So the Men in Blues made history today.
10 years is a long wait – but the jinx is finally broken with India running home to a 31-run victory in the first Test against Australia in Adelaide. Rapturous celebrations erupted in India. A mellow Virat Kohli declared in the post-match conference that India were the better team and deserved to win. And that he was super proud of the bowling squad and the priceless Pujara.
All very true.
With this hard-fought victory, Kohli becomes the first Indian cricket captain to win Test matches in England, South Africa and Australia.
This win will burnish the credentials of Team India and its captain like never before.
The outlandish expectations of a series win in Australia will transform into an undying hope for Indian fans.
And the euphoria will sweep away the memories of the Indian cricket captain’s ugly outbursts and double-barreled attacks against anyone who shows a faint sign of dissenting with his world view.
Kohli the cricketer is undoubtedly one of the most phenomenal talents the world has ever seen.
But Kohli the role model is certainly a very different being. His silken class act with the bat doesn’t extend to the world outside, and that history extends far beyond the 10 years he has been playing international cricket.
Kohli showing the middle finger to fans at the Sydney Cricket Ground during the Australia tour of 2012? He escaped a ban – but that was largely due to match referee’s Ranjan Madugalle’s generosity. The taunts from the Australian crowd that sparked the gesture only got more shrill after the episode.
The abusive outburst against a travelling Indian journalist in Perth in 2015? The Indian cricket board asked him to shut up and maintain the dignity of the game. By the time Kohli said sorry, it was too late.
An Indian cricket fan’s lament earlier this year that Kohli was an overrated batsman? Kohli asked him to leave India immediately and live in another country. Following which Kohli faced a massive backlash on social media and was slammed by critics – with five-time world chess champion Viswanathan Anand even ruing the Indian captain’s visible lack of emotional control.
The viral video where a young fan tries to gift a collage to Kohli as he comes out of an airport and is consistently rebuffed? Social media slammed that too, as yet another example of Kohli’s rudeness.
The end result of this volatile mix of swagger, machismo and patriotic jingoism is a classless act lacking the grace of a world-class ambassador of the game, and yet Kohli seems to revel in them.
Half of India’s population is under the age of 25, and Kohli is the master of social media – with more than 37 million fans on Facebook, 25 million on Instagram and another 27 million on Twitter. The brand of hyper-aggressive cricket and behavior that he advocates is therefore not only influential to youth but also taken as the model to follow by countless millions of fans. And in doing so, Kohli has irrevocably damaged the spirit of the game.
Of course, that has done nothing to damage the credentials of Kohli the brand. He sits comfortably as the world’s top earning cricketer with an estimated annual income of $24 million – and ranks ahead of other high-profile sport icons worldwide such as Novak Djokovic and Sergio Aguero.
With all that commercial success in his kitty, can King Kohli become a class act off the field and a better ambassador of cricket?
I wouldn’t hold my breath.