Dear Virat Kohli, Stick To Cricket Only, Please

by Swarajya Staff - Oct 31, 2021 06:25 PM +05:30 IST
Dear Virat Kohli, Stick To Cricket Only, PleaseIndian Cricket Captain Virat Kohli (Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)
Snapshot
  • Kohli could’ve conveyed to the management in clear terms that it’s not in team’s interest to indulge in politically charged campaigns — such as the BLM movement — which India has nothing to do with.

    Otherwise, if a knee has to be taken, that too in a game against Pakistan, it could be for constant religious persecution of minorities in that country or deaths of soldiers and civilians in Kashmir due to terror sponsored by it.

Cricket is a religion in India and cricketers nothing short of gods. We have all grown up reading, hearing and some even cheering for this trope.

Of course, only the juveniles (and maybe atheists) could elevate a sportsman (or a movie star) to the level of deities even in a country that has no shortage of them.

Still, such reverence is not unexpected from the deracinated bunch that hasn’t grown up yet, believes India came into being in 1947 and has been in search of new gods for our godless state ever since. But for even a mildly dharmic person, such comparisons of people who act or play for money, to gods, are deeply troubling.

Of course, cricketers have a sense of patriotism when they are playing for India, notwithstanding the immaterial fact that BCCI is a private company and not a State entity (and thank the real Gods for that).

Sadly, the poor analysts misunderstood national tribalism that cricket brought out in people and equated it with the mania of organised religion.

Fortunately or unfortunately, Indian Premier League (IPL) gave the country an opportunity to indulge in smaller t-tribalism more frequently, thereby diluting the bigger T-tribalism.

So, if cricket no longer elicits the same emotions (breaking TVs, burning effigies of ’godly’ cricketers or even pelting stones at their homes), which is a welcome development, it’s not just because Sachin is no longer playing.

There is a deeper reason. It’s why many Indians were wondering (in private, of course) why they are not feeling so heart-broken at the loss against Pakistan as they usually would’ve a few years back.

It’s not at all surprising then that Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) captain Virat Kohli is seen more distraught and almost in tears at the loss in IPL while sharing laughs and being pally with Pakistani crickets after losing to them?

To clarify, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the latter and this should be the norm in sports, but this contrasting reaction certainly points towards the change that has taken place over the last few years.

Additionally, Pakistan is not just another cricketing nation. A more serious and awake (not woke) person than Kohli would certainly think twice of the optics of hugging and laughing with representatives of a State who have killed more than 20 soldiers and civilians in Jammu and Kashmir in the last one month alone.

There is another factor at play. Cricket was ‘pure’ and so were its ambassadors.

Until now.

Things are changing quite fast under skipper Kohli. It’s started with the hypocritical virtue-signalling (very well documented thanks to social media) reserved for Hindu festivals like Diwali, while sparing the same on those of other communities.

One could attribute it to normal attitudes of the rich classes and their repulsion towards firecrackers, though it's interesting how Kohli has managed to retain his typical Delhi rusticity when it comes to throwing expletives at every frustration or celebration on the field while allowing himself to rub off the deracination of society’s elites.

Yesterday, Kohli strongly defended his teammate and pace bowler Mohammad Shami against communal abuses hurled at him on social media for playing badly against Pakistan.

“To me, attacking someone over their religion is the most pathetic thing that a human being can do. Everyone has the right to voice their opinion over what they feel about a certain situation, but I personally have never ever even thought of discriminating (against) anyone over their religion. That’s a very sacred and personal thing to every human being,” he said.

“If people can overlook that and his passion for his country, honestly, I don’t even want to waste one minute of my life to give any attention to those people, and neither does Shami and neither does anyone else in the team. We stand by him fully. We are backing him 200 per cent, and all those who have attacked him can come with more force if they want to. Our brotherhood, our friendship within the team, nothing can be shaken,” he added.

Some have pointed out how Pakistani handles were leading the charge by calling Shami an ISI agent. But no one should be surprised if some Indians indeed indulged in communal bashing against Shami.

But it’s a fact that this was a very tiny fraction, while an overwhelming majority of the people were trolling Kohli’s captaincy, Rohit Sharma’s batting and poor performance of every bowler in general.

But the usual suspects decided to amplify the attacks against Shami to the hilt, especially after the fact came to light that firecrackers were burst over Pakistan’s victory in Kashmir and neighbourhoods in cities with Kashmir-like demographics.

The former narrative was woven to neutralise the latter reality. Even a high school kid could see through that. If there was any doubt, Rahul Gandhi jumping on the ‘save Shami’ bandwagon should’ve cleared that.

Now, Kohli has given it a new lease of life.

To be clear, no one has any problem with Kohli defending Shami and denouncing trolls. He has earlier defended Rishabh Pant and Rohit Sharma equally strongly, as a leader should shield his teammates.

But the problem with Kohli is he lends himself for all the politically charged narratives without being smart enough to understand them. It makes him come out as a hypocrite.

His teammates Ravindra Jadeja and Suresh Raina have been attacked for their caste by the same trolls who now shed crocodile tears for Shami. But he didn’t even voice a single word in their support. The excuse that a journalist didn’t ask him a question about that is just that: an excuse.

Maybe, Kohli wouldn’t be panned so badly on Shami if his team hadn’t bent the knee for Black Lives Matter before the game. Again, putting it on the team management or ICC‘s directive is just an excuse.

Kohli could’ve conveyed to the management in clear terms that it’s not in team’s interest to indulge in politically charged campaigns which India has nothing to do with.

Otherwise, if a knee has to be taken, that too in a game against Pakistan, it could be for constant religious persecution of minorities in that country or deaths of soldiers and civilians in Kashmir due to terror sponsored by it.

Maybe, the knee could’ve been taken for ongoing persecution of Hindus in Bangladesh. There is no dearth of important issues to stand up for in our own country.

But there is a reason why non-political celebrities should steer clear of anything political. Because they will be mired in doing only that and have no time to focus on their actual job.

They are not smart enough to balance these things. Otherwise, Kohli could’ve easily responded to a question on Shami saying that such attacks along religious or caste lines (by defending Jadeja and Raina as well) are very unfortunate just like reprehensible communal comments made by the likes of Waqar Younis or crackers burst in India in support of Pakistan and his team would like to focus only on the game. Alas.

Kohli or any other sportsperson can’t pretend to keep playing a useful idiot for one side and not expect to be hammered by the people.

If he wants to just play cricket, he needs to restore the credibility of the game that has been sullied in recent times and stay away from the politics.

Otherwise, he should be ready for loads and loads of brickbats. Sadly, cricket will be the ultimate loser. It has already lost its earlier sheen.

It’s imperative for those in charge to stop it from sliding down any further.

The ball is in their court.

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