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What's wrong with Virat Kohli?
When he flipped the bird to heckling fans during a forgettable Indian tour of Australia last year, Virat Kohli was a young, confident and talented cricketer reacting to abuse. He still remains all of that, but his cricket-rage of late is getting the better of him. It is making him more of a caricature than the dashing sportstar he can so easily be
For quite some time now, MS Dhoni has played Captain Cool to the hilt, seldom slipping out of character. Will Virat Kohli play Captain Hothead with similar consistency?
Well, if you saw him yelling abuses at spectators at the Wankhede Stadium recently and also watched the one-year-old video that's resurfaced on YouTube and gone viral in which an angry Kohli lets off some steam at the Chepauk Stadium, you will be convinced his anger is here to stay.
Kohli is talented, he can bat, he will be the next Indian captain, so should we fan that aggressive intent which borders on obscenity? Is that really going to help the cricketer who is easily the best of the current young lot playing?
In the ongoing midsummer madness, there have been two instances which have shown Virat Kohli the cricketer in a poor light. First, it was his unnecessary onfield altercation with Gautam Gambhir during the match against Kolkata Knight Riders and then his angry exchange of words with the Mumbai Indians fans at Wankhede which went viral on the Net.
It's true the Royal Challengers Bangalore captain Kohli was booed by spectators and called a cheat even though he was playing by the rules. But does that justify his reaction? Kohli's former Delhi colleague Aakash Chopra defends him. "Put yourself in a cricketer's shoes and think. It's after all a game played by human beings, and when you are called a cheat for no fault of yours, you are bound to lose your cool, " Chopra says.
That could be a charitable justification for Kohli's anger but then why was Inzamam-ul Haq, who went into the stands and beat up a heckling fan during the 1997 Sahara Cup in Toronto, made out to be such a villain? Fed up with being taunted 'Aloo' by an Indian supporter, the volatile genius lost his cool and took on his tormentor.
Chopra says even during that incident, the police should have reacted early and taken that fan away. "Racial slurs, being called cheats, personal abuses should not be tolerated in the ground...The players have the right to lose their cool, " says the former India opener.
Kohli's behaviour is not just a one-off incident. Even during his U-19 days, it was the same, if not more, and even though he has made attempts in recent times to rein his temper, more often than not he goes overboard.
Last year, after scoring a match-winning century against Pakistan in Dhaka, he shouted obscenities, which was caught on the camera. At the post-match press conference, a Pakistani journalist asked him: "Aap itna achcha khelte ho, par itni gaali kyun dete ho?" Virat himself was apologetic: "I didn't want to hurt anybody's sentiments... It was just a spur of the moment reaction. "
But as former Delhi spinner Maninder Singh says, it's time Kohli learnt to keep a check on his emotions. "I'm sometimes intrigued at the way he reacts... He is such a talented cricketer, why should be lose his cool so often?" says Maninder.
Perhaps Kohli could learn from some of his colleagues. In his five-year long international career, Kohli has shared the dressing-room with the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Virender Sehwag - players who have shouldered far greater responsibilities for Indian cricket and for a longer period of time. "I think Virat should take a cue from these guys... And it's time BCCI, too, has a word with him. If Virat is the future captain, it's imperative that he knows where to draw the line, " Maninder says.
It's quite clear that Kohli has a lot on his plate and is feeling the heat. With the media constantly saying how the Delhi boy has to do well as the RCB leader in order to become India captain, Kohli must be feeling the pressure. The RCB has talented players but the team has let him down on many occasions. And while Dhoni's CSK is simply running away with it, Kohli's RCB is occasionally stuttering against teams they should be winning against. So, is he worried if his team doesn't make the final, it will be counted against him?
Maninder thinks so. "Possibly yes, but that doesn't justify his actions. As a captain, he can be as good as his team and there's no point breaking his head over it, " he says.
Work pressure aside, some would put Kohli's outbursts as a product of his environment. His aggressive streak is seen by some as part of Delhi cricket But Chopra isn't buying into that theory. Such broad generalisations, he says, are not right and "South Indian cricketers can be equally aggressive".
Maninder, however, feels Delhi cricket revels in being "politically incorrect". "It is there, but what is important is to channelize it in the right direction. Look at Sehwag he gives you the impression of being happy-go-lucky, and all his aggression has been shown through the bat. Gambhir, on the other hand, sometimes lets his emotions take over and that affects his performances. It' happening in this IPL as well, " points out Maninder.
In fact, early on in his international career, Gambhir was banned from a Test match against Australia in Nagpur, because he made a physical contact with Shane Waston intentionally. After that, he has tried to curb his aggression and Chopra says Kohli too is trying his best to keep his cool. "I saw him during the Test matches against England and Australia. He was trying his best not to go overboard. He is a young player. Let's give him the benefit of doubt, " says Chopra.
What remains to be seen is how the BCCI mandarins deal with Kohli and his temper as they try to groom him as the next India captain.
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