Why do Virat Kohli and Gautam Gambhir get away with boorish behaviour all the time?

Over the years, outrageously innovative batsmen and ridiculously unconventional bowlers have made T20 games look like gully cricket on steroids. Earlier this week at the end of the Lucknow Super Giants vs Royal Challengers Bangalore match, captain Virat Kohli and rival coach Gautam Gambhir, put a final stamp on IPL’s street-cricketisation.

It’s the end of correctness and death of decorum – franchise cricket will soon have no resemblance to the sport that was once played by men in flanneled whites. If cricket was a person, it would have filed for demerger with T20 cricket.

The scenes that unfolded after the acrimonious that game – the appalling abusive argument between Gambhir and Kohli that was just one push or nudge away from it turning into a mass brawl – underlined IPL’s reputation as cricket’s rebellious wayward off-spring. It was also a new low for the world’s showpiece T20 event. This was worse than Harbhajan slapping Sreesanth, here were two leaders behaving like trouble-making tennis-ball cricketers involved in a ‘winner takes all’ weekend game at some West Delhi park, corner of a crowded Mumbai maidan, a Kolkata para or a Chennai school compound.

Churlish or childish?

Their behaviour was more suited for a game with no real umpires, no television cameras, no role models in playing XI and no one with a reputation worth protecting. Two grown-ups, both fathers, one Member of Parliament and the other being world cricket’s biggest star— they can’t be publicly seen shaking off peace-makers around them and heading towards each other like truckers gripped by road rage.

Since both Kohli and Gambhir are brands and also have an army of social media followers – the former wins that race hands down – their respective PR machinery has been on overdrive. Spin-doctors, in-house content generators and pliable cricket commentators have been given damage-control tasks. But this one is tough to pull off. The visuals are too powerful and way too many. When you are in a stadium full of cameras; you can’t doctor the tapes, escape blame or take any moral high-ground. Once you enter the mud-pit, you can claim you have less dirt but still you will be taken to the cleaners. By dishing out the same punishment to both, the match-referee, the one aware of all facts, has given the same weightage to both indiscretions.

Gambhir Naveen Kohli, LSG vs RCB (from left to right) Lucknow Super Giants team mentor Gautam Gambhir, Lucknow Super Giants player Naveen-ul Haq and Royal Challengers Bangalore player Virat Kohli.

When the spat was shown live to the world – interestingly the broadcaster historically known to blank out anything that brings IPL to disrepute didn’t ask their cameras to look away – on air was Anil Kumble. He has seen both Kohli and Gambhir closely.“This is unacceptable. No matter what, you have to respect the opposition. You have to respect the game,” he said.

Virender Sehwag isn’t known for his subtleness. He is best-suited to speak on this issue. Like Gambhir and Kohli, he too did the hard yards on the brutally competitive Delhi circuit. Sehwag grew up in Najafgarh, the badland on the outskirts of Delhi. On a cricket field, he has seen, and heard, it all. So when Sehwag says he was shocked by the behaviour of his Delhi and India mates, it is a red-flag for the BCCI.

Sehwag is now a father of a budding cricketer. Aaryavir was in the Delhi U-16 team. He would have seen Gambhir bat with his father, he would have dreamt to have a Kohli-like career. Sehwag was worried about the impact of the ugly optics on youngsters.

“My own kids can lip-read and they very well understand Ben Stokes (The most uttered Hindi abusive on field rhymes with the names of the English cricketer). So that is when I feel bad. If you’re saying such things, if my kids can read it, others can too and tomorrow they will think that if they (Kohli and Gambhir) can say it, so can I,” he said on Cricbuzz.

Once upon a time..

Kohli and Gambhir should have known better, they should have settled their grudges in a more dignified way. The two go back a long way. In 2006, when Kohli played his first game for Delhi, Gambhir was his senior. As is the Delhi dressing room custom, Gambhir was ‘“bhaiya’” to Kohli. At Kotla, juniors usually are given nicknames that would caricature their appearance. All thanks to his chubby cheeks, Kohli was called Cheeku, the comic book bunny popular with kids in that era.

Kohli and Gambhir, Kohli-Gambhir, Virat Kohli, Gautam Gambhir, Kohli and Gambhir, Naveen-ul-Haq, Kohli and Naveen-ul-Haq, IPL 2023, LSG vs RCB, IPL 2023, IPL News, Cricket News Virat Kohli and Gautam Gambhir were involved in an on-filed spat. (Screengrab)

Two years later Gautam Bhaiya and Cheeku would be India’s openers, they would go on to be in the World Cup winning team of 2011. Subsequently, with age catching up and reflexes slowing, Gambhir’s career would taper. This was the time during the Dhoni era, when seniors were being treated as burden and juniors were pressing their claim to replace them. Gambhir, the one-time captaincy candidate, would have a tepid end to his international career.

On the other hand, Cheeku’s stakes would skyrocket. He would scale new heights, break barriers, smash records. From the obvious heir apparent, he would be Indian cricket’s highly successful most powerful captain till the time he quit captaincy in 2021.

Meanwhile, Gambhir would win two titles with KKR, a feat that Kohli hasn’t achieved till date. He would enter politics, be BJP’s candidate from East Delhi, get into parliament with a landslide win that had a margin of around 7,00,000 votes. Gambhir’s batting numbers are no comparison to Kohli’s but the fans value his body of work, remembering his two game-changing knocks in the two World Cups India has won this century. Kohli’s performance in crucial do-or-die ICC games isn’t too flattering.

Away from the field they are contrasting characters. Kohli can talk, shake a leg and hobnob with Bollywood. He is a marketing man’s dream, a complete package, invaluable to global brands. He is also the life of a dressing room, who fools around team mates. Gambhir is a natural leader, not averse to expressing contrarian views, is articulate and tactically sharp. But is more serious, reserved and despite KKR owner’s repeated attempts to teach his captain and mentor to dance he doesn’t quite hit the floor.

Virat Kohli, Gautam Gambhir Virat Kohli and Gautam Gambhir after the match. (Twitter/LucknowIPL)

Kohli, of late, has spoken about being calm and composed and turning a new leaf. Clearly, he is a work in progress. Gambhir’s stint as a politician hasn’t made him understand the nuance of parliamentary behaviour. Jealousy and one-upmanship are seen as the reason for the two repeatedly locking horns in public over the last 10 years. That’s just a wild guess, an uneducated easy inference of those who aren’t insiders. The answer could be hidden in the reaction of the authorities, public and those who are close to them.

Inadequate censure

So how did the world react to the imbecile behaviour of the country’s sporting icons?

BCCI docked 100 per cent of their match fee, the rationale being that financial loss could deter them from repeating their shameful act. For the deep-pocketed cricketers, this is merely a friendly tap on their knuckles. It is also likely that it will be the franchise who will end up paying the fine.

The fans too weren’t too outraged. Since that night of shame, the new-age opinion makers – the comics and content creators – have been cheering for more, reducing the outlandish act to a joke. Reality TV and OTT platforms have mainstreamed rancour.

The peaceniks too aren’t sounding convincing. Ravi Shastri has volunteered to sit across the table with Gambhir and Kohli. This isn’t a new fight, didn’t Shastri have enough sit-ins with Kohli during his long stint as India coach? Clearly it hasn’t helped.

The real reason the two hotheads have frequent bust-ups is because they have been allowed to get away with their boorish behaviour all the time.

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