Over 2.6 - The Kohli-brand taking a dangerous turn
"A lot of people were talking about the head of the snake, but I think the snake did pretty well by itself, so it’s not just about one individual". This was the statement made by Virat Kohli after the 2nd test in Bangalore in 2017 in response to Nathan Lyon's infamous "head of the snake" jibe. It may well be the case, however, the Kohli-brand is dangerously bordering into being bigger than the game. Not just on the field or the circling hyenas in the media, but also the relations between the Australian and Indian fans on social media.
Kohli is rendered with two shades of perception - one of an incomparable protagonist or one of a despised antagonist. Both these attitudes are largely due to his own brand, although there are certainly a significant number of these perspectives created by the cricketing fraternity.
Firstly, there is Kohli-the man who is an ultra-competitive human being in the mold of a Cristiano Ronaldo or a Michael Jordan in their respective sports. Personally, I am a massive follower of Kohli-the batsman and the person he is off the field. I would go on to say that he is my favourite cricketer of the current era. But unfortunately, Kohli-the captain has left me slightly perplexed both with tactics and antics. Kohli's Indian team is fearless, some may even say brash and arrogant. On one hand, he has brought a sense of belief due to his own superhuman batsman-ship. But his will to conquer is precariously in the vicinity of the recently disintegrated Australian cricket team. Definitely not to the same extent. But being a follower of the Indian cricket team, I hope they do not become what the previous Australian cricket team became - the most disliked team in cricket.
Kohli is no doubt the best all-round batsmen of the modern era. Australians may disagree, but that is certainly the truth if you look at his record across all formats. But Kohli-the batsman is not the one creating most of the negative publicity, it is Kohli-the brand. All you have to do is turn on Fox Cricket or Channel Seven's coverage of the recent Border-Gavaskar trophy to understand the pulling power of Kohli. Unfortunately, the shameless salivating of the "King-Kohli" brand by both the networks have dragged the game of cricket into the distant shadow of one man. The media have made this series about Australia against Kohli. It was Cheteshwar Pujara, who can be defined as the polar opposite of Kohli, that won India the match in Adelaide. Nevertheless the entire match the focus was on the "head of the snake". Kohli's intensity and emotions are box office for networks and commentators, but the responsibility of broadcasters is to provide the viewers and listeners with a balanced view of the game of cricket. Everything Kohli does and does not (as seen by the recent alleged banter of "I'm the best player in the world" that was most probably a media beat-up) is magnified to an extraordinary extent. This puts an enormous responsibility on Kohli-the role model to pipe down. Of course, some of it is controllable, but the constant insinuations and even fabrications of the media make it very difficult to change public perception. Nowadays broadcasting is more about selling newspapers and drawing more viewers.
Kohli also has a lot to do with this type of exposure. Before the Border-Gavaskar series even began, Kohli put out a controversial message in response to a tweet from someone who preferred foreign batsmen over him. He in no uncertain terms told the subject to live somewhere else and not in India and to sort out their priorities. Indian cricketing media personality, Harsha Bhogle, stated that Kohli's statement reflected the "bubble" that people with fame have created and anything untoward this opinion is frowned upon. The responsibility of Kohli-the brand is more than what is limited to the cricket pitch. Former Indian cricketer Sanjay Manjrekar believes the Kohli-brand gets away with much more than others because of his success as a batsman. There are over a billion people, including yours truly, who respect and look up to Kohli's hunger, skill and perfection as inspiration. But there is a danger associated with such stardom. Youngsters will believe they can get away with certain things using him as an example. This was the situation representative of those following the Australian Cricket Team, albeit not exactly alike.
The hate and aggressive bitterness between India and Australia are not only shared on the pitch but more deeply off it. I am talking of society's - biggest menace and most important influencer - social media. And the key centrepiece for this emotion is Kohli. Whether it is the comparison between Kohli and Steve Smith, or cricket pages using Kohli's antics as the headline of almost every story, social media has created a nasty precedence. The public has resorted to racial maliciousness and we all know there is only one way this can end. Comments such as "who is looking after your seven eleven", "go back to driving your taxi", "you convicts should be in jail", " curry munchers", or "white imperialists", only add fire to what was already a tension-filled relationship between the two nations. This type of reactions is only possible with polarising characters such as David Warner, Harbhajan Singh, Andrew Symonds and Kohli himself. This type of hostility needs to stop until something catastrophic happens.
Cricket is bigger than one person and the public, media and Kohli himself need to realize that. Cricket unites people, but the Kohli-brand currently creates a much more divisive effect. Cricket needs to be careful before this takes a dangerous turn.