For a venue gearing up for its first-ever Test match, Ranchi is strangely unexcited about its tryst-with-history moment. Assembled outside the high concrete walls of the stadium wasn’t a strong enough collection of people to be called a gathering, let alone crowd. At one of the ticket counters, a dozen young men were pushing at each other, but that was about it for fervour.
Even inside the stadium, there was an unusual calm; a few gun-totting commandos sprawled under the concrete pillar, tired ground-staff and other orderlies deep in their post-lunch siesta, and the cricket board officials seemed unfussy and unhurried, as if hosting a Test match is all routine here.
In a skewed sense, given the throbbing undercurrent of hostility between Virat Kohli’s men and Steve Smith’s team, Ranchi’s prosaic calmness seems to be almost an antidote to the prevailing antagonism. A week ago, the two captains were busy spitting accusations and alleging deceit, stopping short — or so it seemed — of going for each other’s throats.
But a week in sport, as they, can be a long time. In a week’s time, the respective cricket boards called truce, shook hands, and buried the proverbial hatchet. In a week’s time, Kohli, the impulsive provocateur as the Aussie press has painted him, is talking peace.
Catchphrase: ‘Move on’
When the Indian skipper walked into the press conference hall, he must have sensed the overwhelming mood of the room — there was no escaping both straight and veiled questions on his opposite number — and seemed equipped to dead-bat the pesky queries hurled at him. So he began, wearing a curt smile, “There’s a lot of cricket to be played and it shouldn’t happen in bad blood. I thinks both teams have moved on.”
The journalists, too, seemed to be willing to move on, as they veered on more the platitudinal team-combo and injury-concern stuff. Until a set of differently worded, but similarly themed questions related to the DRS incident were peppered at him. Kohli’s responses, too, to each of those essentially bore the same meaning, but in different words.
Kohli began on a philosophical note: “You move on when you get attached to it. If you don’t get attached to it, you don’t move on. I’m not attached to things.”
But as the interaction wore on, Kohli began to lose that veneer of composure. The first time he looked a little agitated was when an Aussies journalist asked him whether he regretted any of his words in Bangalore. To which, Kohli growled, “I don’t. I think about what I say. I don’t regret anything that I have said.”
To put this in context, let’s revisit ‘those’ words, and its background. It was in the post-match press conference in Bangalore fumed that “at least on a couple of occasions when I was batting, I have seen the Australians looking towards the dressing room before reviewing.” He further added, “I had brought this into the notice of the umpires too.” The context was Smith looking towards dressing before seeking a review.
Maybe, Kohli said that in the heat of the moment, when he was still adrenaline-high after the tense win. Maybe, there was a grain of truth in it, but it treaded a thin line between carelessness and naivety, especially to level such allegations in a press conference. When viewed in isolation, those were serious charges, as he was literally accusing Smith of cheating.
Precisely for this reason, Smith was in no mood to either forget, or forgive. Or even take it mildly. “In regards to saying we do (consult the dress room for reviews) it consistently, that’s complete rubbish in my opinion. I think he was completely wrong in his statement,” he said, grinning and shaking his head. He then jibed at Kohli’s form in the series, “I don’t think he batted long enough for us to review him twice,” Smith added before extolling the virtues of moving on.
Towards the end of the Kohli’s interaction, he had a verbal sparring with an Aussie journalist, when neither seemed to let go off the A-word. It began with a gentle prodding question, “Is it appropriate for an international captain to make serious allegations and not provide evidence to substantiate that?” “What allegations,” retorted Kohli. “The allegations that Australia weren’t using the DRS the right way, two other occasions…” Kohli combated with his tone, “But what were the allegations called?” The reply came, “Doesn’t matter what the allegation is called.” He then simply blunted it, “It does (matter) because it has to be called something for me to be questioning something about someone to call it an allegation. If no charges were pressed against me, how are those allegations?”
Then as an afterthought, he slipped in the oft-repeated line of his: “We have to move on.” But the tone had gone from curt to cussed. There was an awkward silence.
The exchange that seemed to gather vitriol was duly snapped, but it demonstrated that the underlying animosity has, by no stretch of the imagination, dissipated. Throw these two captains into a high-pressure match, and it’s likely that they won’t wave the olive branch at each other.
But, at least, the sparks will wake up the slumberous stadium to the thrills of Test cricket. Dark thrills of the game, perhaps.
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