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Weary Virat needs a sabbatical from cricket & Brand Kohli. It can rekindle his pride & passion

For 60 overs, they should feel hell out there.”

— Virat Kohli at Lord’s in 2021.

Why do we play sports? For the sheer joy of it? For wins and records? For one-upmanship over opponents? As the Indian men’s Test cricket team captain, Virat Kohli played it for one thing: Pride.

With just a little under two sessions remaining in the Test match at Lord’s, Kohli didn’t ask his team to try and script a famous victory. Unlike his predecessor, he didn’t ask them to forget the result and just focus on the process either. He just had one request: “Show them who we are!”

The next day, while describing the win, Jonathan Liew wrote for The Guardian: “India didn’t just win at Lord’s; they annexed it,” with the headline of the article stating, ‘England beaten and bullied by a team moulded in Virat Kohli’s image’.

Dismissing Virat Kohli’s team as uncouth bullies was an oversimplification by the British press, a failure to understand the underlying ethos of the Indian team and, by extension, the rest of the country as well. The same team lost the World Test Championship final against New Zealand only weeks before. In a game with so much more riding on it, the team barely spoke a word against the well-mannered Kiwis. But when the English team flared up tensions by saying a few unpleasant words to Jasprit Bumrah, it was payback time for Team India. K.L. Rahul didn’t mince words in his post-match interview: “You go after one of us; all 11 will come right back.”

A lot has been said about Virat Kohli’s record as Test captain in the days after he announced he was stepping down. While Kohli certainly has had a role to play in the wins, a team’s success is usually a culmination of many factors, captaincy being one of them. What you can’t take away from Kohli, though, was this ability to galvanise his team into a pack of hunters that simply refused to give an inch on the ground.

Kohli’s men mostly came from really humble backgrounds, and fought enormous odds at every step to wear this India cap. Playing this game was a matter of personal pride for them. Kohli understood that ethos, and like a masterful Bollywood masala movie director from the 1970s, knew how to tap and channelise it.

Also read: It was never about statistics for Virat Kohli. The cricket ground was a theatre of passion

Weariness creeps in

Reading the mind of a champion is not just difficult, it’s risky. You do it at your peril because the factors that make them tick are also often responsible for their eventual decline. There is a lot of hearsay floating around on Kohli’s fallout with the BCCI. Drawing conclusions out of gossip is usually a waste of grey matter and column space, so I will not indulge in it. But fallout or not, Kohli’s weariness is out there for all of us to see clearly.

Kohli’s announcement of stepping down as captain of RCB and later as captain of India’s T20 team seemed well-intentioned. A ploy to manage his workload and extend his career. The results in his last coming as T20 captain didn’t flatter his detractors, though. RCB ended another season without any silverware. India finally lost to arch-rivals Pakistan in a World Cup. You knew Kohli was frustrated at the result when he looked bemused and reacted with “Will you drop Rohit Sharma?” to a question in the post-match press conference.

Losing to Pakistan in a World Cup game had to happen one day, but no captain wanted that ignominy. To make matters worse, India’s overly hands-on BCCI president Sourav Ganguly, who threatens to destroy the very institutions and processes he presides over, decided the time is up for Kohli as ODI captain as well. After much speculation, Kohli held a press conference where he openly contradicted the BCCI president.

Even after losing the white-ball formats’ captaincy, Kohli still had the Test captaincy and the confidence of the board and the fans in the longest format. On paper, India also seemed like a superior team and started the Test series in South Africa as favourites. History beckoned Kohli as he had a chance to lead India to its first-ever series win on South African soil and make amends for an indifferent outing as the white-ball captain. As it turned out, after a false start, the South African team rallied under their inspirational captain Dean Elgar, who didn’t just harness the team’s emotional energy but held his nerve better than his counterpart. In a telling note after the 3rd Test where Kohli was heard expressing his anger at the South African broadcaster on the stump microphone, Dean Elgar said, “India forgot about the game, and that played into our hands”.

After the Test series loss, a drained Kohli decided to step down from the Test captaincy. The team struggled to recover from the jolt and lost the ODI series 3-0. The closing notes of the series, at least according to what the media highlighted, were about Kohli and Anushka Sharma protesting over their daughter’s pictures getting overexposed in the media. These instances of Kohli expressing his frustration at the cricket board, media, live broadcasters, etc., hint at his growing resentment with the world around him. The siege mentality that used to drive Kohli’s on-field energies is getting carried off the field now. This is beginning to tire him down and affect his most important skill for the team, his batting.

Also read: When Kohli took over from Dhoni a template was set. Now BCCI has set India back two decades

Recharge and find that second wind

Another great batman found himself similarly worn out after scaling batting heights that saw him break the record for highest individual Test and first-class scores. This happened in the year 2000 when, after back-to-back series losses against South Africa and New Zealand, Brian Lara resigned from captaincy. But he didn’t just stop at that. Lara took a complete sabbatical from the game and any media spotlight and came back rejuvenated. Three years after his comeback, Lara was reappointed as captain. After finding his second wind, Lara led his team to a Champions Trophy win and scored the first-ever 400 in Tests.

Kohli can take the Brian Lara route and be entirely away from the spotlight for a few months. This should be a break not just from cricket but also from any endorsements, public appearances, social media posts, etc.

This will not only give Kohli a chance to unwind and regain his focus, but it will also give the new captain a chance to settle into his new role and gain the confidence of the dressing room without any needless distractions or interventions. I know it sounds practically impossible to take a complete break with so much riding on Brand Kohli. If Kohli can do it, though, it will only signal his hunger to achieve new highs in his career.

Taking a break from something you are passionate about only shows how much you care for it. It’s a mark of your honesty towards your passion, that you don’t ever want to take a half-hearted stab at it. You’d rather take that complete break and give it the dedication it deserves.

Also read: How boorish treatment of Kohli by Ganguly’s BCCI takes Indian cricket back to an inglorious past

Source: The Print

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