By Aariz Imam
I loved the way the match finished not because India won, would have loved the same had Pakistan cruised through in the T-20 world cup. And yes, don’t consider me naive for expressing it out loud, I know the fall outs, for even the mere mention of the word PAK could be an invitation for UAPA. I could have chosen a figure of speech from plenty of different options to make it sound something else much less a direct acknowledgement, yet here I am sharing my joy beyond the binary of win and loss.
Virat Kohli’s phenomenal performance, is being hailed as his return to his old avatar. The commentators repeated the word Vintage Virat every time the ball raced to the boundary thus feeding people’s enthusiasm further. The innings would perhaps rank amongst his best by Kohli’s own admission.
Yet, what I loved the most had nothing to do with any of it. What caught my attention were less glorious things, markers of civility, humility and endurance, the hallmarks of a true gentleman that Kohli has transformed into. The cricketer exchanged smiles with the Pakistan fielders, tried his best to keep his emotions in control and didn’t engage in any unnecessary sledging. Kohli was visibly overwhelmed while celebrating the victory and had a mixed emotion on his face as the players hugged him. He knew it wasn’t easy and that he had won it against a formidable side. By silently raising a finger to the skies, Kohli was not just thanking God but reminded us of all his vulnerabilities that as human he is allowed to have.
This realisation of self that has affected his demeanor, has also moderated his craft. Even as people cheered and the commentry announced his return to power hitting, it wasn’t stealth but skill that took him through. Kohli seemed for once he wasn’t playing to the gallery, and wasn’t game for instant gratification. There were no rash shots but only calculated hits, a testament to his growing self awareness.
But for Kohli, this journey inwards was effected by a lean patch in international career. It is difficult to establish a more causal relationship but going by his words it did affect his mental health. He was unceremoniously removed from the one day captaincy, spoken by experts as a spent force and targeted by fans. Taking time off from the game and the relentless pressure he was able to develop a perspective of self that is increasingly visible on his exterior.
From an arrogant, brash sportsman that exuded toxic masculinity, being hailed as God of modern day cricket to falling with mental health issues and then to the path of self discovery. As I am going through the status, posts and pieces talking about Kohli’s comeback I find it amusing how far from reality it is. Watching a more calm, composed and dignified Virat is a whole new experience after all. Not an old self by any means but sure in his new avatar Kohli is extending the tradition of the gentleman’s game.