Lloyd Burnard

Peerless Kohli should be celebrated, not attacked

2018-02-15 08:40
Lloyd Burnard

Cape Town – Since India arrived in South Africa towards the end of 2017, their talismanic captain Virat Kohli has taken centre stage.

Whether it be in the field ordering his troops around, carving the Proteas bowlers to all parts or responding to questions at press conferences, Kohli has been a side-show to the cricket all on his own.

While most who are at the top of their games do so naturally, Kohli polarises opinion like no other.

Throughout the recently-completed Test series between the two countries, I listened in as the Indian media shared their thoughts on their national captain.

A few are star-struck, but the hardened journalists were anything but. Kohli, they said, put his own agenda before the team’s and the fact that he had selected Rohit Sharma instead of Ajinkya Rahane for the first two Tests proved as much. There is a conspiracy theory among the Indian journalists that fingers Kohli as being threatened by Rahane. Our friends from the sub-continent obviously know more about their own team than we do, but it was immediately hard to believe that a man of Kohli’s abundant talent would be threatened by anyone.

The Indian media may be undecided on Kohli’s leadership credentials, but the South African cricket public has had no trouble voicing its collective opinion. 

All summer, South Africans have hurled abuse Kohli’s way.

From his animated, potentially over-the-top send-off of Proteas captain Faf du Plessis at Newlands to clashing with media at Centurion, Kohli has ruffled South African feathers throughout this tour.

The Centurion press conference where Kohli went after a South African journalist sticks out, though those who were there found it difficult to blame him. The question that was put Kohli's way, which centred around team selection, had already been asked twice at the presser and it sought to be confrontational. As a result, Kohli snapped back.

"I'm not here to fight with you," the skipper concluded. 

Kohli's passion - whether on the field or in front of the press - is an indication of how badly he wants to win. That is something that every team should want from their skipper. 

Kohli has also been criticised for his excessive appealing and over-excitement in the field, but the umpires and the ICC are there to deal with such matters and, if they saw no wrongdoing, then why should we? In those first two Tests when things were not going India's way, Kohli was the only player in the visiting side who looked like he was prepared to keep fighting.

His majestic 153 in a losing cause at Centurion illustrated that perfectly. That would be the only century of the Test series.

From the day he arrived in South Africa, Kohli made it clear that India were prepared to play on any surface and that they would not complain if they were exposed to hostile, seam-friendly conditions.

The third Test at the Wanderers was nearly abandoned because the wicket was so dangerous yet, instead of kicking up a fuss, India under Kohli got the job done to secure a famous victory.

It was the Proteas, rather, and their own captain Faf du Plessis who spent the last two Tests publicly voicing their disapproval at the conditions.

In that Wanderers Test, Kohli stepped up once more with scores of 54 and 41, which were massive in the context of the match.  

Even when opener Murali Vijay was being peppered thanks to the unpredictable and unplayable Wanderers strip, Kohli would not complain. When one considers the aftermath of the Proteas' trip to India in 2015 and how South African discussion there centred around the ‘extreme’ conditions on that tour, then Kohli’s stance in South Africa emerges as impressive.

As the tour has grown longer, Kohli has stood taller.

He has dominated from start to finish in his personal battle with AB de Villiers, while India have also secured an unassailable 4-1 lead in the ongoing ODI series.

Kohli has been simply sublime with the bat in this series, scoring 429 runs in five knocks at an average of 143. 

Against the likes of De Villiers, Du Plessis, Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock, Kohli has been unrivalled all summer. 

The game's biggest characters have always had their detractors, with the line between confidence and arrogance often blurred. 

Kevin Pietersen, Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Chris Gayle ... all have been on top of the world and all have experienced the wrath, for different reasons, of cricket lovers who lash out. 

Former Proteas captain Graeme Smith was another who had his critics, with many accusing him of "arrogance". Perhaps it is just the South African way. Perhaps we have a problem celebrating success when it is not our own. 

Smith would finish as the most successful captain this country has ever seen, yet for some reason that was not enough for certain students of the game.

"There’s just something about him." Grow up.

The two things that all of the above-mentioned players had in common is that they were uniquely talented and they had a burning desire to win cricket matches. Kohli, quite obviously, is cut from the same cloth. 

You don't have to like his leadership style and you don't have to like the player, but what you can never do is criticise his passion for the game, his talent and his ability to keep fighting when the chips are down. 

Those, in any sport, are traits worth celebrating. 

This summer, Kohli has given us a performance that we should be remembering for years to come, and for the right reasons. He has arrived on foreign soil and has turned South Africa into his very own stomping ground. 

There have been few, if any, visiting captains who have made such an impact.

It's been a pleasure to watch. 

Lloyd Burnard is a journalist at Sport24 and the former Sports Editor of The Witness newspaper ...

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24. 

Read more on:    india  |  virat kohli  |  cricket
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