31 March 2017 14:58:29 IST

A long-time ‘deskie’, Baskar has spent much of his journalism career on the editorial desk. A keen follower of economic and political matters, he likes to view economic issues from a political economy lens as he believes the economic structure of a society is deeply embedded in its political and social ethos. Apart from writing the PolitEco column for BLoC, Baskar writes book reviews and articles on politics, economics and sports for the BL web edition. Reading and watching films are his other interests, though the choice of books and films are rather eclectic.  A keen follower of sports, especially his beloved Tottenham Hotspur FC, Baskar is an avid long-distance runner.  He hopes to learn music some day!

Virat Kohli and an Indian malaise

The India-Australia Test series did not disappoint, with engrossing cricket, but what’s with the attitude?

Is Indian cricket captain Virat Kohli’s increasingly prickly and boorish attitude a symptom of the larger Indian majoritarian malaise? There seems to be a curious parallel between the Indian cricket team’s off-field behaviour and the growing sense of prickliness and, I daresay, intolerance among Indians in general. The controversy and violence over the Ramjas College event, and the vicious and relentless trolling of Gurmehar Kaur, are pointers towards the increasingly boorish and intolerant Indian mindset. The term ‘the ugly Indian’ may soon be a reality.

But let’s talk first about the cricket. An India-Australia test series is always a high-voltage affair, both on and off the pitch, and this series was going to be no different. But despite the engrossing cricket, it was the off-field controversies that seemed to be the talking point in the recently concluded series. The bugle was sounded even before the series began, with both captains promising to go hard at each other and not giving an inch. But the Indian captain, at the beginning of the series, at least said that despite the on-field chatter, off the field, the relations were always cordial and that Australian players remained his friends.

Well, that friendship didn’t take too long to vanish when Kohli, at the end of the Dharamsala test after India won the series, famously asserted that he can no longer be friends with the Australians. But in this story, none of the actors covered themselves with glory, which included the players, the media, and the officials on both sides.

Not-so-humble beginnings

It all started at the Bengaluru test when the Indians were mounting a rearguard action after being thrashed in the first test. Australian captain Steve Smith looked at the dressing room seeking guidance over a DRS decision at the injudicious advice of the non-striker Peter Handscomb. Both the umpire Nigel Llong and Kohli intervened and Smith later called the incident a ‘brain fade’ moment.

Kohli then launched an extraordinary attack on the Australian team just stopping short of calling them cheats. Without providing a shred of evidence, Kohli asserted that the Australians always sought the dressing room’s help on DRS decisions.

Not to be left behind the Australian media and Cricket Australia got into the act. A section of the Australian media almost behaved like cheerleaders for the Australian team. One Australian journalist even went to the extent of calling Kohli the Donald Trump of cricket!

What was more appalling was the way Star Sports, the official broadcasters, hawked the series by running programmes like ‘Sledgehammer’ and ‘BullytheBully’ in which ex-players, both Australians and Indians, celebrated the act of ‘sledging’. The insensitive chatter on the infamous ‘Monkeygate’ incident, where Harbhajan Singh was alleged to have called Andrew Symonds with the racist epithet ‘monkey’, bordered on racism. It was shocking to see both Indian and Australian ex-cricketers making light of this serious incident in almost school-boy banter. This clearly was a new low for Indian sports broadcasting.

In their attempt to ‘give back’ to the Aussies, the Indian players seem to forget one key element of sledging. Players indulge in ‘sledging’ to gain a psychological advantage over their opponents and not because of any intrinsic hostility. The ‘giving back’ theory adopted by the Indians seem to suggest that they have some age-old enmity with the opponents, which is perhaps why they find it so difficult to shed their hostility off the field.


Smith’s post-series apology can be read in several ways. It was either a genuine attempt on his part to bury the past and make a new beginning or maybe a cynical ploy to cool tempers now that the IPL is around the corner. Smith, after all, is the captain of the Pune franchise, leading a number of Indian players. But putting that aside, he should still be appreciated for apologising. In contrast, Kohli’s ‘not friends anymore’ remark, and turning down the Aussies invitation for a post-match drink smacked of petty surliness and a lack of grace. His later flip-flop that his remarks were blown out of proportion did nothing to dispel this image.

This brings me back to the earlier question of Indian cricket mimicking a new, aggressive, ‘touch-me-not’ India. We Indians seem to be taking ourselves far too seriously and rapidly losing our sense of humour. The flag-waving, chest-thumping nationalist fans, wearing their patriotism on their sleeves, and their certitude seems to mask a certain deep-rooted insecurity which is ironically manifesting itself after almost 70 years of Independence, at a time when India is projecting itself as an emerging global power.