They once used to call cricket a gentleman’s game. Nobody used to take this more seriously than the Indians in the last century as greats like first Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev followed by Sachin Tendulkar and Anil Kumble were generally the best behaved international cricketers on the field (with a few exceptions).
The boorishness was left first to the Aussies and Poms and then the South Africans when they returned from the Apartheid boycott era. When Steve Waugh’s Invincibles turned sledging into an art form in the late 1990s, the entire Indian cricketing industry looked on in alarm.
But at the turn of the new millennium, as Indian cricket was in the doldrums, one person decided to fight fire with fire! His nickname was befittingly “Dada”, as Sourav Ganguly unleashed his dadagiri on the world with his aggressive captaincy.
This angry young man decided to counter the sledging head-on and his aggression became part of the Indian cricket team. But you could say that with the exception of players like Harbhajan Singh, most others internalized this aggression in their game rather than their on- field behaviour.
Just ask Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman. Even Virender Sehwag terrorized bowlers more than anything else. Then followed calm and dignified captains like Dravid and Kumble followed by the ultimate “Captain Cool” in the form of MS Dhoni.
But now dadagiri is back in Indian cricket and there’s someone who’s even meaner and angrier than the original Dada Ganguly. His name is Virat Kohli and he shows no signs of letting up, ruling all three formats of the game.
While Kohli’s aggression has been around for years now, it has been brought into a greater focus thanks to the statements of greats Dravid and Aussie Adam Gilchrist recently. First Dravid said that he cringed at Kohli’s pre-match statements and expressed his disapproval of other players aping him.
Then Gilchrist went even further told a newspaper, “If I were in his team, I wouldn’t be identical to him on the field. You have got to do whatever comes naturally to you and what you believe in. It doesn’t mean every player who doesn’t act like Virat questions him. If it’s a false bravado, at some stage it will let you down. You will get caught because you will be pretending so much that you’ll forget to play the game of cricket.” Ouch!
So why such adverse reactions to an aggressive Indian cricket team this time around? Well for one while Dadagiri 1 was isolated while Dadagiri 2 is contagious. When Sourav Ganguly removed his jersey and bared his infamous chest after the NatWest final victory at Lord’s in 2002, it is reported that he told the entire team to follow suit.
Now that would have been a sight! But it’s said that the manager signalled the other players not to do so and it remained an isolated incident.
If anything, Kohli has been consistent in his “aggression”. In his first ODI World Cup in 2011, he clashed with Bangladeshi Rubel Hossain. In the 2011-12 of Australia, he was involved with a tiff with opposition fielders and showed his middle finger to the crowd while fielding.
Even his own India team-mates weren’t spared as Gautam Gambhir learned the hard way during an altercation with Kohli in IPL 2013. As stand-in captain in 2014, Kohli went after opposition captain Steven Smith.
So is the Indian team now aping him?
Remember in the 2016 IPL incident when Yuzvendra Chahal celebrated so hard that he injured his RCB team-mate Ab de Villiers? Then there was the tiff between Shikhar Dhawan and KL Rahul in the 2015 South Africa series. Newcomer Manish Pandey has also already fined for dissent.
It can be argued that these are isolated incidents and also happened in the past but there is no doubt that there is a great difference this time around. Ganguly was junior to the likes of Tendulkar and Kumble and could never influence the likes of Dravid and Laxman.
That’s not the case with Kohli who at the age of 29 is already a senior and giant in the Test team and has no real challengers in the shorter formats with Dhoni taking a backseat and mentor role.
Kohli is brash, aggressive and uncompromising and there’s no doubt that all the youngsters are looking up to him, admiring him and holding him as their role model. But is it all really a bad thing?
Kohli can well say, “We didn’t start the fire”. The Aussies, Poms and South Africans are the most badly behaved boys of cricket and first Ganguly merely countered them and Kohli is doing the same.
Then the proof is in the pudding. While the Ganguly era quickly collapsed and he had an ignominious end, the Kohli Raj is getting stronger and stronger with his no compromise attitude.
While we got royally thrashed 0-4 in the 2011-12 Test tour of Australia, the only resistance in the 2014-15 one was Kohli who made an astonishing 692 runs at an average of 86.5. No Indian comes close in Australia in Tests.
With the Kohli attitude, he has emerged our top player in all three formats of the game, no mean feat. He is on course to become the greatest run-getter in ODIs, international T20s and IPL. His Test prowess is among the best too.
But he is probably even more successful as a captain with this approach. In fact since January 2016, we are yet to lose a single international bilateral series that included two completed matches. That includes a whopping 18 series. One struggles to think of such amazing consistence by Team India.
An angry, mean and uncompromising Kohli has led to him becoming the best all-round batsman in the world.
An angry, mean and uncompromising Kohli has led to India becoming the best all-round team in the world.
Said former Australian captain Michael Clarke who told a newspaper some time back,
“Virat’s aggression is one of his greatest strengths, that’s the way he likes to play and that’s how he has had success, and that is the way he will continue to play!”
In fact even the silent legend Tendulkar, who generally stayed away from controversy, felt, “Kohli’s attitude hasn't changed since he got into the team. I noticed that spark in him which many guys were not fond of and there were many guys who were criticising him for that. And today that has become the strength of the Indian team.”
So Kohli’s boys may not back down and are more likely double down.
But some caution: Aggression without talent and performance will fall flat. The upcoming youngsters should definitely keep that in mind.