It was the perfect day out for Team India. A bright and sunny day in early June may be rare in London but the sun was out for the Men in Blue and they revelled in the conditions. 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 playing second fiddle to the cameo artistes Hardik Pandya and Dhoni saw India cross the near invincible 350-run mark.
What proved to the icing on the cake was the Indian captain Virat Kohli’s exemplary gesture to an old adversary in Steve smith, former Australian captain. Under pressure from crowds around England who had only boos for “Sandpaper Smith”, the Aussie might have felt lost in the outer when up against a sea of Blue supporters. The Indians in The Oval stands were outnumbering the Aussies and others by about 99 to one. This is when Kohli stepped in to change the situation in a gesture of sportsmanship and diplomacy.
What made it so dramatic was Kohli has been earning a kind of reputation for being the angry young man of Indian cricket, seen as representing a nation that has found new aggression. In his positive penchant for aggression he may even have crossed the line to becoming uppity. All the greater then that he should come up with this empathy for a cricketer who had been banned for supporting malpractice in tampering with the ball. Kohli’s appeal to Indian cricket fans to applaud Smith rather than boo him met with a very warm responses from Twitterati.
His wife Anushka sharma too was pretty impressed with the gesture and couldn’t stop talking about it. The World Cup stage is one of hard competition among nations. That is all the more reason Kohli stood out when he went across to Smith and shook his hand. This wasn’t done because India had made a pile of runs and seemed secure. The match was still wide open. Kohli’s gesture came from deep within a cricketer who genuinely felt for another who was up against it and was facing the wrath of barracking fans.
Kohli explained himself at the post-match presser saying he didn’t want an Indian crowd to set a bad example. “In my opinion, he is just playing cricket. I mean he’s just standing there and I felt bad because if I was in a position where something happened with me and I’s apologised and accepted it and I came back and still got booed, I wouldn’t like it either. So I just felt for him and told him ‘sorry for…on behalf of the crowd. We’ve seen that happen in a few earlier games as well. In my opinion that’s not acceptable.”
Sportsmanship is not unknown in the gentleman’s game. See how quickly they run to an opponent felled by a short ball and hit on the helmet. In the old days, fast bowlers would merely stare down at stricken opponents. Today, they run in sympathy for the fallen. Even then, it was a rare gesture from the Indian captain who was master of all he surveyed on a day like that when there were runs on the board and success in front of a crowd that made it an absolutely Indian summer’s day. It was here that Kohli did not let his hubris get in the way of sportsmanship.
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 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, irrespective of how competitive he likes to be on the field. He has proved he is the angry young man in sport but a sportsman with a conscience....