Johannesburg - It didn’t take long for India captain Virat Kohli to polarise South African fans with his specific brand of competitiveness.
Among the many plots that thickened during the first Test between India and the Proteas at Newlands, the match broadcaster inadvertently ran a parallel subplot on what one can only call “Virat Cam” throughout the game.
While Virat Cam didn’t seem to be part of the planned coverage package, it almost ended up being every bit as engrossing as the Test itself, which finished in four days, despite a day being lost to rain.
Disgusted with something
Few people in international cricket are as unbridled in their animation as Kohli and that almost includes our excitable Imran Tahir.
From his aggressive celebration of every wicket (think Faf du Plessis in the first innings), that dismissive wave of the hand when things don’t go his way and his grimace-snarl when he’s disgusted with something or other on the field, to keeping his pads on in a sulk long after being dismissed, Kohli is what the kids call extra.
The locals have been quick to pick up on this behaviour and seem to have decoded it in two ways – he’s a new breed of Indian cricketer who appears to have Aussie blood coursing through his veins, or he’s a petulant, entitled product of the Board of Control for Cricket in India’s bullying of international cricket.
Kohli’s in-your-face aggression – a departure from the genteel Indian cricketer of old – has taken both friend and foe by surprise. As a colleague put it a few days ago, the gap between how people expect Kohli to behave and the way he actually behaves shocks them into concluding that he’s arrogant.
To be sure, it’s not that his predecessor Mahendra Singh Dhoni was not aggressive, it’s just that, while Dhoni was as bold (if not bolder) in his decision making, it wasn’t accompanied by what can come across as playground antics.
Indian batting great Rahul Dravid was quoted as saying that he sometimes cringed at the younger man’s high jinks last year.
Second innings dismissal
The India cricket board’s mean-spirited refusal to confirm the dates of the Indian team’s tour of South Africa until it was so late that Cricket South Africa couldn’t fill its prized Boxing Day and New Year’s Day Test slots can’t have helped Kohli as the leader of their team.
That he seems to have unwittingly taken the role of the board’s avenging angel with his desperation to stick it to the Proteas hasn’t particularly endeared him to the locals. To be fair to him, all he is guilty of is an over-eagerness to shut the Saffers up by proving that India can win a series outside of their country, but they only see him as the sneering face of the board.
By the looks of it, he’s not popular with the Proteas either, if Vernon Philander’s verbal volley that followed him all the way back to the pavilion after his second innings dismissal is anything to go by.
Aside from the batting skills that make him a pivotal player who averages more than 50 in all three formats of the game, Kohli possesses the kinds of qualities one would love to teach a child who is starting out in the game.
He has a raging desire and determination to be a significant contributor to the game; his eyes burn white-hot with the ambition to win every battle and he is one of those rare players who play at their best under pressure.
But one can’t help but feel he hasn’t outgrown the kid who accused everyone of cheating when he lost games in the back yard.
Maybe the lesson for us all here is that it takes all sorts to succeed in international cricket (think fidgety Steve Smith). We don’t have to like Kohli’s antics, but we do have to respect his contribution to the game, however comically he goes about it.
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