Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Wankhede was right, Kohlisaab

Anyone who has been to a game in Mumbai knows how partisan the crowd is. For years, foreign teams have been abused during matches at the Wankhede. Truth be told, they're abused at other venues as well but the people who are paid to offer opinion would like us to think otherwise. The difference is only in the degree and type of abuse meted out.

There have even been instances where crowds have turned on the home team itself, most famously when the Eden Gardens crowd jeered Sunil Gavaskar after he dropped Kapil Dev & when Greg Chappell dropped Sourav Ganguly. More recently, we've seen Indian fans rejoice at the fall of an Indian wicket just because it meant Sachin Tendulkar would come out to bat.

Whether I or anyone else thinks such behaviour is justified or not is irrelevant. Fans who come to the stadium do so at the cost of their time and money. It is their passion that ensures the players now get paid the kind of money that they wouldn't have dreamt of a decade ago. The endorsements they have, the central & IPL contracts they've earned are a result of millions of people turning up to watch them play in sub-standard facilities in ridiculously oppressive weather conditions and being treated like they're a nuisance. These fans have a right to voice their opinion as long as they don't resort to physical violence.

So when Virat Kohli points a finger at the Wankhede crowd after being heckled because he refused to withdraw a run out appeal in which Ambati Rayudu's bat was knocked away off Vinay Kumar's foot, I can't help but disagree with him. Here's what he had to say:

"I don't know what is wrong with people in this venue. It feels a bit weird because at the end of the day you play for India and you don't come here to be hated," Kohli said. "It has happened to a few players in the past as well. I don't know why they get so worked up during IPL. IPL is not the end of the world. They forget that the players they are booing for also play for their country."
First off, I remember the Chinnaswamy crowd boo Gautam Gambhir a few weeks ago at the post-match ceremony after he got into an altercation with none other than Virat Kohli. An altercation that Kohli could have easily avoided. Instead, he chose not to. So while he got worked up & got into an argument with a fellow Indian player during an IPL game, a tournament that is not the end of the world according to him, he seems to think the crowd shouldn't.
What is even more alarming is the subtle implication that a player can be booed if he doesn't play for "their country". So if you're an overseas player, you're fair game if one goes by Kohli's reasoning. In a more evolved & globally aware environment, his words would have been considered bigoted.
Here's something more he had to say:
"It is only creating hatred among the players. When I come back and play for India, they are going to cheer for me. It doesn't work that way."
Newsflash, Mr. Kohli: This is exactly how it works all over the world. Footballers get abused, some of them racially, when they play an away game in their league. The same players are egged on just as passionately when they turn out for the national side. If you think it is okay for the crowd to heckle your opposition in an international game, you better not complain when that crowd heckles you when you're playing on the away team in a club game. And if you think the IPL is not the end of the world, don't pick a fight with your national teammate when you get out. It doesn't give you the right to tell the fans what they can or can't do, but atleast your stance would be consistent and you won't end up looking like a sore loser.
The Wankhede was right, Kohlisaab. And they got under your skin, which is exactly what home advantage is all about. The sooner you come to terms with this, the sooner you'll be able to evolve into a leader capable of captaining the Indian team if that is what you aspire to.