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From fines and demerit points to Spirit of Cricket Award: The tale of Virat Kohli’s on-field behaviour

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Respect is central to the Spirit of Cricket – according to Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), the custodian of Laws of Cricket in the world. The MCC further expands this definition by laying out all the criteria where this ‘respect’ is desired:

-Respect your captain, team-mates, opponents and the authority of the umpires
-Play hard and play fair.
-Accept the umpire’s decision.
-Create a positive atmosphere by your own conduct, and encourage others to do likewise.
-Show self-discipline, even when things go against you.
-Congratulate the opposition on their successes, and enjoy those of your own team.
-Thank the officials and your opposition at the end of the match, whatever the result.

On Wednesday, Indian captain Virat Kohli was awarded the ICC Spirit of Cricket Award for the year 2019. In Kohli’s own words, he was “surprised” at the announcement saying: “I’m surprised that I have got it, after many years of being under the scanner for the wrong things.” Frankly, it’s hard to disagree with him on this!

After all, Kohli accumulated 2 demerit points over the course of June-September 2019. Combine that with the one demerit point he received during the Pretoria Test of 2018, and Kohli is just one altercation away from being banned for at least one Test/2 ODIs or more.

His monumental batting feats notwithstanding, time and again, Kohli has been found in situations which belie the above Spirit of Cricket guidelines, to say the least. In the last one year alone, there have been multiple instances of Kohli flirting with the hallowed ‘Spirit of Cricket’ yardstick.

UMPIRE’S DECISION? COME AGAIN…

Jadeja run-out

December 2019 1st ODI vs West Indies:
After a direct-hit broke the stumps with Ravindra Jadeja running towards the danger end, Roston Chase in a casual manner asked the umpire to have a look at it. But, the umpire didn’t think too much of the appeal. West Indies captain Kieron Pollard then came questioning umpire Shaun George who looked totally puzzled and went upstairs a bit later. After replays showed Jadeja short of the crease, the 3rd umpire ruled Jadeja out and that made Virat Kohli furious as the skipper left his seat and walked towards the field angrily. Later at the post-match presentation, Kohli’s anger at the proceedings was palpable.

“They have to figure out what needs to be done in cricket. People sitting outside can’t dictate what happens on the field. I think that’s exactly what happened there,” said a miffed Kohli at the end of the match.

SELF-DISCIPLINE

March 2019 vs Mumbai Indians, IPL: Kohli was once again livid after the umpire failed to spot a clear no-ball by Lasith Malinga during the final over of a 2019 IPL match between Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) and MI in Bengaluru. RCB needed 7 off the final ball and unless Malinga bowled a no-ball or got hit for a six, MI were sure winners.

“We (are) playing at the IPL level and not playing club cricket. The umpires should have had their eyes open. That is a ridiculous call at the last ball,” Kohli said after the game.

BLAST FROM THE PAST

Leave India

“I don’t think you should live in India, go and live somewhere else. Why are you living in our country and loving other countries”: said Virat Kohli in November 2018. This was intended at an online critic during a Q&A session on the occasion of the launch of the ‘Virat Kohli’ official app. Soon, Kohli’s decade-old introduction of himself from his U19 World Cup days started going viral with a number of people questioning why he didn’t leave the country if South Africa’s Herschelle Gibbs was his favorite cricketer.

Flipper Kohli

2014 Sydney Test: While the Australia tour of 2013-14 turned out to be a breakthrough tour for Kohli with the bat, he couldn’t prevent himself from inviting the public ire when after being sledged by the crowd, the batsman was seen flipping the bird towards the spectators. He later apologised for the incident but one could see that Kohli had a few issues to deal with.

Tirade against media

During the 2015 World Cup, Kohli infamously launched an abusive onslaught a reporter during a nets session having mistaken him for a journalist who wrote about his personal life. The issue gained such momentum that the BCCI had to intervene with a slap on Kohli’s wrists reminding him of his public responsibilities and behaviour.

Gambhir blow-up

It was the 2013 IPL when Kohli came the closest to a fistfight on the field. During a match against Kolkata Knight Riders, Kohli couldn’t take the opposition’s animated celebrations launching a mouthful of expletives towards the KKR huddle. Never one to shy away from a fight, KKR captain Gautam Gambhir too advanced towards his junior Delhi teammate with an explosive tirade of words. Only an intervention from other players prevented the altercation from getting really ugly.

VIRAT KOHLI vs WHO

Just let all these incidents sink in for a bit. And then compare them to the image of a heartbroken, crestfallen New Zealand team who were denied the World Cup 2019 title not in the least due to an umpiring error. Any other team would have found it hard to control their emotions after going through an emotional rollercoaster such as the World Cup 2019 final and still ending up on the losing side on the basis of ‘boundary count’. But the Kiwis, led by Kane Williamson were gracious amidst the chaos and duly credited England for the victory instead of blaming the umpires or the ICC for that matter.

Think if you can, for a moment of Ben Stokes, who must have aged 100 years during that topsy-turvy final, but still apologized to his opponents for an overthrow which hit his bat and went for the boundary in the dying stages of the match. Stokes was also seen shaking hands with New Zealand players even as his teammates ran around the field celebrating their maiden World Cup win. If that’s not enough, think of the Sri Lankan cricket team, who went back to Pakistan to signal the return of international cricket to the country which had been devoid of it after terrorists opened fire on a bus full of the Islanders in 2009. Sri Lanka are also due to visit Zimbabwe to signal the home team’s return to the international cricket fold.

These are just a few of the possibly many moments in 2019 which were equally, if not more, deserving of the ICC’s Spirit of Cricket Award. But the fact is that ICC chose Kohli. New Zealand players have claimed the award a maximum of 6 times since it’s inception in 2004, with Williamson himself claiming it last year. Maybe ICC wanted to shake things up a bit. Maybe the definition of the Spirit of Cricket has evolved itself. Frankly, with the ICC’s new proposal of playing 4-day Tests, maybe the game of cricket as we know it is changing inside-out.

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