Thinking Deva

Why Virat Kohli must not mess with Ishant Sharma

Questioning the team's approach is uncalled for, especially when it has helped instil a sense of fearlessness among the players.

 |  Thinking Deva  |  6-minute read |   04-09-2015
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So the guardians of our morality are out in numbers again, this time chastening a cricketer who has, only a few days ago, scripted a famous win for India in a Test series on foreign soil. Their target, Ishant Sharma, had also notched up a major personal milestone, scalping his 200th wicket in Test cricket. Ishant, by dint of his performance in Sri Lanka, has also been able to break into the top-20 of the International Cricket Council's (ICC) Test rankings for bowlers. However, all these are of little concern to the keepers of our morality. For them what defined Ishant in the final Test against the Lankans was not his fiery bowling spells, but his "misconduct" and "lack of respect for the opposition". How dare he sullied the "gentleman's game", they asked, not once realising that they were ranting against their own man, and the harm it could cause to the confidence of the player.

Let us, therefore, stitch together a defence of Ishant, though he may not be in dire need of one. We, Indians, are taught from our childhood days the great virtue of self-discipline. If our child fights with his classmate, we would rather rebuke our own child than find out if he was really at fault. "If someone misbehaves with you, don't misbehave back, but conquer him with love." That's what we tell our wards and that is the code of conduct we set for them.

Also read: How Ishant Sharma went from being a joke to king on Twitter

It is precisely this code that Ishant, knowingly or unknowingly, chose to defile, and that's what has drawn our ire. We refuse to see that the Sri Lankan players - Dhammika Prasad, Dinesh Chandimal and Lahiru Thirimanne - were no angels either. For us, Ishant and only Ishant, is the culprit and a deviant. The fact that the Indian pace spearhead's "ugly" conduct on the field earned him a suspension, which will make him miss the opening match of the high-profile Test series against South Africa later this year, adds fuel to the fire.

Yes, it is perhaps true that Ishant could have restrained himself a bit more. It is always a trick to stay out of trouble even while you sledge, or what the Australians - the masters of the "art" - would euphemistically say, try to disintegrate the opposition mentally. "Ishant had overreacted," people said. But at the end of the day, it is we, who have overreacted and read too much into the spat and Ishant's suspension, so much so that even Ishant's childhood coach Shravan Kumar, in an interview to Mid Day, opined that the speedster had crossed the line and advised him to control his aggression. What's more, Kumar felt that Ishant was carried away by the charged up atmosphere created by captain Virat Kohli and team director Ravi Shastri in the dressing room.

Also read - Meet Ishant Sharma: A Sri Lankan nightmare

Now, questioning the approach of the team management is uncalled for, especially when it has helped instil a sense of fearlessness among the players. The series win in Sri Lanka may not yet be treated as the coming of age of Team Kohli, because sterner tests await it (literally and metaphorically), but the approach of the team has been commendable. Captain Kohli has said that drawing a Test match is the last option and this never-say-die approach has rubbed off on his players, and thankfully so.

Such a combative attitude became the hallmark of Indian sides in the post-Ganguly era. According to cricket bible Wisden, Sourav Ganguly had turned the Indian side from "stoic losers to chest-thumping warriors". The Wisden Cricketers' Almanac 2003 said that India was "a new steel" and that the "hub" of India's transformation was Ganguly who "lifted Indian cricket from a state of factionalist torpor by the sheer force of his personality". Indeed, Ganguly impressed upon his boys the importance of playing to win matches, not just friends, and most importantly, not being softened up by bullying. He led by example and mentored a bunch of daredevils in the form of Harbhajan Singh, Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh and Zaheer Khan, who could look the opponent in the eye and fight till they dropped. Hence, Team India, as we know it today was born. It was an era of Renaissance in Indian cricket, where passion and aggression were the new buzzwords.

It helped Team India pick up many memorable wins in conditions where earlier Indian sides would have easily capitulated. But this group of players were made of real steel. Anil Kumble (for the brief period that he led the Test side) and MS Dhoni carried the baton forward. It was under Kumble that India played a crackerjack of a Test series in Australia in 2007-08 which they could well have won, if luck would have been kinder. That series included a victory for India at Perth, where the pitch traditionally has been a meance with its pace and bounce. The tour also saw the Dhoni-led India winning the one day international (ODI) tournament.

That tour would also be known by the way Harbhajan Singh got under the skin of the Australians, so much so that the Aussies started complaining that the Indians sledged. Imagine! The Aussies were getting some of their own medicine back. Harbhajan's spat with Andrew Symonds is well-documented, and Matthew Hayden called him "an obnoxious little weed". Clearly, the mighty Australians were perturbed and knew that the Indians couldn't be bullied into submission.

Hence the importance of aggression, and Kohli can, in no way, be blamed for trying to carry forward this tradition of aggressive cricket.

For all our disappointment at Ishant getting suspended, the bowler was terribly unlucky, for there have been uglier incidents on the cricket field; for instance, when Glenn Mcgrath and Ramnaresh Sarwan almost came to blows in a Test match in 2003. On that occasion, both men went scot-free, though the incident became infamous as one of the most unsavoury ones on a cricket field ever.

What one must remember is that Ishant is for Kohli, what Harbhajan used to be for Ganguly. Like Harbhajan, Ishant is combative and a proven match-winner. The day a fast bowler loses his aggression, he would cease to be successful. It is this aggression that keeps pacers like Dale Steyn, Mitchell Johnson and Mitchell Starc going. So there is no point trying to tie Ishant down with codes of a "gentleman's game". As it is, cricket in this competitive day and age, is no more the "gentleman's game" that it started out as. Ishant, in fact, should be unleashed on the opposition.

For long, there have been bowlers in India who had started out as "fast" bowlers, but slowly got degraded into "medium pacers". This is being meek. That is why perhaps India has been never able to produce an out and out fast bowler like Shoaib Akhtar or Brett Lee. It would be heartening to see Ishant bowl at speed, with control and certainly, aggression. He has added some muscles and with those flowing locks, looks menacing. Asking him to be a "good boy" would be akin to taking the life out of him. It is a respite that captain Kohli is strongly behind his pace spearhead, for he knows an angry young Ishant is a powerful weapon in his arsenal.

Writer

Debdutta Bhattacharjee Debdutta Bhattacharjee @debduttab10

He is a journalist with DailyO

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