January 27, 2012

India's road rage masks their inadequacy

What would the reaction have been if all this bad behaviour had come from a team touring India instead?

A day ago, Virat Kohli played an innings that can be described in three words: sparky, spunky and spiky. Having reached his first Test hundred, Kohli leapt into the air, waved his bat, kissed his helmet and produced a lip-readable Hindi profanity in celebration - one directed at brothers worldwide, as it involved all their sisters.

After the day's play, Kohli spoke openly about his struggles to find his feet in Test cricket and then talked about being abused by the crowd and being sledged by the Australians when close to his century. Kohli had "flipped the bird" at a section of the Sydney crowd during the Test there, earning a 50% docking of his match fee. He tweeted later that the crowd had said the "worst things" about, surprise, surprise, mothers and sisters.

Before the Perth Test, Ishant Sharma "flipped", at a go-karting track when heckled by some locals. Two days before Adelaide, Gautam Gambhir made a statement about how India needed to prepare "rank turners" for Australia's next tour of India.

Ishant is one of the team's more peaceable, hardworking fellows. Gambhir is often spoken of as the next India captain, a perennial "fighter" who goes from anger to calm and back in a matter of minutes.

Kohli's batting is a thing of beauty, confidence, ambition. See him whip the ball through covers or pull a quick off his face, like he did earlier this week, and his quality shouts at top volume. An otherwise thoughtful, well-spoken, gifted cricketer, he is now close to being trapped by his extra attachment: of the instant profanity as a primary means of expressing joy or sorrow or irritation or exultation. At top volume, like in Adelaide.

Now all this flipping out in public and "bring it to my patch, mate" may look like a manifestation of aggro by the "new India" but it really is a version of road rage.

For the last six months and seven (and a half) overseas Tests, India's Test team - suddenly a gridlocked generation - has been unable to make progress anywhere. Never mind getting close to a destination on this journey, they are struggling to cover mere inches. Since the England tour, the team finds itself boxed in on all sides by the opposition, squeezed for room in every department, the frustration within them and the noise around them growing louder and more shrill.

Some players have been stoic, some disoriented (R Ashwin said that all talk about 4-0 and England was "the biggest detriment" to the team), others effectively witty, like Zaheer Khan in his exchange of sweet nothings with Brad Haddin. The most visible (and audible) public reactions - from Kohli, Ishant and Gambhir - though, are the extreme, illogical responses of road rage. Its lashed-out fury attempts to mask or distract from the general inadequacy visible on the field in England and Australia.

Macho posturing aims to elevate all such responses under the blanket term of "giving it back". Except that real paybacks must always be reflected on the scoreboard. Otherwise cricketers can easily turn into caricatures. Had they not begun to win Tests overseas, Sourav Ganguly's "new India" would merely have looked ridiculous.

Kohli's century will earn him much respect, as it should. All through the ODI series, though, he is going to be singled out by crowds in Australia, and by the fielders, again and again. He won't be the first Indian batsman to be abused by crowds or sledged by his opponents. In the end, however, being either the most successful or the most consistent, the most entertaining or the most effective, is all that will count.

Don't worry about Ben Hilfenhaus and Kohli much. Players on both sides will eventually sort out their arguments, maybe become all buddy-buddy in the IPL. Gambhir and Peter Siddle may even do a cutesy ad together.

But are younger players in the Indian dressing room being ticked off by older and hopefully wiser folk for flipping people the bird or empty chatter? Because none of this reflects well on the Indian team or what it looks like on the outside.

What about if all this had happened in India? What if all this rage was to be found in members of a visiting team trailing 0-3 in a four-Test series in India?

What if, during the second Test, down 0-1, a visiting player showed the crowd the middle finger and complained that he was abused? (Which, in any case, happens in heaps in India, and to the Indian players themselves.) Another fellow does the same to some yahoos heckling him during a tourist excursion before the third Test. The visitors' young spinner says that the constant talk of being blanked out Test after Test has been the biggest detriment to his team's during the series. Their future captaincy candidate declares that when the Indians toured their country next, they would get "gardens" to bat on.

What would that visiting team have been called in India? There's one word for it and it's not even a profanity.


Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Sumit on January 30, 2012, 6:31 GMT

    At the outset, let me make one point clear. I am not a fan of objectionable on-field behavior. As role models, the players need to be conscious of how they behave. However, in this article is as over the top in its criticism as the reaction of the player itself. Branding the outburst as "road rage masking inadequacy" is taking it a bit too far. Many past and present players, in Cricket and other sports, are known to have a unique (not the most pleasant way) of expressing their emotions e.g. Miandad, McGrath, Broad, Sir Alex, Murinoh, Suarez, McEnroe, Becker, Murray etc are known for their public outbursts. There are instances of otherwise 'balanced personalities" showing extreme emotions. Sunny's walkout threat vs. Australia and Sachin's abusive send off of Saqlain (see the footage of the match vs. Pak in Sharjah in 1996). Instead while we may criticize such behavior, let's not be over judgmental and over analytical and brand this as a reaction to hide personal inadequacies.

