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India vs Australia: Steve Smith apologises, but Virat Kohli is in no mood to forgive

Accusations were hurled and counter-accusations hurled back. The white line fever didn’t remain confined to the white line and spilled over into the press conference room.

Written by Daksh Panwar | Dharamsala |
Updated: March 29, 2017 9:28:29 am
India vs Australia, Ind vs Aus, India vs Australia Dharamsala Test, India vs Australia Test series, Steve Smith, Smith, Kohli, Cricket news, Cricket, Sports news, Sports, Indian Express Smith and Kohli had a few on-field confrontations in this series. (Source: PTI)

In A backslapping chat with Glenn Maxwell recorded last year, Virat Kohli opens up about his “friendly banters” with Aussie players. Flashing a huge smile, Kohli uses sugary adjectives such as “sweet” and “a wonderful human being” for a few of them while Maxwell the interviewer grins. The chemistry between the two is striking. Maxwell proceeds to extol the virtues of the IPL in that it brings players from different countries together. “It helps us to do what we are doing now (bonding),” Kohli gives his two cents. “You form perceptions without knowing people, and the IPL helps you lift those boundaries and you can be friends with people whom you play against as well. It makes people more fond of each other, and helps create strong bonds. (But) still people are competitive against each other.”

Maxwell chimes in: “Correct. And… that’s the white line fever…as soon as you cross that white line, you are still going hard at each other, but there is still that respect off the field as well.” Revisiting that video on Tuesday left one with a strange feeling. It was like watching the mushy, romantic bits of a movie you know doesn’t have a happy ending. For at the press conference after the Indian team won the bitterly fought series 2-1 on Tuesday, Virat Kohli made clear that his friendship with the Australian players, as a result of the bickering that marred the contests, was over. For good.

“No, it has changed,” he replied curtly when an Australian journalist asked him if his pre-series statement that he was “good friends with all these guys” was still valid. “I thought that was the case, but it has changed for sure. As I said, in the heat of the battle you want to be competitive but I’ve been proven wrong.The thing I said before the first Test, that has certainly changed and you won’t hear me say that ever again,” Kohli added matter-of-factly. It had been that kind of a series. Intense. Too intense, perhaps. Words flew, as did abuses. Accusations were hurled and counter-accusations hurled back. The white line fever didn’t remain confined to the white line and spilled over into the press conference room. In Bangalore, Kohli stopped short of calling Steve Smith a “cheat”. In Dharamsala, Smith was seen calling Murali Vijay a “f**king cheat”. The broadcaster fanned the shoulder controversy. The boards also jumped in. Something had to snap. While it has been good television, the mutual off-field bonhomie appeared to have been the victim.

For some, Kohli’s reaction seemed a bit over the top. “Why does Virat Kohli always take it personally” was the question on the lips of journalists from both sides [and there are, indeed, sides in the supposedly neutral press box]. It seemed even more not-statesmanlike as minutes before, in the previous press conference, Smith seemed to bury the hatchet with an apology. “I have sort of been very intense in my own little bubble and at times I have let my emotions and actions just falter a little bit throughout this series and I apologise for that,” said Smith. To be fair to Kohli, he wasn’t aware of Smith’s public statement. However, it doesn’t mean Kohli would’ve accepted it and changed his stance. So why does he take it personally? Because that’s Kohli’s style: it’s never business for him and always personal.

Perhaps that is why he is where he is. It was heartening to see Smith apologise, but because of that moral judgments shouldn’t be passed on Kohli. The “White Line Fever” that Maxwell talks about is an Australian phrase. It essentially means be aggressive against your opponents on the field, but calm down and have a beer with them off it. But why should Kohli be judged by those Australian standards? Even the much-talked about Australian way is a stereotype. In the Dharamsala Test, a Maxwell shot hit Cheteshwar Pujara at short-leg. He profusely apologised to Pujara, his former Kings XI Punjab mate, and hugged him. There is no reason to believe that Kohli’s approach, despite the air of permanence he sought to give at the presser, won’t change. India and Australia fought an even more rancorous battle in 2008. They gradually made up. And, yes, IPL did help heal the scars.

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