Two sides to the great Virat Kohli
Will Virat Kohli be remembered as a great batsman because he was also the successful captain who led India during a sustained period of top world rankings? Or will he be remembered as a great batsman despite being a questionable captain in terms of his inability to truly grasp what leadership truly symbolises in a holistic sense.
It is with some trepidation that I pose the question to an Indian audience because for a foreigner to dare question an Indian cricketing deity can be career suicide. But anyone who has followed my column, appropriately called Against the Spin will know that I am not someone who is blind to my own countrymen's failings. I have consistently held my line around the Spirit of Cricket and the need for cricket to be honoured by all of its custodians. And they don't get more important than the captain of India, the spiritual home of cricket, arguably the single most important office in world cricket.
There is a clear difference between a leadership mindset and a management mindset. Without labouring the point, there is no better example of the leadership mindset than the consistent example of Kane Williamson, even (especially) under pressure. He is not the best batsman in the world of course. That title is a photo finish between Steve Smith and Kohli but in terms of the blueprint for the best leader, Williamson seems to truly understand that leadership is a gift that he can bestow to more than his fellow countrymen. Cricket owes him big time.
Not for him the stain of ball tampering in Cape Town (Smith) or the constant visits to the match referee that Kohli is forced to make. It is indeed a shame that Kohli, hero to millions, not just in India, continues to let white line fever infect him when he has so much to offer in terms of big-picture thinking. His courage in being prepared to lose a few meaningless T20 games in order to challenge his team to get out of their comfort zone is admirable, yet petty instances of misconduct threaten to tarnish a truly great legacy.
Australia, being a young nation, forged from convict origins, has a much more forgiving yardstick by which greatness is measured. It is usually judged in hindsight. As someone who read Philosophy at Oxford, I find it hard to reconcile this notion of conveniently wiping the memory clear of stains based on subsequent events measured by a different tool. When Smith was disgraced for his crucial role in the cheating scandal and the litany of lies that followed in the immediate aftermath, there was never any doubt as to his batting pedigree. They were inherently two different things. In fact, it may have been that his greatness with willow in hand may have led to him washing those same hands of his leadership responsibilities during that spiteful tour of South Africa.
What's interesting now is that after his incredible performances in England, the Australian public have deemed his sins to have been absolved. But from a philosophical point of view, they are two different things. There was never any question that he is one of the best batsmen in the world, possibly of all time. Being a self-confessed cheat and liar did not disqualify him from that honour. If you felt outraged by the cheating issue, I don't understand how scoring a mountain of runs wipes away that shame.
Let me put it this way. What would be the public reaction if Smith, like David Warner, had failed miserably in the Ashes? Would they be as forgiving? Scoring a mountain of runs has nothing whatsoever to do with ascending the moral high ground. The two things are separate issues and we shouldn't confuse forgiveness with amnesia.
Warner was on track for similar cleansing after the World Cup but his subsequent horror run has suddenly hardened hearts. But why is forgiveness dependent upon whether he scored runs or not? Surely, as a philosophical point, we don't forgive a thief just because he is a brilliant scientist. I have no problem with forgiveness per se - it is the essence of humanity to be able to forgive unconditionally. And therein lies my point - it appears that Australia's appetite for forgiveness had strings attached. Score runs and you are washed clean again. Nick off to Stuart Broad a few times and you remain unwashed. It lacks the purity of spirit that defines the true philosophy around forgiven.
I come full circle back to Kohli then. That he will be immortalised for his batting feats is not in question. His record under pressure is astonishing and unlike Smith, watching Kohli bat is the purest form of art in a cricketing sense. But as someone who loves India and delights in the leadership role that India now plays in world cricket, I can only wish for a mindset change that embraces that crucial distinction between leadership and management.
Kohli has shown that he has those qualities in him. His noble stance in silencing the boos directed at Smith at the World Cup is proof enough that he is a man of substance and deep integrity. But when he allows his greatness to be diminished by the red mist that descends upon him during the contest, he diminishes more than himself. And his legacy, India's future legacy as the true leader of cricket, rests on someone changing the script that England and Australia wrote for a hundred years when they ruled world cricket with the arrogance of the colonial master. The King is dead...long live the King (but may the new King be a benevolent and decent ruler).
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