Virat Kohli and the Stump Mic: Cape Town incident highlights Indian Cricket’s disturbing superhero complex

No real Amitabh Bachchan fan can forget the scene from the movie Amar Akbar Anthony where he (Anthony’s character) talks to the mirror and berates himself for drinking, blaming him for being beat up for being drunk and then puts a plaster on the mirror instead of his wounds. Likewise, no avid Virat Kohli fan will be able to forget the Cape Town scene where he talks to the stomp mic and berates the TV station for siding with the home side. Intoxication made Anthony’s behavior plausible in Prayag Raj’s screenplay, but the screenwriter of Kohli’s biopic will find it difficult to make this stump mic scene plausible to moviegoers of the future, who may not have seen it live.

How would the screenwriter show what was going through Kohli’s mind? Being the Indian captain and having spent 14 years in international cricket, it is not possible that he did not know how the Decision Review System (DRS) works, or that HawkEye is not owned by Cricket South Africa. What was the reason for the overreaction? Was he more mad at himself for failing with the bat, despite spending a lot of time at the crease, and needed someone to yell at? Was it the feeling that the final frontier is slipping, despite South Africa having a less experienced, perhaps less talented team?

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The role of Ravichandran Ashwin makes the scene even more baffling. One can understand Ashwin’s frustration. His place in the playing XI for the overseas Tests was uncertain under Kohli, and he went wicketless in the first innings in Cape Town, the series decider. That after picking up just three wickets in the first two Tests. Dean Elgar’s wicket at that point could have turned the match upside down and proved to everyone just how valuable Ashwin is, even in conditions not conducive to spin bowling. But a thinker like Ashwin should have been able to control his emotions instead of putting on a spectacle that would just send the wrong message to young cricketers — that everyone in the world is plotting against you. And if a decision is in your opponent’s favor, you must yell “murder.”

But what invisible monster did KL Rahul fight in that scene? If the referee who raised the hand against Elgar himself is a South African, how did Rahul come up with the idea that the whole country is fighting 11 Indians? Did watching too much Bollywood on OTT do this to the elegant batter?

Answers to those questions will lead us nowhere, because what happened on January 13th shows that it is no longer about individuals. From the aggressive, expressive Kohli to the generally calm Ashwin, this is now acceptable behavior on the pitch. Therefore, we must ask ourselves how and why they came to this conclusion. In fact, using the word ‘she’ would be holier than you as the reaction of most cricketers, ex-cricketers and fans on social media shows that most of us have come to that conclusion. Only a handful have said this behavior is unacceptable and have trolled for it.

This isn’t the first time a DRS call has been directed against India and raised eyebrows. Mayank Agarwal’s LBW in the first Test is still fresh in everyone’s minds, but at least some remember Rahul Dravid’s sacking on his latest tour of England. DRS declared him busted when the truth is he only touched his shoelaces. Then why didn’t he yell and claim a conspiracy? Why has the sky fallen now? One can always say that Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly et al were gentler people; unlike the bold new Indian team built by Kohli and Ravi Shastri.

But the former had had their share of bad boy moments, most memorable, the Mike Dennes moment in South Africa. That was the first time the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) showed its monetary power to oppose the penalty imposed on six of its cricketers. Call it brash or arrogant, at least the board had the decency to negotiate with the International Cricket Council (ICC) after the heat of the moment had evaporated. While five Indian cricketers had lifted their ban on one test, Virender Sehwag had to sit out. Reason why that generation knew, however big stars they were, overreactions will have consequences.

This is not the case with the current plot. BCCI’s coffers have grown by leaps and bounds since the Dennes incident. Today the BCCI, with its wealthy brethren from England and Australia, decides who and how much they will play. Plus, the BCCI has the Indian Premier League — a league that everyone wants a piece of. People like Kohli, Ashwin and Rahul know that they can live on their own terms, even if it goes against all norms.

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Hence Kohli’s proud comment after the game: “We understood what was happening on the pitch and people on the outside don’t know exactly what is happening on the pitch.” On the one hand, this is a withdrawn compliment to the BCCI. As if Kohli knows whatever his disagreements with the chairman of the board, the chairman is so powerful that ICC would not dare punish his employees. On the other hand, this is a warning to everyone involved: if a technological error comes across us again, we will fix it this way.

To be fair to Kohli, Ashwin and Rahul, it is Mahendra Singh Dhoni who first showed that an Indian cricketer is above the game. During the 2019 IPL match between his franchise Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals, he went straight into the ground to protest a no-ball decision that was reversed by the leg referee. For such unprecedented and brutal behavior, Captain Cool was only fined 50% of his match money.

Like it or not, Indian cricketers are superheroes in the eyes of many people, including themselves. Unfortunately, they don’t have someone like Spiderman’s uncle, who would say, “With great power comes great responsibility.” So Cape Town can be repeated every day in Christchurch, Kanpur or Kandy. There is an endless amount that can be done to justify our superheroes. The problem is that superheroes can rise above the rule of law, but not above the laws of nature. What will happen if both teams on the field grow the superhero complex one day? Are we betting on the TRP of a replay of Rashid Patel vs Raman Lamba in an international match?

(Pratik is an independent journalist based in Kolkata. He enjoys writing about politics, society and sports.)

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