When it came to cricket, I was more than just an enthusiast. I wanted to make a career in cricket, but in those days when sports had not attained an iconic position, middle class psychology prevailed and I was pushed into studies; my love affair with cricket became limited to watching and reading about it.
It was the 70s. I was besotted with the sheer aesthetic brilliance of Gundappa Vishwanath's batsmanship. It was pure joy to watch him play the late cut through the slip cordon. His square cut played against the bowling of Michael Holding, Andy Roberts, and Dennis Lilli etc with seven slip fielders behind the stumps was a kind of meditation. I also admired his gentle demeanour and no-conflict attitude. He was made the India captain and I hated him when he called back Bob Taylor, English wicket keeper, after he was declared out by the umpire in the Golden Jubilee match in 1980. Of course, Vishwnath was hailed a great ambassador of cricket.
This was also the time when India captain Sunil Gavaskar was so peeved by the regular umpiring decisions on an Australian tour that once when he was given out along with Chetan Chauhan he decided to leave the field in the Sydney test in 1981. With the timely intervention of the team manager, cricket ties with Australia were saved and Gavaskar recently said apologized and admitted he was wrong.
This was also the time when the Indian team was considered as a minor team in the world.
Team India used to play to save a test match. Winning was not the priority as the team was not equipped to match the best in the business.
Vishwanath was old school: playing for the spirit of the game; winning or losing was not that important. But Gavaskar, two years junior to him, was different. He was there on the ground to compete and beat the best. He was the challenger who was unwilling to be intimidated by anybody's reputation. He challenged the entire edifice of the cricket establishment. He was the first voice of defiance. And he inculcated in the minds of Indian cricketers to play 'not to lose'.
Later, Kapil Dev and he brought to Indian cricket a new high. But it was Sourav Ganguly who made winning a habit. He never played to lose. He never played to save a match. He played to win. He took the torch of defiance a step further. His taking off his shirt in the balcony of Lords after winning the match has to be seen as a symbol of arrival of Indian cricket on the world map.
MS Dhoni was the coolest captain India had. He was the true representative of GenNext. He was in his own zone, cared for no one, lived life on his own terms. He was a small-town boy who lived life king-size. But Virat Kohli is not a small-town boy. He belongs to Delhi. To rub shoulders with the best is a daily thing. Here in Delhi, only the tough can survive; the chicken-hearted cannot breathe in the Delhi air.
Delhi teaches you to win. It does not respect a past reputation, it goes along with the power of the present. Virat Kohli at a press conference last week said, "I am not here to respect anyone." His statement was targeted at Mitchell Johnson, the fastest and meanest bowler when in form.
Team India was looking for its identity and recognition and it was part of a pursuit to become a world leader in cricket. The Captaincies of Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble and Dhoni firmly established India as one of the top teams of the world. Dhoni has won two world cups. Under his leadership team, India became the No 1 team.
IPL gave Indian cricket new luster. World cricket cannot survive without India's revenue power. India is the biggest consumer market for the game of cricket. If today it decides to withdraw, world cricket will be bankrupt. The balance has moved from Melbourne and Lords to Kolkatta and Delhi. The old world order has collapsed and new one has India in its centre. Virat knows that.
Now it's time for the Johnsons of the world to realise their true status. Virat is only a cricketing metaphor who is representing millions of the New Indians who want to "kar lo dunia mutthi me" (grab the world in your palm).
This new Indian is not intimidated by anyone's aura or reputation. He is thirsty to make his mark. He is confident about its talent and inner strength. He is not worried about being caught in a storm, in fact, he loves to be the centre of attention.
Dhoni was very cool but he preferred his personal life to be private, he never let anyone come close to his family members, never allowed any media scrutiny of his personal life but Virat lives to flaunt his love with Anushka Sharma. When he makes a century, he throws a kiss to the pavilion.
It is a different world, and we are interacting with a new generation. Virat Kohli is an icon, a mix of batting brilliance of Sachin Tendulakr and aggression of Sourav Ganguly. He is both cool and volatile. Vishwanath was an aesthetic genius but he could not lead.
Sachin was another genius who was not successful as captain. Virat has to defy both and has to prove that he is a genius and a true leader also. Can he? That is the biggest question before him and before the new Indians.
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