Kohli on a tough learning curve

Last Updated 29 January 2018, 13:19 IST

Sample some of these statements from Virat Kohli after India pulled off a consolation win over South Africa in the third and final Test here on Sunday.  

"A lot of people didn't have belief in us, but as a team we knew that we were very close in the first two Tests too."

"When no one is believing in you, no one's backing you, it's very important to back yourselves as individuals. So, we never really cared about what people are saying about us."

"I can say or write anything about anyone but when you're in there, facing their bowling attack on that sort of a wicket, and then when you decide to bat first, you need to be sure and you need to have belief in yourself."

Before dissecting these views from the Indian skipper, let's state first things first. It was a marvellous effort from India to win a Test here in "un-Indian" conditions. The pitch suited South Africa's strengths more than it did India's, and to come out and perform the way they did, putting their limbs and bodies on the line, it was an exemplary show of character and resolve.

The reality, however, remains that South Africa won the series and the fact that India could have actually won the series had the team management made judicious selections, should be hurting them more. When the entire world was rooting for Ajinkya Rahane's inclusion in the XI right from the first Test, the tour selection panel stuck with Rohit Sharma because he was an in-form batsman. Strangely, they didn't apply the same logic while leaving out Bhuvneshwar Kumar -- their most successful bowler in the first Test -- for the Centurion match. The reason to omit him was that the conditions didn't suit his type of bowling. Please make up your mind, is it form or conditions?            

And when the two were included in the 11 for the final Test, they showed what a blunder the team had committed by not playing them consistently. Bhuvneshwar was the man of the match for his all-round show at the Wanderers while Rahane's 48 in the second innings was easily one of the most crucial knocks in the series, a knock which was worth more than a 100 on a flat pitch.

When the media and television pundits criticised the team, it wasn't so much because of the defeats themselves but because of the possible reasons for those defeats and which could have been eminently avoided had the team management remained true to its conscience and made the right choices. Yes, no one can guarantee the success of a player – Bhuvneshwar could have had an off Test in Centurion and Rahane could have gone without getting many runs but the fact remains that they proved their worth when they got their opportunities and that should settle the debate. If Kohli believes he has proved the "non-believers" wrong, then those who were clamouring for Rahane's inclusion can say they stand vindicated.          

Kohli is a fantastic batsman, and of that there is no doubt. He is fiercely competitive, supremely fit, his commitment to perform borders on the obsessive and he is quite articulate. It's a rare package but one thing you can't accuse of him is equanimity. To expect the media to not criticise even when the team has lost the series, and possibly for reasons other than cricketing, is a bit naïve, and to suggest that journalists can't criticise non-performing batsmen because they themselves can't face a Kagiso Rabada 145kmph scorcher, is a bit churlish.      

Even the prime minister of the country gets criticised, does that mean one has to be a politician to do so? Or should one have directed a movie to be a film critic? Kohli needs to realise that just as a sportsman he knows there will be ups and downs in one's career, praise and criticism go hand in hand. Yes, sometimes the critique can be unreasonable but so is the praise. Has any celebrity come forward and complained that he has been praised too much?

Kohli is perhaps the most popular celebrity in the country but that doesn't mean he is beyond reproach. As the captain of the Indian cricket team, perhaps the second hottest job in the country after the PM's, his decisions will be questioned and his moves will be scrutinised. He needs to understand that everyone has a job to do and not all of them come with an agenda. He should let go of this "us vs them" mindset. Only then can he grow as a leader. Otherwise, he will just remain a captain.

(Published 28 January 2018, 19:38 IST)

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