By not accepting Australia's olive branch, Virat Kohli has set a poor example for sportsmanship

Subash Jayaraman

Cricket is, well, just that – cricket. A silly sport like any other sport that people play and millions of other people love to watch for various reasons. It is not a matter of life and death, no matter what metaphors and allegories are used to equate sport to war, or any other consequential event that actually has a bearing on the survival and well-being of mankind.

And when the mock war is done and dusted, the participants and their fevered supporters have the luxury of not having sustained any bodily harm, get to shake hands with the opposition and their set of followers, to say “well played” and proceed to reminisce and celebrate the events they took part in, or were witnesses to.

After the contentious and the hotly contested India-Australia Test series was over, it was reported that the Indian team left the Australians hanging on their invite into their dressing room, one would presume for some drinks and a friendly chat, to bury the bad feelings fomented during the series.

Change of heart

The Indian captain Virat Kohli, who before the series began in Pune said that he was friends with many of the touring Australian players, flipped the track at the post-match presser in Dharamsala. “It has changed. I thought that was the case, but it has changed for sure. As I said, in the heat of the battle you want to be competitive, but I’ve been proven wrong. The thing I said before the first Test, that has certainly changed and you won’t hear me say that ever again.”

One could easily see that the change of Kohli’s heart being linked to the Indian team not making an appearance in the visitors’ dressing room. That is just sad, and pathetic. The games were over but the Indian captain chose to continue to play anyway.

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One could trace back the origins of this rancour to the end of the second Test of the series in Bengaluru, when Kohli alleged that the Australians were systematically taking help from the dressing room on DRS decisions. Steve Smith, who on the suggestion of his inexperienced teammate did look to the dressing room once, had since then called it a “brain fade” and owned up to it. He was also seen mouthing “fucking cheat” during the fourth Test when it became apparent that Murali Vijay claimed a catch on a bump ball. Smith apologised for that behavior too, at the presentation ceremony, and later in the press conference.

By admitting his wrongdoings and apologising for them, Smith has come out of the situation as the better man. Kohli, however, refused to take back his allegations and even litigated the meaning of the word “allegation”, chose to hold a personal grudge, let go of friendships, and did not take part in a small gesture of sharing a drink that signals the cessation of hostilities.

Sacrificing sportsmanship

Kohli may be great at hitting a cricket ball at geometry-defying angles, but he is strictly a square for sacrificing sportsmanship at the altar of his ego, bruised or not.

Kohli may have had legitimate grievances with the things said and done by the Australians during the series, but it only gets exacerbated by shutting down any avenues of conversation, such as a wind-down drink after an exhausting Test series. He had the opportunity to bury the malcontent from the series, and show everyone that he can be the bigger man by letting bygones be bygones, and that in the grand scheme of things, cricket is only a sport, not a matter of life or death. That there is more to cricket than winning and losing, and hurt feelings. He chose not to.

And it is not as if the verbal volleys and the accusations only came from one side. Both sides were at fault at various points in the series. The Indians, on the field, give as good as they get.

After all was said and done, India did win the series 2-1. In a Test where Ajinkya Rahane led the side and boldly included an untested wrist spinner instead of an extra batsman, and various players made valuable contributions to earn the Test win, and the series in which Kohli made a grand total of 46 runs, he has still managed to grab the headlines at the end of it. For all the attractive and tough cricket that his side had played throughout the series, bouncing back to their feet after a shellacking in the first Test, this silly posturing by Kohli only detracts from the team’s accomplishments.

It may be useful for Kohli to learn about Christmas Truce of World War I, when in 1914, in the week leading up to Christmas, French, German and British soldiers crossed the trenches to exchange greetings, and in some places, food and souvenirs. Even in the midst of death and destruction, the likes of which the world had never seen, these men had the decency to find common humanity in the people they were training their guns and ammunition on.

Perhaps then, Kohli may truly recognise, cricket is just a silly sport, and he has been silly in rebuffing the Aussie olive branch.