It was the perfect day out for Team India. A safe start and brisk acceleration against the first change bowlers and a Captain who subdued his instincts to support Shikhar Dhawan who was doing all the striking, and still played second fiddle to ‘cameo artistes’ Hardik Pandya and Dhoni, saw India cross the near invincible 350-run mark.
What proved to be the icing on the cake however, was the Indian captain Virat Kohli’s exemplary gesture towards old adversary and former Australian captain, Steve Smith. With Indians in The Oval stands outnumbering the Aussies and others by about 99 to one, and booing “Sandpaper Smith”, the Aussie might have felt lost in the outer when up against a sea of Blue supporters.
That’s when Kohli stepped in to change the situation in a gesture of sportsmanship and diplomacy. After earning and long living up to the reputation of being the angry young man of Indian cricket, Kohli’s gesture of going across to Smith, a cricketer who had been banned for tampering with the ball, and shaking his hand along with an appeal to Indian cricket fans to applaud Smith rather than boo him, met with very warm responses from the Twitterati. Wife Anushka Sharma seemed pretty impressed with the gesture and couldn’t stop talking about it, especially considering that the World Cup stage is one of hard competition among nations. Clearly, Kohli’s gesture came from deep within a cricketer who genuinely felt for another who was facing the wrath of barracking fans.
Later, at the post-match presser, Kohli explained that he didn’t want the Indian crowd to set a bad example. “He was just playing cricket. I felt bad because if I was in a position where something happened with me and I had apologised and accepted it and come back and still got booed, I wouldn’t like it either. So I just felt for him and apologised. We’ve seen that happen in a few earlier games as well. In my opinion, that’s not acceptable,” he said.
Sportsmanship is not unknown in the gentleman’s game. Whereas earlier, fast bowlers would stare down at stricken opponents, today, they run in sympathy for the fallen. Even then, it was a rare gesture from the Indian captain on a day when there were runs on the board and success in front of a crowd that made it an absolutely Indian summer’s day. But Kohli did not let his hubris get in the way of sportsmanship.
Meanwhile, Dhoni had been asked to give up his gloves with insignia and he did, which was quite the logical thing to do after the ICC refused him permission.
But that was soon a forgotten issue as Kohli sparkled on the grand stage. So universally well received was the gesture that there were hardly one or two voices of dissent on Twitter. The cricket world might see Kohli in a kinder light from here on, irrespective of how competitive he likes to be on the field. He has proved that he may be the angry young man in sport, but a sportsman with a conscience....