  • Srinivas on January 30, 2012, 2:57 GMT

    Ugra, just consider this - so you are basically saying that a brother shouldn't get upset and shouldn't retort at the drunken mob who attack the modesty of his sister and mother. Surely my mother and sister are very personal to me than cricket or the drunken mob. Period! In the context, a professional cricketer isn't playing there to see the modesty of his sister and mother being dragged down by a drunken mob, just because this mob had spent money on tickets and beer. Kohli flipping the bird was a reaction to what that drunken mob said. I agree with you on Kohli using profanities when he accomplishes something which is plain dumb and thuggish. Very low. Repulsive. I'm also completely miffed at Kohli using profanities. But, his finger showing incident showed his lack of tact and awareness in dealing with the issue. He should have reported it to the relevant officials, then and there, and should have got that mob evicted for the extremely personal abuse directed at him and his family.

  • Vinod on January 30, 2012, 2:44 GMT

    Well done Sharda, You are the one rational voice of sanity among'st the general chest thumping jingoistic indian media. The last word of your post says it all - 'Whingers's with a capital 'W' Pathetic stuff from GG-about the 'rank turners'-sort of saying that 'My dad is bigger n stronger than urs, come home and we'll sort u out'. Something Indian team can learn from Aus, is they play hard, step over the line whilst sledging(occasionally) but give credit when due, VK got handshaked when he hit his 100, Clark in his speach said how good it was to play agains the Indian legends. For all the hogwash that is written about aus public in general, they support the underdog and most would cheer if VK does great things in the ODI series. On a side note, Indian team is the team most love to hate, this is due to the paparazzi tendencies of our media and general arrogance of most indian bloggers.....C'mon guys, we have one game that unites us, let us enjoy it in the spirit - -peace:)!

  • Dummy4 on January 29, 2012, 18:14 GMT

    I missed Kohli's ton as I was on road for work. I saw the replays on youtube, I am not sure what this author is writing about. This seems like a pathetic attempt at know towing a certain audience. This was Kohli's first test hundred which he scored in an extremely challenging situation. His senior partners gave in to pressure but he persevered.

    Kohli's celebration was a well deserved one -people who have fought, survived and persevered, people who value tenacity as a character trait would easily identify with his celebration.

    Well done Kohli - congratulations and best wishes for many more.

  • Jacob on January 29, 2012, 11:20 GMT

    Sharda, first I'd like to say fantastic article. It's not often you hear an Indian saying this, especially in a series against Australia.

    Honestly, as an Australian myself, we welcome players looking to bring a combative attitude to the playing against us- sides captained by Ganguly, Graeme Smith, and Stephen Fleming have all earned great respect by doing so- but you can't have it both ways. Kohli was one of the first to start the onfield war of words, but can't have it both ways. He can either 'participate' on the field with the Australians, but can't then go crying about the Australians giving it back to him.

  • Dummy4 on January 29, 2012, 5:08 GMT

    What the hell is wrong with Indian media... I cannot believe they can criticize Kohli in this moment... Does Sharda even understand how that hundred must have felt to the young man...he has been criticized left right and center without giving him any chance...the australian team on the other hand is not even talking about shaun marsh and his bad form till the end of the series...here is an indian cricketer full of raw energy and agression and people criticize him for that..i think cricketer bashing is a religion now in india.. What do we want our cricket team to be...a bunch of saints who keep wondering how to behave -- or a set of players who go out their to fight and give exactly what they get and probably more...i would love to have 11 kohli like individuals in my team!!!

  • Dummy4 on January 29, 2012, 0:22 GMT

    Sharda Ugra maybe senior editor at cricinfo,but her article definitely misses the mark,infact it smacks of the old English protocol of stiff upper lip,keep emotions in check and let our actions do the talking. Well Sharda it`s about time that you awake and smell the masala chai !! The opposition have had a rank lack of respect for the Indian team for years,sledging,cussing even chucking jellybeans onto to the pitch,the aussies and the english have been the worst culprits. The fact that some of the Indian team have started to give it back to the opposition,verbally is something positive and shows no lack of passion.The don`t expect this fron and Indian team but more to the point they don`t like it,i say it`s about time we fight fire with fire,sure India need to give a better account of themselves overseas but remember this,we won the series in England last time and we were screwed out of winning the Australian series by terrible officiating.

  • ccrriicc on January 28, 2012, 22:54 GMT

    Ms Ugra for once shows some guts to talk about the most succesful of the Indian elite cricket team - and she is not even on the BCCI payroll - forget that with writeups like that - she will have to make do - this neophyte will be India's captain - I am told - as if what he has done han't ever been done - this is not to disregard his talent - but for heavens sake you are representing the ordinary Indian who does not get paid millions to play cricket or birdies. I prefer a failed Dravid to finger pointing Kohli - for once let us copy Australina 's desire to win , not their sometimes challenged decency.

  • Dummy4 on January 28, 2012, 17:04 GMT

    These idiots all want India to roll over and play dead. Thay are fretting at India's non-compliance.

  • Abraham on January 28, 2012, 16:24 GMT

    An excellent piece Sharda, you are right on target.

    Sadly this seems to be the future of Indian cricket.

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