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Aggressive Style

The Youngistan imbroglio

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POINTING FINGERS: A grab of the YouTube video gone viral, where Kohli threatened heckling fans at the Chepauk in Chennai

There was a time when cricket was a gentleman's game that did not mean that it was gentlemanly;it just meant it created an idea of fairness, which did not always work in practice. A prime example of this was one of the founding fathers WG Grace. Once while batting he had his stumps uprooted. Grace put the wickets back and proceeded to bat. All he told the stunned bowler was "Young man, they have come to see me bat, not to see you bowl".

The arrogance of WG Grace still made for a story. The traditions of cricket were kept more by legends from the colony like Ranjitsinhji, Learie Constantine, Duleep Singh and Pataudi who was a conscientious objector to body line. This same tradition of sportsmanliness was displayed by the icons like Kumble, Dravid, and Laxman. If any three players combined grace, professionalism and a touch of style, it was this iconic trio. Things have changed of late. Sledging which was an Australian dialect has become global and the Bhajjis and Sreeshanths have developed local variations. Another cameo start in this game of obscenity and insults is Virat Kohli.

Virat Kohli was seen as an up and coming batsman, a piece of youngistan, "aggro" style, part of the lean, mean, new generation which combined aggression, speed and competence, almost into a life style that went beyond cricket. Kohli is an icon featured in ads and on the sports page. He was being built into a brand name. His achievements spoke aggressively as his body language. He was the new star, a character at a time the likes of MS Dhoni and Sachin Tendulkar were mellowing. He spelt class and also style. He was fit to be a future exemplar but recent events showed Kohli is not quite a Dravid or a Laxman. He won't let his bat speak and often becomes victim to a foot-in-mouth disease.

Kohli has a double in Gautam Gambhir. Both possess a youthful aggression which is often mistaken for leadership. Their recent spat at an IPL game provided moments of drama before cricket took over. It was Kohli season at IPL when a fan proclaimed, "CSK rocks!". It was a natural cry of a fan, triumphant and visceral, followed by a chorus of taunting laughter. Unfortunately the taunt fell on the fertile ears of Kohli walking up the stands with a defeated look. Kohli as the local lingo goes, freaked out. He screamed and threatened while spectators watched his show from fenced safety.

The contemporary fan is not a passive spectator. If he cannot invade the field, he will turn the aftermath into a festival. Twitter and Facebook and the YouTube become handy weapons in the love and hate relationship with his hero. Spoofs of Kohli appeared blending his advertisement with his more cameo performances. Suddenly the cricketer as star looks helpless. He can control fast cars and fast women but not the fickle fan, who is faster on the take than any stroke Kohli can play.

At one level, one feels sympathy. A player plays his heart out and defeat must hurt. Fans can add salt to the wounds, playing a lethal chorus that traumatizes. With Charlie Sheen's Anger Management serial on TV, one also hears facetious comments about what Kohli needs.

Yet if cricket is to be professional game, it needs the help of coaches, trainers and other professionals like psychologists. Younger players need a system of mentoring;Virat Kohli cannot become a legendary character by losing his temper. He only gets compared invidiously with the Dravids and Laxmans. He has the ebullience but to acquire the respect, he must show restraint. This is even more important because he has the makings of a future captain. A tantrum on the field can add spice to the game, help relieve a tense moment. But regular tantrums violate the code of sportsmanship and vitiate the myth of the game. Since Kohli has benefitted so much from the game he must recognize this.

Apologizing to the crowd does not hurt. Obscenity makes him a crude comic character and the omnivorous fan will consume both his outstanding cricket and his idiot behaviour as part of a spectacle.

One just hopes Kohli treats cricket and fans playfully. The trouble with Kohli is the trouble of any young player who takes his larger than life image seriously. An inflated ego triggers an inflated temper. Kohli has to realize there is the code of the cricketer and he has to follow it. Unfortunately Kohli is often cast as a nukkad hero. He needs a sense of bigger tussles and areas. A nukkad hero is often a bully;a player as hero surrives on restraint. This Kohli needs to master and understand. It is sure shot formula for a quick demise. An aggressive behaviour without restraint will turn him into a dispensable Bgrade performance.

Eventually, the buck has to stop with the player. He has to show the restraint of the warrior, his power and skill must remain inside the field. His angst cannot be vented on a spectator. It is tough but men like Gavaskar, Vengsarkar, Tendulkar showed it could be done. They also realized the hero of yesterday can become the Judas today, an object of rage for the fans. One has to live with it. It is a professional hazard in a game which fans elevate to a mythical status. The players have to learn young that rage and tantrums do not belong to cricketing tradition.

(Shiv Visvanathan is a social science nomad. )

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