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Monday, June 21, 2021

Virat Kohli and the media-player conflict

Virat Kohli is charting a very special career for himself, and possibly for the team he leads.

Written by Harsha Bhogle |
Updated: December 17, 2015 8:04:17 am
Indian cricket team captain Virat Kohli walks back after getting out against South Africa, on the first day of the fourth test match between the two countries, in New Delhi, India, Thursday, Dec. 3, 2015. (AP Photo /Tsering Topgyal) Virat Kohli should not get affected by what is written about his team. (AP Photo)

One of the very few things I tell young cricketers, maybe because I don’t have too much more to tell them, is that no media person can ever stop them from scoring a run or taking a wicket or coming in the way of a great catch. If however, they worry about what the media is doing, it could put them in the wrong frame of mind and then that could come in the way of scoring runs or taking wickets. I thought of that when I heard Virat Kohli’s views on those in the media that cover cricket. Now, Kohli is far too good a player to let things get into his head enough to influence how he plays, but it was interesting that he agonised so much over it. In doing so, while he didn’t play too many false shots in Delhi, he might have let a couple be played after the game.

By suggesting that those who hadn’t played international cricket had no right to talk about how the game should be played, he was in effect making a comment on how the media should go about things which, by his own measure and given he hasn’t been part of it, he cannot sit in judgement over. As indeed is the fact that a cricketer hitting the sweet spot consistently doesn’t give him the ability to string together thoughts and sentences in a by-lined article.

Having said that, Kohli isn’t entirely wrong either because the media’s obsession with searching for the bad and the scandalous is worrisome, especially in a medium where advertising revenue is linked to viewership. And given that good news isn’t as arresting as bad, we are seeing an unhealthy obsession with whatever generates eyeballs. The deplorable “Shame in Sydney” affair immediately after the World Cup semi-final is an example of how people are willing to dump objectivity and balance (which you would imagine is essential in the news industry) in a mad headlong rush for attention.

But, and this is the point I would like to recommend to Kohli, there is nothing you can do about forces outside your control because their objectives are different. It is also true that when you are upset and angry, you tend to notice things that appeal to those emotions. So Kohli would have missed the wholesome praise that came his way for the manner in which he led what is still an evolving team; for the manner in which he handled his bowlers and for showing signs of becoming an excellent bowler’s captain. His lead bowler, Ravichandran Ashwin, was compared favourably with the very best spinners who have played the game and his modest and unassuming middle order player, Ajinkya Rahane, was widely feted for his aesthetic and selfless batting.

The whole business of pitches itself though is worth a debate rather more than the lament that people aren’t hard enough when pitches in other countries produce similar results. The pitch in Nagpur was unworthy of a proud cricketing nation because, more than anything else, it sent the message that it was essential to produce that kind of wicket to win. This side didn’t need that as they showed in Bengaluru and in Delhi. It wasn’t just us but the experts who felt that way too. Ashwin made the point, with much force and conviction, that it needed more work from the batsmen to succeed on it; which was right but which cannot obscure the fact that the intent behind producing it wasn’t great.

But Nagpur was one of four and South Africa were outplayed on the other three surfaces too and those didn’t quite come in for the same criticism. The media, certainly segments of it that are objective and love the larger aspects of the game, couldn’t have ignored Nagpur as indeed it couldn’t overlook an outstanding exhibition of ability.

The media must do what it perceives to be right and, like the cricketers themselves, sometimes it will be right and sometimes it will be wrong. But if the players get consumed by the media, they introduce another obstacle into their life where the only ones should be the opposition and their own preparedness. Maybe Kohli was just standing up, as the leader, for a side that was unhappy but he doesn’t need to.

Kohli is charting a very special career for himself, and possibly for the team he leads. The media, whether former players or journalists or broadcasters, will not be able to come in his way unless he gets affected by what they have to say about him.

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