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Saturday, Aug 17, 2019

Virat Kohli’s gussa with media palpable in SA, is Indian cricket captain beyond criticism?

Virat Kohli’s relationship with the Indian media on the tumultuous cricket tour of South Africa has been quite explosive

cricket Updated: Jan 29, 2018 17:15 IST
Somshuvra Laha
Somshuvra Laha
Virat didn’t take kindly to questions about India’s team selection during the three-match Test series against South Africa.
Virat didn’t take kindly to questions about India’s team selection during the three-match Test series against South Africa.(AP)

A sense of unease and uncertainty hung over the Wanderers press conference area on Saturday even though India had won the Test. Virat Kohli entered, a few smiles were exchanged, but very soon the tone of the interaction turned acerbic. Sample some of Kohli’s comments after leading India to a memorable Test victory.

“We don’t think like people on the outside. When things don’t go well, we as a team don’t say ‘oh we should have done this’ or ‘we should have done that’. That’s the easiest thing to do. I can say or write anything about anyone but when you’re in there, you need to be sure and you need to have belief in yourself.”

“I cannot say if people are now going to start praising our effort, it should not bother us. Even if you do well as a batsman you get a hundred you start at the same zero, you don’t start on 100 again. So it doesn’t matter what people say about us. Whether they want to say good or bad things about us is completely up to them. People are doing their jobs as well. And we are doing ours inside the rope.”

You can understand Kohli’s pent up anger at the scathing criticism he was subjected to after the series loss at Centurion. And then you quickly realise he is also trying to put things in perspective by saying people are doing their jobs.

Kohli is right. Journalists are reporting matches with the advantage of hindsight, a luxury cricketers don’t have. And granted, the media sometimes gets away with over the top criticism. Most of us probably fail to frame a proper question without irking cricketers who have just come after leaving everything on the field.

Disconcerting, though, is the invisible iron curtain between the team and the media. Phrases like ‘we don’t think like people on the outside’ and ‘it doesn’t matter what people say about us’ not only scream Kohli’s lack of faith in the media but also runs the danger of undermining the love and respect they have earned.

And the ‘I can say or write anything about anyone’ part directly questions the media’s credibility as a whole. It’s a trend that started in the later phase of MS Dhoni’s captaincy, only to grow stronger. Remember how Dhoni mocked an Australian journalist because he had asked him about his retirement plans? No wonder why his successor has belittled the media so often.

Other teams have far better media etiquette. In Cape Town and Centurion, Faf du Plessis brought along the Man of the Match (Vernon Philander and Lungi Ngidi) with him to take questions. Kohli came alone in Johannesburg. Even du Plessis was asked some pointed questions but he patiently answered each one of them, not losing his cool or sense of humour. Before and after the press conference, South African journalists were sharing a laugh or a joke with their cricketers. You will never see that happening at an India media interaction. And South Africans are equally objective in their reporting, if not more scathing at times.

What Indian cricketers must understand is that the press conference is the only place where the media feed off their vibes besides ask questions. So they can’t be blamed for picking on contradictory statements. Like when Kohli insisted they were ready for the tour even though the previous day Ravi Shastri had said 10 more days of practice would have benefited the team.

Earlier in the tour, Kohli had said no one wanted Ajinkya Rahane to be playing in Cape Town, prompting some of the media persons to look at each other with bewilderment but not contradict him immediately. Kohli did finally include Rahane in Johannesburg. If a player’s exclusion is dictated by the media, does that mean Kohli conceded to the criticism and dropped Rohit Sharma for Rahane at Johannesburg? Not really.

These decisions lie solely with the captain. Kohli is the face of the team and has every right to stand by his opinion and decide in the best interests of the team. The media stands outside the boundary rope waiting for a quote and some insight that bolsters their copy and opinion. And, yes, they also have an eye or ear for the smallest thing or comment that feels out of place. That’s their job.

Look at it from Kohli’s perspective too. He should be pleased to prove wrong most of us who had written that electing to bat at Wanderers was suicidal. But that should not shift the focus away from some crucial selection and fielding errors he made throughout the series.

The best thing about Kohli as captain is that he wears his heart on his sleeve. He had no hesitation accepting South Africa were the better team in the first two Tests even though the hurt was visible. But not once did he say dropping Rahane in the first two Tests was probably wrong. Neither did he mention Kumar’s efforts on comeback after being bewilderingly dropped for the second Test.

Given how the media was generous in its praise after having (rightfully) criticised the team, shouldn’t this be a two-way lane for Kohli too? If only he tackles criticism the way he tackles bouncers, Kohli could become our finest leader.

First Published: Jan 29, 2018 13:56 IST

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