The best shot that Virat Kohli played this Sunday came after the match.
As he coped with the aftertaste of adrenalin, and as adoring teammates, past greats and present opponents took to social media to exhaust their stock of superlatives, Kohli’s first thought was this:
That “fans” react to an incredible display of cricketing skill with such comments is only to be expected. “Social media has given voice to the voiceless” is a trope in common currency; that the anonymity of social media has empowered the cowards among us to vilify, slander, abuse, hurt in the name of humor is its reprehensible underbelly.
That a media organization thought this was the “story” worth headlining, mere minutes after a young man had defied the odds and pulled off a performance for the ages, equally speaks to the rapid erosion of the media’s credibility and the climate of distrust, bordering on hatred, towards journalists everywhere. That another media outlet followed up by asking “Was Kohli right in defending Anushka Sharma?”, and inviting readers to weigh in on that “debate” speaks equally to the fact that the allure of the ‘click’ has replaced editorial judgment and even the canons of common human decency.
For Kohli to react as he did, as instantly as he did, says more about him than the skill he displayed in pulling off a chase that, by his own admission, he had given up as lost at the halfway mark. Apropos, note also that his next concern was to mourn the many innocents who died in the Lahore blasts on Easter Sunday, and the one after that to salute a retiring opponent, before he responded to a congratulatory message from his idol.
With each passing day, Kohli makes us miss Sachin Tendulkar a little less. And with each passing day, Kohli makes us admire him a little more — and more fervently because he is the antithesis to the platitude-spouting Indian sportsman we are so used to. By way of contrast, the avtaar that preceded him in the cricketing pantheon had nothing to say of the serious issues surrounding the game while he adorned it, nor to the even more serious issues affecting the country during his stint in parliament.
Kohli lives his life large, he plays his game large, he has a heart as large as all outdoors and he wears that heart very prominently on his sleeve. The abuses directed at sundry mothers and sisters, while not exemplary, are a sign of that complete immersion, as are the ferocious fist pumps when one of his mates gets a wicket or takes a catch or achieves some landmark with the bat. Kohli lives in the moment and he feels the moment vehemently, sometimes even venomously. And we celebrate such moments, or condemn them, depending on whether he took us to a win, or failed.
But beyond the already-storied cricketing prowess, beyond those strokes of creative concept and impeccable execution, Kohli this Sunday revealed something even more worthy of our adulation: class, and grace, and character.
PS: In the earlier version of this piece, I had attributed both the Anushka story and the call out to readers to the same media organization. A post on Twitter pointed me to the error, which I have since corrected. Apologies.