Lessons in humility

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Updated: December 13, 2015 12:36:50 AM

John Terry and Virat Kohli seem to have struck a chord when it comes to facing criticism.

John Terry and Virat Kohli seem to have struck a chord when it comes to facing criticism. Early last month, the Chelsea captain had slammed former Wales international-turned-TV pundit Robbie Savage for questioning his form and that of his club. This was how his rebuttal went: “I’ve come under criticism individually from certain players and individuals, players I’ve looked up to and played alongside. I’ve taken that on the chin: Rio, Carra, Neville—the very best I’ve come up against in the game. I take that on the chin.

“When others speak, maybe I don’t take it on the chin. When players haven’t had a career, played at a really bad level in their career… Robbie Savage being one.

“He’s dug me out a couple of times. You take it as a footballer, as an individual. I’ll take it from the Rios, Carraghers and Neville. All day long… From others? Nah.”

Now, move on to Kohli’s interview with www.bcci.tv published on December 10. “…someone who hasn’t played for the country has no right to comment on an international cricketer anyway. I don’t think that has any kind of logic. You cannot sit there and say how you would have done something differently when you have not been in that situation yourself and don’t have the mindset of a cricketer.” Isn’t there a striking similarity!

Savage’s response to Terry’s jibe had a great amount of dignity. “John is entitled to his opinion. It’s just a shame he thinks 99 per cent of the football industry—those of us who have not won the title or Champions League medals—is unqualified to express theirs.

“From the most casual fan to World Cup winners, football is all about opinions. Managers pick teams based on their opinion of players. Chairmen hire and fire managers based on opinions in the boardroom.

“Journalists and pundits are employed to convey opinions based on what they see. Fans in pubs, schools, factories and offices argue about football on a daily basis.

“If criticism is only valid when it comes from old team-mates who played at the very highest level, the game is doomed,” the ex-midfielder, who graduated from the Manchester United academy, wrote in his Mirror column.

As per Kohli, too, 99% of the cricket industry is unqualified to express their view on Team India players. This includes BCCI office-bearers, journalists who travel the world, watching the game and report on it and, most importantly, fans who are the real custodians of the game. Cricket is the number one sport in India because it has the support of a billion of Kohli’s fellow countrymen. Without their backing, everything loses relevance. As per India’s Test captain, however, they’re not entitled to their opinion. Curious!

This column doesn’t intend to run- down a very fine cricketer, who has already shown enough leadership potential to be at the helm of affairs across formats, not only in Tests. But we expect our cricket captain to talk and behave like an ambassador. Kohli, unfortunately, is repeatedly falling short of expectations.

At 27 years of age, he, however, is still a young man and, hopefully, will mature with experience. For the sake of Indian cricket, he should start striking the right note off the field, as a long captaincy career lies ahead of him. On the field, it must be said, Kohli has been superb ever since he took charge of the Test team last winter.

It started in Adelaide in December 2014. He led the team because MS Dhoni was injured. Kohli, however, stamped his authority even as a stop-gap leader. The decision to chase 364 for victory in the fourth innings was audacious. India fell short by 48 runs, but won many hearts. By the time Dhoni announced his shock retirement from the longer format and Kohli became the full-time captain in the fourth Test in Sydney, his style had already won over fans and experts alike. India lost the four-match series 2-0, but a bold statement had been made even in defeats, thanks to the new captain who led from the front.

Between the summer of 2011 and the tour Down Under last year, India had lost 10 overseas Tests. They had embraced a regressive attitude under Dhoni. Kohli’s proactive methods came like a breath of fresh air. He made it clear that his India would play to win.

Twelve months down the line, he has walked the talk. India bounced back magnificently to win a Test series in Sri Lanka for the first time since 1993. And now, they’ve decimated world’s number one Test team to rise to the second spot in the ICC rankings. “I feel that it all began in Australia for us, the way we played there… showed character even in defeats… not one-sided defeats. We were always on the opposition’s heels… That gave us a lot of belief as a Test team. We can play well around the world,” Kohli said after the series victory against South Africa. He was spot on.
The rank-turners (the critics had every right to flay the pitches) in Mohali and Nagpur did help. But the success at Kotla proved that even on a good surface, this team has the wherewithal to trump the very best. The urge to play with a six-five combination in most cases speaks volumes of the skipper’s boldness. It has rubbed off on his teammates as well. It’s so refreshing that Kohli doesn’t shy away from giving his batters extra responsibilities. It’s heartening to see that he backs tearaway quicks like Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron at the expense of dibbly-dobbly medium pace. Spinners, too, have benefitted from his attacking instincts. Ravi Ashwin has become a world-beater by committing to a more aggressive off-stump line. Both Amit Mishra and Ravindra Jadeja have made successful comebacks to the Test side, riding on the confidence given by their captain.

With the way Kohli led against AB de Villiers and company, he has presented a strong case for himself to take over as India’s limited-overs captain as well.

No disrespect to Dhoni. He has won everything that cricket can offer. He’s India’s most successful captain ever, but every captain has a shelf life and India’s dismal record in the shorter formats over the past 12-odd months suggests that he’s past his sell-by date. His methods—backing the bits and pieces cricketers and taking the pace off the ball—seem to have become passé. Home T20 and ODI defeats against South Africa attest his slide. Before that, India had to suffer the ignominy of a series loss against minnows Bangladesh.

As a batsman also, Dhoni appears to have lost his attacking mojo. He no longer remains the finisher he used to be. At the same time, there’s no replacement for him yet in the middle-order. But as far as captaincy is concerned, his replacement is ready.

There’s no harm in Dhoni playing under Kohli. He’s playing under Aaron in the ongoing Vijay Hazare Trophy and shouldn’t have a problem to be a general member of the squad in international cricket. In fact, it will be an opportunity for him to enrich his successor with his valuable advice.

As India head Down Under for five ODIs and three T20 internationals next month and then play host to World T20 in March-April, Kohli deserves to be in charge. It’s time for the selectors take a call. By the way, one of them hasn’t played Test cricket…

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