Virat Kohli vs The Media
Until February 2017, Kohli could do no wrong. Four double hundreds in the Indian home season between September 2016-January 2017 and back-to-back series wins against the West Indies, New Zealand and England, Kohli was the media's blue-eyed boy all round. Not one to hold back in press conferences, he would give the media what they wanted, and the journalists welcomed the onset of the 'Kohli era' in Indian cricket with open arms.
And then came the dip in form against Australia in the last leg of the home series, followed by the injury sustained while fielding at Ranchi in the third Test which sidelined Kohli from the first few games of the IPL. RCB finished at the bottom of the table in the 10th edition of the tournament, but with the Champions Trophy around the corner, many felt India's talisman would be back to his flamboyant best. And if the start of the Champions Trophy was an indication, things did seem to have fallen back into groove for captain Kohli.
Debate over the rift between Kohli and Kumble, a reality of Indian cricket for a while, was pushed to the background, thanks to the strong on-field performances taking centre stage.
And once India lost, and lost badly, things started to unravel for Kohli. A dressing room exchange, with Kumble giving Jasprit Bumrah a dressing down moments after the loss against Pakistan did not help and the very next day Kumble resigned as coach making the matter worse.
The media, which was all in Kohli's favour, all of a sudden started questioning the Indian captain for his conduct. He was subsequently perceived as the big bully and the man who had let success get to his head.
How can a legend like Kumble be treated like this, was the common refrain and some even went on to suggest that Kohli was perhaps becoming too powerful to the detriment of the sport in India. A couple of media reports also suggested that Kohli had taken the biggest risk of his life by pushing the ego tussle against Kumble as far as he had. The overwhelming sentiment was that he should have backed down and made peace with Kumble.
It is important to state that the media bashing, often unfair and unfounded, was good for Kohli in the long run. Without knowing his side of the story, the media had gone after him and sided with Kumble. With India playing away from home over the next 12 months, and with the World Cup nearing, Kohli would have the most difficult phase as captain. This hardening in the aftermath of the Kumble saga only helped him in these tough times. He also knew that it was to be his bat that could/can save him and speak for him in the long run.
His series wins and hundreds are his legacy. All he needs to do is conquer those 22 yards like he has done so often until now.
Is Kohli aware of the enormity of the task at hand? Does he know what failure in the next 12 months might even lead to? Two separate news items, both involving Kohli in the last week of October 2017, both of which consumed a lot of newsprint, tell that he indeed does. While the first celebrated Kohli as one of the world's leading sports brand by Forbes, pipping Argentina and Barcelona star footballer Lionel Messi in the list of the most valuable brand, the other, yet again speculated on his then-prospective marriage with actor-partner Anushka Sharma.
What's interesting in each of these cases is how Kohli was being consumed in the media. A concern for his privacy is the last thing in the mind of the media. It is, as if, his life, public, and private, will have to be played out in front of the gaze of the 24x7 news media and he, Kohli, will have no agency in controlling things going forward.
This is an alarming trend. While it isn't new, its strength is getting multiplied day by the day and with a flippant social media machinery behind it, there is no mediation anymore. Icons are deified in India by the minute and in the very next instant they are trolled or abused. Their private lives aren't a protected domain and that Kohli wasn't issuing a statement on the wedding story was considered failure on his part. Social media more and more, thrives on being flippant and violating privacy, and if you are an icon of the stature of Kohli's, you are public property.
During the fall-out with Kumble, social media, had branded Kohli arrogant even without knowing his side of the story. He was hung without a trial. #ArrogantVirat was trending on Twitter and yet again there were thousands of tweets attacking his relationship with Anushka. Without getting into the moot point here is that in the media deluge, his voice was the last thing anyone wanted to hear.
The same had happened when India lost the 2015 World Cup semi-final against Australia in Sydney and the trial by social media had adjudicated Anushka's presence in the stands as the primary reason behind Kohli's failure to score beyond a run. The jingoistic outpouring, rather obnoxiously, targeted Anushka for Kohli's failure and yet again the social media was on the boil for days. Intemperate comments were flying around thick and fast, and within minutes, Kohli, the deity, was a fallen hero.
The Kohli-Anushka affair- Virushka as it became known to us all in 2017 when they got married in Italy- it must be stated, is entirely a private matter of these two individuals. Anything that Kohli does can't be peddled as news. He can't be our hero at our convenience; we cannot worship him when he scores a hundred and criticize him for not telling us if he is indeed getting married or not.
For the sake of Indian cricket we need to leave, Kohli, the married man alone. As captain of the Indian team he will need every bit of media support. If the going ons don't change, Kohli will find it impossible to trust the media and confide in them. Of course, we must criticize Kohli for his failures on the cricket field. And hail him for scoring hundred after hundred and winning series after series. No captain has won more bilateral ODI series than him on the trot. But as far as the private life is concerned, it is time we leave the man alone. We must allow him space for that's key to him seeing the media as a support system and not otherwise.