid struck a cautionary note when he said that youngsters would risk being inauthentic to themselves if they start aping Kohli’s every move.
Kohli is not the first Indian captain of this ilk. The Sourav Ganguly era is arguably the gamechanger in Indian cricket because that man used a no-holds-barred approach to get under the skin of opposition captains, which helped turn India’s fortunes, especially abroad. However, outward aggression carries the risk of being perceived as unpalatable to some viewers. Kohli represents a generation of players who are less inhibited, so if he must leap ten feet in the air to galvanise his team, then there’s no stopping him. But his colourful send-offs to departing batsmen leaves one questioning the purpose of this “ebullience.”
That said, Ganguly’s aggressive manner carried greater context, given the circumstances in which he took over. Indian cricket’s credibility needed to be restored after the match-fixing crisis, and India’s 1990s mindset of consolidation — being content with preserving their home record — had to change.
Under Ganguly’s fly’s leadership, India produced better match winners abroad. His personality didn’t always endear him to the foreign press — some would say his shirt-waving at Lord’s was excessive — but if India had to move forward at the cost of his popularity, it was a risk that he was willing to take.
Kohli, a more gifted batsman, earned respect not just by the weight of his runs but also his second-to-none work ethic, discipline, willingness to admit mistakes and rectify them.
Kohli captains the No. 1 Test and ODI teams in the world and his status as a batting genius is beyond doubt. Having inherited a confident team, and a coach who seems to be in awe of him, is his aggression justified?
His occasional petulance, like his reaction at the Centurion Test when he got out to debutant Lungi Ngidi, shows that he may not always be good at getting a taste of his own medicine. A combative press conference after the defeat gave Kohli negative publicity.
The good news is that Kohli can channel his rage positively. In the second ODI at Centurion, he took a painful blow to the body while trying to pull a short ball from Kagiso Rabada. Kohli sent the next ball for six. He had no words for the bowler. His silence spoke a thousand words.
(The featured image shows Virat Kohli celebrating with his team mates. His on field celebrations make for good television)