We are on the cusp of another new year. 2019 is just about a week away. As usual, the Antipodes will herald the dawn of the New Year before anybody else. All the other nations will follow. The customary mad partying and waking up with a sore head in urban conglomerations is a given. As a sobering antidote, the newspapers will carry pictures of the poor, huddled masses lying on pavements overnight in the biting, winter chill. Those with a religious bent of mind will visit temples and churches, singing paeans to their makers. Leaders of nations will make optimistic speeches wishing peace on earth and goodwill to men. And women. No sooner will such pacific pronouncements be made than a terrorist attack will take place in some country or the other, and some military junta will send its troops across its borders to create a bit of mayhem. The ecstasy and the agony. We live through it every year.
So I am really treating January 1 like any other day of the year and do whatever it is that I was planning to do anyway. One cannot help but keep mouthing ‘Happy New Year’ to all and sundry, whether you know them or not, which is a bit of a pain. Then you have to handle an endless stream of calls from people stationed far and near. Nowadays you rarely receive greeting cards from anybody barring the most fastidious. This is as much for reasons of appeasing the green movement or the anti-paper brigade, as to the fact that myriad digital greeting options are in plentiful supply. In sum I simply cannot wait for January 2 to arrive so that I can revert to my daily rounds of duties and concerns.
Since I do not have anything refreshingly original to say about the New Year, or indeed, New Year’s Eve, and as I am presently in that rare and pleasant month of December in Chennai, enjoying the strains of Carnatic music, I would like to do what most Carnatic musicians and music lovers like doing most. When they are not performing or listening, that is. Which is to talk about cricket. And cricketers. Honestly, what else is there to talk about?
Which leads me to India’s most beloved bad boy of cricket, Captain Virat Kohli. India won the first Test in Adelaide, and the celebrations had barely died down than they were handed down a resounding defeat in the second Test at Perth, despite a brilliant century from King Kohli. All square. However, the cricketing headlines were grabbed by stage and screen actor, the much feted Naseeruddin Shah, who passionately raised his voice in high dudgeon against Kohli’s general lack of sportsmanship and boorish on-field conduct, notwithstanding his brilliance as a batsman. His exact words were that Kohli was ‘arrogant and the world’s worst behaved player.’
Well now, Mr. Shah. Don’t you know that in India our cricketers are no less than Gods? How could you even dream of speaking ill of the world’s best batsman? Social media went wild, and although the aging thespian had his band of supporters, they were completely drowned out by the testosterone charged youth brigade, boys and girls (specially the girls), who told Naseeruddin what they thought of him. I daresay Mr. Shah has retired into some quiet corner, licking his wounds.
Do I have a view on the aforementioned controversy? Yes, Kohli’s shenanigans on the field, and his in-your-face aggression, is today’s avatar of what Saurav Ganguly started some years ago. Remember Dada on the balcony at Lords, shockingly bare-chested, waving his India colours after we had won a one day tourney there several years ago? Or his cheeky gamesmanship in keeping Aussie Captain Steve Waugh waiting for the toss Down Under? Kohli just takes it a notch further. But between Ganguly and Kohli, there was the magnificent Dhoni whose behavior on and off the field was exemplary, to say the least. Kohli respected Dhoni, but chose not to follow his subtle methods in matters of strategic aggression.
The point is Kohli gets under his opponents’ skin frequently on the field, but I am not sure his conduct can be considered way over the top, no more than many others we have seen. Animated certainly, but boorish? Hmmm. Personally I greatly prefer the Dhoni school of captaincy, but as long as Kohli continues to let his bat do the talking, and is quite the lively and pleasant young man off the cricketing arena, I don’t have serious issues with the maestro of the willowy wand. Mr. Shah has a point, but he just might be protesting too much. Virat Kohli, if anything, might be more sinned against than sinning. What is more, to employ a phrase that is au courant, the optics were compelling which might have tempted Mr. Shah to stick his oar in.
I daresay the great actor has much respect for the estimable Sunil Gavaskar, who holds forth from the commentary box with great distinction. If Mr. Shah’s memory on matters cricketing is as acute as mine, he will recall that on the 1981 tour of Australia, the brilliant opening batsman and captain almost walked off the historic Melbourne Cricket Ground and could have forfeited the Test, all because paceman Dennis Lillee got up his nose during a verbal spat over an LBW decision. Fortunately, wiser counsel prevailed and sanity returned to its throne.
So there you have it. The more things change, the more they remain the same! In a couple of days, the third Test match will commence at the MCG on the traditional and ironically named Boxing Day, December 26. Given the context of the needle and edginess all-pervasive between the two sides, the series locked at one apiece, I can only say, ‘En garde. May the best man win.’ With due apologies to Naseeruddin Shah.
The author is a brand consultant with an interest in music, cricket, humour and satire