One moment in the middle of the post-series press conference, Virat Kohli picked an argument with a local scribe. The question: “What is your reaction to your behaviour when you got Williamson out and the way you reacted to the crowd? Does that set the right example?”
The journalist had queried Kohli about his on-field behaviour on the second day, when he had turned his face towards the crowd, placed his index finger on the lips and gestured them to “shut up.” Later, he gave an elaborate send-off to Kane Williamson. On Monday, he tried to roughen up opener Tom Blundell.
Kohli’s retort: “What do you think?” The journalist’s response: “I asked you the question.” Kohli’s reply, with a raised voice and an agitated face: “I am asking you the answer.”
Then he gave an answer reminiscent of a younger, brasher Kohli, not the measured statesman he now is: “You need to find out exactly what happened and then come back with a better question. You can’t come here with half-questions and half-details of what happened. And also, if you want to create controversy, this is not the right place to do (so). I have spoken to the match referee, I have no issues with what happened, so thank you.” Blunt and resistant.
The word controversy snuck once again into the conversation when asked whether New Zealand was India’s bogey team. “We are not trying to create some controversy by tagging a team or naming a team bogey team or something like that,” he snapped. Just a few hours ago, when New Zealand were chasing, he was heard shouting at his teammates: “Jab India mein yeh log aayengey, tab dikha doonga.” A cry for revenge. At times, Kohli betrayed a feeling that the world is out to make a scandal out of the series loss, his first since losing to England in 2018. The series defeat was clearly hurting him, though he did well to hide his angst.
Besides the two instances, Kohli put on that stoic veneer one is more accustomed to these days. He betrays little of his inner emotions. He takes a deep breath every time someone shoots him a question, then pauses, processing the answer in his mind, peers attentively at the person who asked him the question and rattles out the answer, stopping occasionally to ensure that he doesn’t lose the train of thought. These days, he hardly reveals his mood as he used to in the past, though his eyes and voice speak more than the words. The voice is deeper, the tone remains the same throughout the session, and his eyes don’t waver this side or that. He could have been forgiven for seeming jaded, yet his performance at the post-match press conference didn’t seem to be a tired one.
Typically, Kohli was grave and matter-of-fact, dwelled on accepting the result and moving on. At times, it was like a post-funeral speech of a vicar, when he fished out words like acceptance, realisation, moving on and finding inner strength. “Acceptance is the first word. These kinds of mini phases, or these times as a team, or as an individual, you learn to process them better. It doesn’t mean that they stop coming or stop happening. You understand what you can learn from them, and put your head down and work hard,” he explained.
Then, there was no other trope than accepting the defeat. Even if Kohli had split his hair for excuses, he wouldn’t have found any. So comprehensive was New Zealand’s victory, India out-shadowed in every aspect of the game. Even if he dwelled on the positives, there would have been none, as it was a collective let-down. As he said: “Completely outplayed. We don’t have any shame in admitting we were not good enough; we didn’t play our best cricket, not even close to it,” he said. It’s a strange but apt admission. Kohli hates losing. But he doesn’t want to come across as a bad loser.
Then he paused, clutched his right elbow tightly and revealed the communication he had with his colleagues. “The only communication that has happened, and that needs to happen, is don’t forget what has happened, learn from it, and don’t delve into it too much. So, it is a delicate balance. You can’t ignore it, plus you can’t delve on it every day. You can’t just keep thinking about the same thing otherwise you can’t move forward,” he said.
This is typical Kohli these days, trying to strike the fine balance between sounding practical and idealistic, trying to sound mature and composed, trying to put the defeat in perspective. He sought introspection from his teammates: “If you are in denial, then you will probably not correct those mistakes either. So, it is about recognising what went wrong, and having the capacity and acceptance to correct those things and to work on those mistakes, which as a side we are all willing to do.”
It’s time he introspected his batting too, for he’s enduring the worst slump of his career, averaging a meagre 9.50 in four innings.
Then like a good leader, he staunchly defended his misfiring troops. On Ajinkya Rahane’s form: “I don’t look at averages and numbers and those things too much. It is about impact performances. Has he been able to make enough impact performances for the team? The answer for me is yes.“
Moving on to Rishabh Pant’s batting: “Because of his game and the way he plays, he can make a difference lower down the order.”
Then Cheteshwar Pujara: “If you take the Australia series, Pujara made the biggest contribution there. It was the first time we won a series there. If you take things in isolation, you will find lots of things to use as excuses.” Then he said: “I don’t believe in singling out individuals for criticism.”
He, though, was critical of the batting unit: “Something we failed to do as a batting unit, and I truly believe that we made too much of the conditions from the first day onwards, of the first Test: overcast, a bit of dampness on the pitch – we never spoke of these things before.”
The rest were cliche Kohli, about his unflinching adherence to the team’s philosophy, about not showing enough “intent”, “bravery” and “positivity.” In the end, it required a Sholay reference — something on the lines of “can’t write the Sholay script ever day?”— to mellow the intense mood. He briefly chuckled, then paused before putting on that stern, stiff face again, trying to strike that balance between sounding practical and idealistic.
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