Why Virat Kohli may not be the coolest Indian cricket captain ever
Let’s start this with a simple question: Who’s the “coolest” Indian cricket captain ever?
Fans of a different vintage—with greyer hair—will probably say Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, or Kapil Dev, or even collars-up Mohammed Azharuddin. Fans with hair that has just started greying, on the other hand, may vote for a Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who took street smarts to a completely new level (even if his finishing has been kind of shaky of late). Then, of course, there’s a couple of generations that will swear by Sourav Ganguly—the man who made Steve Waugh wait for the toss, the man who made his team believe they were better than anyone they were up against. So cool.
So is Virat Kohli cooler than all of the above? Definitely, and not just because of his immaculately trimmed beard. Kohli almost always says the right things, and in the right tone—in pre- and post-match press conferences, on social media, where he’s invariably putting down sexist idiots for blaming his batting failures on partner Anushka Sharma, and even in adverts where he’s selling kurtas. Also, he’s pretty handy with the bat.
So does all this make Kohli the coolest Indian cricket captain ever?
Until a couple of weeks ago, without doubt.
Suddenly, however, he’s got competition...in Mithali Raj, captain of the Indian women’s cricket team.
The last couple of weeks have not been nice on Kohli and his PR machinery. In the build-up to the Champions Trophy, he slammed journalists for making up stories about a rift between him and coach Anil Kumble. At the end of the tournament, it turned out those stories were true, and Kumble’s less-than-flattering exit note gave recently slammed journalists just the ammunition they needed for a loud, self-congratulatory chorus of we-told-you-so.
He may or may not have been right in pushing for the ouster of Kumble (and, if the papers are to be believed, for the reinstatement of Ravi Shastri), but the fact remains that Kohli has come off looking like a spoilt brat.
On the other hand, Raj, over the last 10 days, has been part captain, part Superwoman. First, at a press conference, she told off a journalist for asking her who her “favourite cricketer” was. “Would you have asked a male cricketer this question?” she snapped, scoring big points for sportswomen around the world.
And, as if that wasn’t enough, photographs turned up the next day of her waiting for her turn to bat in a world cup warm-up game, all padded up, reading a book by the boundary line. Rumi, no less. This was the same level of cool as a gum-chewing Viv Richards dusting off his cap and taking guard after being smacked on the head by a bouncer.
Till Tuesday,after all the teams in the women’s world cup had played three matches each, Raj’s team was on top of the table, and irrespective of how and where they finish this tournament, she would’ve definitely left her mark on the proceedings.
Either way, the point was never to compare Kohli and Raj. Kohli is no less a cricketer or captain because Raj has had a couple of weeks in the spotlight. Also, Raj is clearly out to shatter glass ceilings that have absolutely nothing to do with Kohli.
The coolest thing about this situation is that the Indian men’s and women’s captains are part of the same conversation about coolness—and as of this moment, the women’s captain is winning.
Deepak Narayanan, a journalist for nearly 20 years, now runs an events space, The 248 Collective, in Goa. He tweets at @deepakyen.