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The Paradox of Being Virat Kohli

Virat Kohli is on a video call. Much like MS Dhoni, he is known for being social media averse. Despite that, he is the most followed cricketer in the world. He has a savvy PR team, propping up a public profile that earns him millions each year.


Here, he is talking to his wife and children, sneaking in a moment of private ecstasy, moments after baring it all on the cricket field — the most he has since that loss on November 19.  Mere seconds later, social media is flooded with clips and images of Kohli making faces for his children. What adds to the power of these images is that he seems blissfully unaware of the cameras near his face – or, at least, unbothered by them.




Players are used to these lenses following them everywhere. Every time a batter walks off after a dismissal, a camera – with either a person or a robot in tow – follows them off the pitch. Most laps of honour after winning a trophy are now conducted with enough press photographers squeezed between the players to make them feel like they were part of the support staff all along.

This is modern entertainment: get as many angles as possible.


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Virat Kohli knows there was a good chance he probably wouldn’t be playing in this tournament if not for his immense reputation. You cannot recall Rohit Sharma – the other half of the virtually ousted duo at the end of the previous T20 World Cup cycle – without selecting him too. It helps that the second half of the Indian Premier League saw him doing his best impression of the new-age T20 batter, keeping one eye on his strike rate and the other on the resources still left in the dugout to maximise his returns.


The same approach hasn’t paid dividends for him in the World Cup till now – the final. He is sitting on his haunches for a moment before its first ball is bowled. Later, he will admit it was an “open secret” that he would retire from the format at the end of it, one way or another. He will also admit he was struggling mentally, having just scored 75 runs in the preceding six innings while trying to force the issue at the top of the order.


Kohli saw his returns fading despite his agitated intent. Under immense pressure, further and further down the ranks of importance in the World Cup eleven and became an object of scrutiny in the way individuals are amidst a rough patch of form while playing a team sport. Just ask Hardik Pandya, or even Rohit Sharma a little over a month ago.

The bigger your personality, the bigger the question marks. And bigger the accolades.


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Much has been written about how South Africa fell short after needing just 30 runs off 30 balls. Even more, thankfully, has been written about the new style of Indian cricket shining through in the death. It was a tag team effort more than anything else. Bumrah delivered two overs that were events in themselves, dragging the team back into the contest. Arshdeep Singh stemmed the flow of runs, exploiting the angle of his stride and the bounce of the pitch as the most singularly awkward bowler to face on the day. Hardik Pandya prised out the all-important wicket of Klaasen, then came back to finish it off with a healthy 16 to defend off the last over. Even Suryakumar Yadav played with the margins to take a final-over catch that marks his place in the collective memory of the nation. But for once, India played T20 cricket in a way where no one star changed the day for them. Wave by wave, they were a team who were finally world champions.


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Pundits would have had much to say about Kohli’s innings if India had lost. In all likelihood, they should have. But in a format where the players keep reminding us the smallest moments can change the result of the game, India played the perfect game: messy and under-par considering the excellence of their side, but winning just enough small moments (or, match-ups, as per the modern T20 lingo) to be perfect in the end. Kohli ended up on the right side of the equation during his 76 more often than not. That’s all that will matter now.


“I was telling Rohit today when we went out to bat that one day you feel like you can’t get a run, and then you come out and things happen,” Kohli says at the end of the match. “Put my head down and ego on the side. If you think you are everything and can do wonders, you are nothing. You really have to respect the situation. And God showed me that if you get too ahead of yourself, then I will pull you back and I will keep you in your spot.”


He performed when it mattered the most, as just one cricketer out of eleven. And just one player out of millions who have played the sport. Doing his best, and hoping to recede in the background whenever others can do the job instead.

After a few minutes of celebrating with the trophy, he duly hands it over to Rahul Dravid. What follows is the coach’s most public display of exuberance. Unbridled joy from the one person who has changed the destiny of Indian cricket many times over, without ever forgetting it’s not just about him.



Just before the final, in an interview with the broadcasters who had run a campaign called #DoItForDravid, he requested them to change their angle. “I don't really believe in this 'Do it for somebody',” he said. “I love that quote about somebody asking somebody else, 'Why do you want to climb Mount Everest?' and he says, 'I want to climb Mount Everest because it's there'. I want to win this World Cup because it's there. It's not for anyone, it's not for anybody, it's just there to win.”

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Social media is rarely an accurate reflection of the mood of the country. Most people get on with their lives, untroubled by the latest trends of the day, dictated by algorithms and PR agencies trying to earn their clients a few moments in the spotlight. Sporting triumph, however, is one of those rare moments when your feed will be flooded with pure, unbridled joy. Amidst the celebrations came Kohli’s announcement: the revelation of the “open secret” –  that he is retiring from the format he’s always had an uneasy relationship with. Cue the adulatory tributes from all around the world.


T20 cricket made him a star in his youth, and more than a decade down the line, he became the subject of scrutiny more while playing these 40 overs than at any time else in his career. This format leaves no superstar unaffected by the fickle mind of social media. Again, just ask Rohit or Jadeja, both of who will also soon announce their retirements. Pandya too, who goes from public enemy number one to World Cup hero in the space of six deliveries. These players probably would have been singled out the most if India had lost – the seniors who failed to get it done on the biggest stage once again. But here and now, they are all heroes.


Some eyes – and cameras – fall more on them than the others. So do the accolades. Despite Dravid’s best intentions, plenty of people have hailed the victory as “redemption” for him on social media, after his failure in the Caribbean in 2007. It is the “perfect farewell” for Rohit and Kohli, say others. Cue more tributes and features written about their legacies.

But those with the lens always pointed at them will know better than others that life will move on soon enough. Whether you score 65 in six innings or 76 off 59 deliveries in one. And despite how far into the background you recede, as long as you are an Indian cricketer, you will always be singled out for the triumphs of the team and their biggest failures as well.

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Let us return to the field one last time. Kohli is still there, on his video call. Even if he knows collages of his unbridled joy on the video call will be posted on social media soon – images of a superstar doubling as a doting father – he probably doesn’t care. You cannot survive at the top without knowing each moment you spend on-field, and even a few off it, will always make their way back to the public.


The broadcasters and social media accounts will soon move on to the next venue, to capture the next story, the next byte that bares it all, the next viral snippet to clip out of their million-dollar broadcast packages. They will pick out the next protagonist for their stories, to prophesise about and villainise at equal turns: there are plenty of candidates in this young Indian side. Kohli is not going to be there to see through any more of it. He’s a World Cup winner now and that’s enough for him – just as it is for Rohit, Jadeja, and Dravid. It should be enough for us fans, too. Even if we never see them play again, we’ll always have the new team to watch.


No matter what happens next, the fifteen who won it for India in the Caribbean will always transcend the pictures we take of them, the words we write about them, or the individuals we pick out of them. That’s the power of sport, and the next time we are tempted to make a Kohli out of someone else, we should remember all that comes with it.

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