Aggression on the field can be good, but only within limits
Aggression on a field of play is neither illegal nor unethical. It is part of the fabric of any game. Certain athletes have pursued it as a strategy. It is all right as long as it does not cross a certain line (never clearly defined, but more or less well understood) and become unacceptable behaviour.editorials Updated: Nov 03, 2017 18:40 IST
Steve Waugh, one of the greatest captains in the history of cricket, was fond of a phrase: mental disintegration. Before a single ball had been bowled, and relentlessly thereafter, his team of world-beating, buccaneering, belligerent Australians would flatten the opposition with jibes, sneers, and curses, creating an atmosphere of such hostility that the other team would wilt as much in the face of it as of the Australians’ swaggering dominance on the pitch. It worked a treat. Till he came up against Sourav Ganguly, who, snarling and scowling, got up the nose of Waugh and his men. He annoyed Waugh by keeping him waiting for the toss. He matched the Australian jibe for jibe, sneer for sneer. His team rivalled Waugh’s stroke for aggressive stroke, ball for aggressive ball. He out-Waughed Waugh on the way to a historic, era-defining series victory in 2001.
Aggression in sport – in body language, conversation, and action – works for some. As both former greats Rahul Dravid and Adam Gilchrist pointed out, aggression gets the best out of Virat Kohli. But in trying to mould a team in his own image, Kohli should not demand that all his players be replicas of him. Neither should all young players look to blindly ape Kohli. His kind of overt aggression matches his personality; it will not necessarily suit the temperament of someone like Ajinkya Rahane. Dravid, unflappable and undemonstrative, always dependable but never dour, never indulged in hostile behaviour towards his opponents. Neither did Sachin Tendulkar. Bjorn Borg, one of the greatest champions tennis has ever seen, was nicknamed Iceborg for his characteristic of always rising to a challenge, but never rising to bait. Aggression on a field of play is neither illegal nor unethical. It is part of the fabric of any game. Certain athletes have pursued it as a strategy. John McEnroe, Borg’s great rival, would needle the umpires (“If that ball was out, you have got hair on your head” was one of his unforgettable putdowns), rile his opponent, and use all this to work himself up to an extraordinarily high pitch and intensity of performance. His opponents got distracted; his focus never wavered.
So aggression is all right if it works in favour of the athlete. And it is all right as long as it does not cross a certain line (never clearly defined, but more or less well understood) and become unacceptable behaviour. All players who have radiated aggression, though, have one thing in common: supreme talent. Aggression not backed by talent is useless. There is a word for it: bravado.