After Sunday’s run-fest that produced upwards of 800 runs in nearly 80 overs, the Indian Premier League (IPL) has taken a dramatic turn over the last two days, with 126 and then 130 defended successfully. That would normally have been the talking point; instead, it’s the Virat Kohli-Gautam Gambhir faceoff in the immediacy of Royal Challengers Bangalore’s (RCB) 18-run win over Lucknow Super Giants (LSG) in Lucknow on Monday night (May 1) that has grabbed centrestage.
The ugly Kohli-Gambhir faceoff at the conclusion of the game when the teams lined up for the customary handshakes, following an exchange of words between Kohli and Lucknow’s Afghan pace recruit Naveen-ul-Haq during the abortive chase, wasn’t the first of its kind in the IPL. Exactly a decade back at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru, the two nearly came to blows when RCB were hosting Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR), of whom Gambhir was the captain. It took a third Delhi lad, Rajat Bhatia – also of KKR – to intervene and ensure things didn’t get out of hand.
Also read: Kohli, Gambhir in heated exchange after RCB beat LSG
Kohli’s questionable behaviour
Kohli and Gambhir haven’t seen eye to eye on almost anything in the last 10 years – and before that too – and Monday’s showdown was in some ways a spill-over of the incidents at the Chinnaswamy Stadium last month when LSG pulled off a last-ball, one-wicket win, after which Gambhir turned towards the most vociferous section of the crowd and put a finger on his lips. It was a gesture that wasn’t in keeping with his current standing as the mentor of an IPL franchise and an elected representative of the Lower House of Parliament.
But just as it takes two hands to clap, it takes two to have a fight, too. Kohli’s behaviour, always borderline from the time he became a permanent member of the Indian team, has been questionable and irreverent for a while; after a temporary lull, he has reverted to type this IPL, looming as the common denominator in almost every unsavoury incident involving RCB.
Much has been written about Kohli’s fierce passion, his intensity, his drive and his desperation for victory, but none of them can be props to wish away an excitability that often spills over to the unacceptable. It’s one thing to wear your heart on your sleeve, quite another to show disrespect to the sport and to the opponents. After Monday’s game, in a video published by his franchise on YouTube, Kohli is seen and heard telling his mates in the dressing room, “If you can give it, you got to take it. Otherwise, don’t give it.”
Also read: Kohli, Gambhir fined 100% of match fee
Those are nice lines in a movie with revenge and payback as the central theme. But within the confines of a dressing room, in a sporting environment? Hmm…
While Naveen, the original central figure who has since been reduced to a sideshow, was slapped with a 50% fine, both Kohli and Gambhir were docked 100% of their match fee by the IPL for breaching its code of conduct, Kohli’s second such infraction this season. Last month, he was fined 10% of his fees after the home game against Chennai Super Kings (CSK). The IPL press releases outlining penalties don’t throw light on the offences for which individuals have been fined, but the very fact that he has been officially censured twice in the space of a fortnight for misdemeanours he might have got away with in the past should open Kohli’s eyes to where he is headed, nearly a decade and a half into international cricket.
Ravi Shastri, the former India head coach and an unabashed Kohli backer if there was one, has urged the BCCI to step in and nip the Kohli-Gambhir unpleasantness in the bud. Of course, the bud is history and this is a full-blown fracas, but more than the Indian board, it’s the individuals concerned who need to take a good, hard look at themselves. Kohli, statistically India’s most successful Test captain, is six months shy of his 36th birthday while two-time World Cup winner Gambhir is 41, with a history of on-field scraps including a shoulder charge of Shane Watson for which he copped a one-Test suspension and an expletive-ridden argument with Shahid Afridi.
Also read: Kohli-Gambhir fight: Old baggages lead to another round of juvenile bust-up
Kohli and Gambhir have played a number of matches for state and country together, and were involved in an innings-retrieving third-wicket stand in the World Cup final against Sri Lanka in 2011. They are no teenagers driven by raging hormones and on a testosterone high. Competitiveness and the urge to win can’t any longer be used as excuses to explain away behaviour that does nothing to elevate the image of the sport or enhance their individual reputation.
Should set the right example
Inasmuch as Kohli’s conduct continues to attract backing – “That’s the best version of Virat, isn’t it? To see him pumped up like that, that’s when he’s at his best,” gushed RCB skipper Faf du Plessis – the neutrals will point out that even before Monday, he had been in the news for the wrong reasons. After completing his half-century against Delhi Capitals (DC) in Bengaluru, his celebrations directed towards the opposition dugout made it clear that he still harboured plenty of angst against Sourav Ganguly, the former BCCI president who is now the director of cricket of the Delhi franchise. Every time he has taken a catch, he has pumped his fists vigorously in the direction of the opposition dugout, no matter the opponent. It’s an act that’s getting tired and unattractive, an act that might not threaten his standing as among the premier batsman of his generation and among the top all-format players of all time, but that will ensure that there is an asterisk against his name every time he comes up for discussion once he hangs up his boots.
‘White-line fever’ is conveniently used to explain, indeed even condone, poor on-field behaviour but one would expect that with age and wisdom and maturity, individuals concerned will work out a way to find their inner peace, no matter the provocation. Whether they like it or not, they are role models on whose every word and action millions hang on to. That comes with the territory, with being an ultra-achiever in a sport so humongously patronised in a nation where cricketers are deified to the exclusion of all else. Parents themselves, Kohli and Gambhir would do well to ensure that they make the right moves and set the right example.