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.

Whingers.

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo

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