Exclusive: Is Kohli's aggression good for the game? Former captains give their verdict

India's captain Virat Kohli (third left) celebrates a wicket with teammates. (AFP)
India's captain Virat Kohli (third left) celebrates a wicket with teammates. (AFP)

Dubai - Zaheer Abbas says Kohli should set an example, but Dilip Vengsarkar and David Gower have praised the Indian captain's passion for the game


Rituraj Borkakoty

Published: Tue 24 Aug 2021, 1:11 PM

Last updated: Tue 24 Aug 2021, 1:27 PM

Unlike his legendary grandfather Denis Compton, Nick Compton never set pulses racing in his Test career. But the former England batsman recently made the headlines when he called Virat Kohli the ‘most foul-mouthed’ individual in cricket.

India’s remarkable fightback on the fifth day of the second Test at Lord’s to go one up in the five-match series will find a place in the annals of cricket.

But the Kohli-infused in-your-face cricket from the team has certainly reopened the debate on whether the behaviour of the Indian captain is bordering on arrogance.

Has the Indian superstar become too big for the game?

Kohli has been a passionate advocate of Test cricket. Former players like Ian Chappell and Ramiz Raja believe that following the explosion of shorter formats of the game, the future of the traditional format hinges on the 32-year-old Kohli’s continued involvement in it.

And yet, Kohli’s detractors will have their eyes set on him again when he leads his team out at Headingley, Leeds, for the third Test that starts on Wednesday.

It’s the same Kohli who was recently hailed as the torchbearer for Test cricket by Dinesh Karthik – a few days before Chappell wrote on ESPNcricinfo that players who believe in Test cricket should ‘appoint Kohli their spokesperson’.

But in his relentless pursuit of Test victories, Kohli can sometimes upset the same purists with his over-the-top celebrations and wild gesticulations.

Unlike Nick Compton, former Indian captain Dilip Vengsarkar has seen Kohli since his under 16 days.

Vengsarkar, who fast-tracked a teenage Kohli into the Indian senior team when he was the chairman of the national selection committee, says Kohli played with the same aggression on the field even in age-group cricket.

“I saw the same passion in him on the field when he was playing the Under 16 BCCI tournament. I was the chairman of the Talent Resource Development Wing of the BCCI back then,” the legendary Indian batsmen told Khaleej Times over the phone from Mumbai.

“I liked his passion for the game and besides, of course, his talent and mental toughness. Then I watched him in under-19 matches also. So he has always been very passionate about cricket. He always wanted to win matches.”

And former England captain David Gower believes it’s Kohli’s passion has made him such a good player.

“I think there is a danger if you try and change someone like Virat Kohli. What makes him good is his passion and aggression. Some people have it more controlled, more inside them, he shows what’s going on very much from the outside,” Gower had told Khaleej Times during a recent interview.

“I would assume that the Indian dressing room understands Virat and likewise, he understands them. So I would not want to tinker with that, just for the sake of appearances.”

Vegsarkar agreed with Gower, his former on-field rival.

“That’s true because I have seen him since his junior cricket days, especially when he was the captain and won the Under-19 World Cup. He used to be the same guy back then too,” he said.

“Of course, everybody cannot be a Dhoni. And similarly, Dhoni cannot be Kohli and Kohli cannot be Joe Root.

“Everybody has a different personality and every captain has a different way of motivating players. Even MS Dhoni is aggressive, but he didn’t show it. Kohli has been showing it since his under 19 days. That’s the way he brings the best out of himself and his teammates.”

Kohli’s aggression reflects on his captaincy too as he played only five specialist batsmen against England to make space for one extra bowler – a bold tactic in an overseas Test that eventually helped India win against all odds at Lord’s.

“It’s a very brave decision from the captain (Kohli),” Zaheer Abbas, the former Pakistan captain who attended the Lord’s Test, told Khaleej Times over the phone from London.

“If your fast bowlers are performing very well, then you know you can get the rival team out. That’s why Kohli’s confident with just five batsmen, he doesn’t need a sixth batsman. So, as captain, Kohli is doing the right thing.”

But Abbas believes Kohli also has a responsibility as captain in terms of setting the right example on the field.

“Change (in behaviour) should come. You know the whole world is watching. If you look at the former Indian captains, their behaviour was different,” the legendary batsman said.

“I believe with age and experience, he will learn. I know the excitement is always there. But the captain should set an example because the whole world is watching you.”

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