India vs Australia: Ravi Shastri, Virat Kohli on notice at MCG - Opinion
In politics, people dread the time when the ‘honeymoon’ period ends and ‘anti-incumbency’ sets in. Post elections, governments enjoy a brief period of goodwill when they get the benefit of the doubt. After that, unhappy voters start looking at other options.
A similar script is playing out with the Indian team management. The nation wants to know why a team with the best batsman in the world/ best batting lineup/ best pace attack/ best spin bowling can’t win consistently outside India.
When Virat Kohli/ Ravi Shastri assumed office they offered hope, promising tough cricket and wins abroad. The “best Indian team in 15 years” (the coach said so) made populist pronouncements about a new brand of cricket where the team would “play hard”, “take no prisoners” and not “crib about conditions/pitches”. Impressed by this Rambo talk, fans looked forward to a new innings.
But Indian cricket’s promised ‘achhe din’ did not show up. Little changed, except captain Kohli’s batting excellence. The Indian team continued to underperform overseas; the disappointing tour to England reinforced familiar failings.
This bat/pad gap between promise and performance caused voices of disapproval and disappointment to surface. Sourav Ganguly set the ball rolling by rejecting Shastri’s ‘rubbish’ claim about the ‘best ever’ team. Sehwag disagreed violently and Gambhir was brutally blunt: he questioned Shastri’s role and contribution to Indian cricket.
Awkward questions are being asked, some targeting Kohli for what is considered unpleasant on-field behaviour. Maybe this is the law of praiseworthy averages catching up with the end of honeymoon and the breeze now blowing the other way. Those who applauded Virat’s swagger and win-at-all-cost drive now think him excessive, over-the-top leader who could do with some humility, grace and dignity.
One commentator wanted the Indian captain to be mature wine (like Pataudi / Dravid) not excitable fizz. Others, citing repeated selection errors, concluded that Virat the champion batsman is not a champion captain. Putting quality Test players (Pujara/ Rahane) on the bench, for instance, was a major cricketing self goal.
Manjrekar came down hard on Kohli, making the point that he gets away with plenty because of his strong ‘brand’ and astonishing batting achievements. Sunil Gavaskar is another not impressed by Virat’s captaincy. He found team selection ‘baffling’ and said starting the on-field verbal battle was a mistake. Gambhir urged Kohli, a role model and ambassador, to keep his ‘ego aside’ and restrain himself.
Several ex-cricketers (including Allan Border and Viv Richards) defend Kohli. They see merit in aggression because it works for him, uplifts the team and cricket needs characters, not robots. Fans and social commentators support Kohli because he represents an assertive young India which loves winners and hates being passively rolled over by goras. Whether Kohli’s conduct is appropriate or otherwise is an umpires’ call but he still has the popular vote. India wants him to play hard like Tiger Salman Khan, someone who ‘gives it back ‘ to the opposition.
It is an Indian trait to be patient and forgiving when it comes to our sporting icons or political leaders. We give them a long rope and are hesitant, scared even to question those in power. But ultimately, sports is about performance, not potential or promise, and accountability. Much like politics. That’s why Kohli and Shastri are on notice this Boxing Day Test.
Disclaimer: Writer is a former sports administrator