If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It: Virat Kohli’s Aggression is Essential to Who He Is
Illustration: Shruti Yatam
If a rupee was donated to the Reserve Bank of India every time someone said “Virat Kohli is such a great batsman, if only he controlled his aggression a bit…” we could bail out all the struggling public sector banks in the country. Twice.
Virat Kohli is not the best batsman in the world, across formats, despite his aggression and combativeness, he is the best because of it. Like all elite sportsmen and sportswomen at the very top, Virat Kohli hates to lose. He hates conceding even an inch, or being bullied on the pitch. The relentless and unending desire to win every single moment in the game, to dominate every ball with the bat, to stop every single run on the field, to encourage his troops every single minute on a hot day of a Test match, to constantly be performing at 100 per cent, is what makes him Virat Kohli.
With great success comes greater criticism, and this is true for all sports. From the ranting John McEnroe, to the short-tempered Wayne Rooney, and angry Serena Williams, premier athletes have always come under heavy criticism for their competitive, aggressive, and in-your-face attitude that has been an essential part of their sporting make-up and what elevated them to the highest level in their field. As fans, we wish they were perfect athletes without the aggression, forgetting that without the attitude they would’ve not come this far.
Kohli wouldn’t be half the player he is if he didn’t ecstatically send off every opposition batsman or show his disappointment at every decision gone the other way. If he is your captain, you love him to bits for how passionately he backs each of his teammates. If he is your opponent, his brash and arrogant presence makes him the perfect bête noire.
Kohli loves a challenge, a fight, a combative experience. If you give him a daunting total on a tricky wicket in an ODI game, he thrives on chasing it down just to prove all his critics wrong. If you taunt him to find a gap while batting, he will take on the challenge and pierce the field to establish his supremacy. If you try to intimidate him with bodyline bowling, he will eventually hook one for six to let you know he means business. If you try to get under his nerves by sledging him, it only charges him up further, bringing out the best in him. Ask Pat Cummins.
The aggression and determination goes far beyond his mouth, his expressions, and his provocative fingers. It is ingrained in his personality – a typical Delhi chaud, if you will. On the third day of the Perth Test on a difficult wicket, Kohli was first hit on the elbow by a Pat Cummins delivery, and then on the forearm by a searing Mitchell Starc bouncer. The physio was on the ground and play was halted for a good five minutes as visuals of Kohli’s swollen arm beamed across the world. Injury scare? From Kohli’s body language during treatment, one could almost hear him say, “How dare they try to intimidate me, I’ll show them.” Virat Kohli did what Virat Kohli does, scoring a fantastic 123 as more records tumbled.
Columnist Rohit Brijnath writes about Kohli, “Why he has a beard and tattoos is unknown because he is intimidating enough. His look is plain: Are you ready because I am.”
Actor Naseeruddin Shah recently commented on the Indian captain, saying he is the “world’s worst-behaved player”. He may be right in his assessment. But Kohli doesn’t take the field to be the world’s best-behaved player, or the world’s worst-behaved player. He goes on the field to win. And you might say what you like but the truth is, that is what it’s all about – winning. “The Gentleman’s Game” is an empty moniker that has long stopped meaning anything, with the incredible money, pressure, and stakes at play.
We either have Virat Kohli with all his hundreds and his motormouth, or we don’t have a Virat Kohli at all. I much prefer the former.
Friendly banter or sledging isn’t an excuse for horrible behaviour, which is why we have umpires, match referees, and microphones on the ground. Checks and balances exist in the system, and the ICC must come down strongly when the line is crossed. Kohli has been fined in the past, and should be heavily in the future as well, when fault has been established by those in charge. But as long as the chatter is healthy and within the rules of the game, it should be allowed to flow, as has been the case in the India-Australia series so far. Human sport should have human element to it, because without the emotions of those playing it, sport might just be a boring endeavour of athletic display by robots.
As a fan, I will chuckle for years at gems like “Shaam tak khelenge to inki gand phat jaayegi”, as well as enjoy the majesty of the 123 scored on a challenging wicket at Perth. Let the bat, as well as the banter, do the talking, as long as it lies within the rules of the game.