Maybe it’s ‘fashionable’ to have a go at Virat Kohli’s India after every slight controversy or on-field gesture that does not match your definition of acceptable, but let’s not forget how the skipper has played a huge role in promoting Test cricket, writes Sarah Waris.
“Thank You Virat” proclaimed Shane Warne after India came from behind to seal the fourth Test match at The Oval despite having odds and conditions against their favour. “Long live Test cricket while we have Virat Kohli. Please keep playing for a long, long time.”
The spin wizard, amazed at how India had eked out a win, claiming ten wickets on the last day without much on offer from the track, credited the self-belief and the aggression on display to the captain’s determination to excel in the format. With 10 overseas wins under Kohli since the beginning of 2018, the current Test side has often adopted their leader’s flamboyant mannerisms to get under the skin of the opposition just to be on the winning side, and while the traditionalists might not be too pleased, it only highlights how they have taken on his passion for the longer format.
‘Wait,’ some will counter. ‘How is the sight of Mohammed Siraj hushing rivals after taking their wicket linked to the love for Test cricket? How could Kohli mocking the Barmy Army, a ‘petty’ act at best, ever display that he cares for the format? How can Jasprit Bumrah’s aggressive batting approach after the run-in with James Anderson a day earlier at Lord’s be attributed to the overall Test culture that prevails in India? And, more importantly, what about the departure from the Test series in England to go and play in the IPL? If anything, it only displays India’s reckless attitude towards international cricket, with Steve Harmison even stating the move was the “beginning of the end for Test cricket.”‘
But, where have you been when Kohli has time-and-again stated his preference and loyalty to the format? When he has admitted that India looks to ‘win every ball and every session’? When he has repeated on a loop that they will play five bowlers because the end goal is to win a Test match and not going in for a win is “not how we play.” Did you hear him saying that the five-day game remains the pinnacle, which is why he asked for the addition of more Test matches to make the WTC final a best-of-three affair? India agreed to play Afghanistan in the latter’s first-ever match to further help promote the sport in the war-ravaged country, and well, as far as the antics go, there is a sound reason for that as well, if only you are willing to listen.
India have been termed a “vibe team” on The Grade Cricketer podcast — a side that draws their fire from the atmosphere that prevails. Mini-battles excite them, and emerging victorious in them helps them nail down the bigger challenge. They charge in at moments to turn the tide in their favour, in turn, making Test-watching even more pleasing. You cannot, after all, not win the smaller contests if you want to finish with a smile.
And that is also why you often see him encourage the crowds to cheer for his bowlers throughout a session when things aren’t going in his team’s favour. That is why he is at the forefront when anyone has a go at him or his teammates, and also the reason why he will get his entire players fired up if an opponent goes after one. That is why there was Lord’s where India drew their momentum after Anderson’s run-in with Bumrah. Maybe that’s why there was The Oval too, where, on a flat wicket, Kohli looked outwards for his energy, glanced at the Barmy Army blowing their trumpets in glory after England had not lost a single wicket overnight, and zeroed in on them to be his ‘rivals’ for the day. Every four ensured their hoots grew louder, every four ensured Kohli grew impatient to have the last word.
And when he did win this ‘contest’ when no one had given him a chance, Warne was quick to lavish heavy praise on him, experts were quick to call him India’s best Test captain overseas, but a certain section kept harping on his antics despite the receiving party, the Barmy Army, clarifying that it was all in good humour. To win, sometimes you have to pick your battles, and if by doing so Kohli is adding a blend of excitement and encouraging viewers to stay hooked to the game, surely that is worth something?
A week later, however, as India skipped the last Test at Manchester due to Covid fears in the camp, the side was back to being a team that can’t overlook the glitz of money whilst pushing Test cricket on the backburners. The fact that India have played the most Tests in 2021 was not considered, neither was the fact that Kohli insisted on postponing the Test by a couple of days if reports are to be believed. Yes, they had asked for the Test to be preponed earlier to the start of the series to provide some breathing space before the IPL, and yes, the T20 league could have been a reason for India not playing the Test, but what if a player tested positive for Covid-19 during the game? What about the unvaccinated children of the players, not to forget the mental turmoil of a ten-day-long quarantine in the UK in case of a positive case in the camp amid a hectic schedule?
If the only thing that matters is the IPL, and you blame India for not prioritizing Test cricket, are you even watching the game?