Pitch in with words that match an icon
The famous historian and sociologist Ramachandra Guha had, in his book ‘Wickets in the East’, stated that the second most important job in India, after the Prime Minister’s, is that of captain of the national cricket team. Though this might be dismissed as a bit of a hyperbole penned by an avid cricket enthusiast, a careful analysis would reveal that this statement comes very close to reality. There is no disputing the fact that cricket is the most popular game in the country. In fact, the following that this sport commands is so high that cricket is considered as one of the two great unifiers of a large and diverse nation, the other being the military. Players who are selected to represent the country get elevated to the level of national icons and the doting public showers their love and affection on them without any inhibitions.
The celebrity status thrust on members of the national cricket team brings in its wake many responsibilities as well. These players are treated as role models by the younger generation who would latch on to every word spoken by their heroes besides observing them closely and trying to imitate their actions, mannerisms and habits. The potential that they have to influence the followers of the game warrants that national level cricketers display maturity and moderation while interacting with the public. Legends such as Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid have demonstrated these abilities in ample measure during their playing days and after that as well. However, occasionally some instances arise when one finds a cricketing icon behaving in a manner that is unworthy of the pedestal that he occupies in public mind.
Being trolled, trying to troll
Virat Kohli, the captain of national cricket team, was in the news recently on account of a response he gave on twitter to an unknown person who commented that Indian batsmen were overrated and he would prefer to watch those from other test playing countries in action. There was nothing offensive or abusive in this message, but Kohli saw red and sent back an angry rejoinder on camera. The Indian captain asked the person why he was living in India if he preferred to watch batsmen from other countries bat and added for good measure that he should live somewhere else. Even as a stunned nation reacted with a barrage of critical responses to this rude message, Kohli backtracked saying that he should “stick to being trolled rather than trying to troll”!
It is easy to dismiss this as an emotional outburst from a person in an unguarded moment. But what is worrying is that this is not the first time Kohli has been involved in a public fracas. During the 2015 ICC World Cup in Australia, he had got into an altercation with a journalist who he thought had written a nasty piece about his fiancee. Apart from the fact that the reporter he picked up was not the one who had penned the offending article, what shocked observers was the audacity and nonchalance with which he verbally abused a member of the national media in front of a large audience. When he realised his mistake, Kohli sent a belated apology through an intermediary in an attempt to patch things up, but the reporter filed complaints with Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and International Cricket Council (ICC). Finally, BCCI stepped in and defused the situation by issuing a warning to Kohli and lauding the role played by the media contingent.
Kohli is, without doubt, one of the best batsmen in contemporary cricket and may also evolve into one of the all- time greats to have played the game. His forte has been his competitive nature, which to the uninitiated, might appear as unbridled aggression. He does not believe in yielding an inch nor does he seek any favours. He possesses a tremendous amount of confidence, which is backed by tons of natural ability. He plays the game hard, is harsh on himself and constantly seeks to improve and excel. But the flip side is that the combination of self-belief and belligerence tends to manifest as abrasive behaviour on the field, as has happened on quite a few occasions.
International sportspersons would know that bouquets and brickbats, like highs and lows, are part of the ecosystem they live and work in. Both praises and criticism have propensity for going overboard but persons under media glare invariably develop their own methods to cope with it, without letting either affect them. They develop their own cocoons or personal space where they can give vent to their feelings, introspect and be themselves, without worrying about the world outside where they are required to maintain their poise and composure. Mahendra Singh Dhoni maintains a sage like calm on the cricket ground where he betrays little emotion. He manages this by being a complete recluse off the field, where he does not allow anyone to trespass. Dhoni’s might be a difficult act to emulate but sportspersons develop their own means to let their hair down as well as to maintain their feet on terra firma.
Sportspersons are subject to immense amount of mental stress when they perform on the big stage. They should be in perfect physical condition, with their minds sharp and focused and should stay tuned to the present alone, without any memories of the past or thoughts about the future. Most of them devise their own mechanisms for coping with the pressure and producing their best. Meditation, reciting of prayers, whistling and chewing gum are some of the commonly used methods employed by players and athletes to tackle such stress. Some of the aggressive postures and behavioural tantrums are also part of the armoury deployed to deal with the strain brought about by high intensity games. However, spectators and followers of the sport generally condone such mannerisms and eccentricities so long as they are limited to the insides of the sporting arena and do not spill over to its exteriors.
Winning hearts off the field
Kohli would do well to take a leaf out of the life of Aussie cricketers in the matter of fighting spirit on the field and good behaviour off it. Australians are second to none when it comes to gamesmanship and aggression inside the playing arena but they are friendly and good natured outside it. Aussie captains have led from the front but always taken efforts to demonstrate good public relations and thus won the support of the spectators and followers of the game. The gesture of Richie Benaud in coming out of the pavilion with his entire team to cheer the winning Indian side after the Kanpur test in 1959 and the visits of Steve Waugh to Udayan, the home for families afflicted by leprosy in Kolkata, are part of the efforts of Australian skippers to win the hearts of Indian public.
Sportspersons of repute realise that they are brand ambassadors of not merely the event they excel in but also of the nation they belong to and the people residing there. The love and affection that fans and lay public shower on them also bring along with it the responsibility towards upholding the dignity of the sport and promoting the prestige of the nation. Any instance of bad or intemperate conduct would, besides reflecting poorly on the country, amount to letting down its populace. Boorish behaviour does not have a place in any civilised society and cannot be tolerated from anyone, least of all from icons who are looked up to as role models by millions. Winning friends and spreading the message of goodwill is as important as emerging successful in the sporting arena and only those champions who accomplish these twin tasks get elevated to the pantheons reserved for the immortals.