Virat Kohli (left) © IANS | Steven Smith © Getty Images
Virat Kohli (left) © IANS | Steven Smith © Getty Images

In Solomon Islands, the natives reportedly practice a curse magic when big trees need to be chopped down. The islanders combine and start yelling at the tree, using the harshest of words; and in a few days, the tree falls off. Aamir Khan’s 2007 blockbuster Taare Zameen Par had a reference to the myth.

Take a three-hour long flight from Brisbane and you are at Honiara, capital of Solomon Islands. Maybe the proximity to these islands have made the Australian media believe in the practice. They have decided to target Virat Kohli.

As things stand in 2017, even the most regressive sections of the world have broken free from the clutches of black magic. Why would a progressive Australia do that?

Curse Virat. Ridicule him. Insult him. Criticise him. He does not react like the Oceania tree. He takes them to his stride and makes you gobble down those swears. The more you do that to him, the more popular he is.

After a few days of barbed criticism with little effect, parts of Australian media —certainly not all of them — stooped to a new low. In thick of things is media giant Fox Sports, who decided to keep Kohli as one of the contenders for the ‘Vettel of the Week’ award.

What is Vettel award? ‘Vettel Award’ is Fox Sports’ way to honour or dishonour the biggest villains in the realm of sports. Australian Formula One driver Mark Webber was wronged by his ‘Red Bull’ teammate Sebastian Vettel in the Malaysian Grand Prix 2013, when the German had defied team orders to overtake Webber.

Australians have enough reasons to hate Kohli. He fights fire with fire. He scores runs aplenty against them and it does not end there. He does not hesitate admitting faults, calls ‘spade’ a ‘spade’ and ‘cheat’ a ‘cheat’.

The proverb goes: ‘An eye for an eye ends up…’

Damn it.

Show Kohli an ‘eye’: he has no reservations on wagging the tongue or even the finger.

By pitting Kohli against animals in a poll, the media, which can be termed as a reflection of the Australian society, have stooped to the gutter level.

I was in the neighbouring New Zealand a few months after the infamous Monkeygate in 2008. The general New Zealand sympathies were with India. Not to forget, it was a Kiwi judge John Hansen, who acquitted Harbhajan Singh of the racism charges.

New Zealand-Australia banters can take ugly turns. I knew it when an elderly gentleman in a Wanganui pub told me something that would stay with me all my life. He had a smile on his face, but I was not able to tell whether he said this in jest, “You optimistic fellow, what behaviour were you expecting from great grandchildren of convicts?”

Fox Sport’s disgraceful post has a reference, “Kids, ask your grandparents…”

Period.

Kohli’s behaviour has been termed ‘unacceptable’ by the Australian contingent. The guidelines for ‘good’ Australian behaviour is perhaps being unruffled by the war of words hurled at you.

Sunil Gavaskar was expected to stay mum despite been given out to Dennis Lillee. Sourav Ganguly should have acted a saint to provocations. Anil Kumble should have calmly digested the Australian flouting of spirit of cricket.

Probably the same was expected of Virat Kohli. In fact, Kohli had started it three seasons back, at their den: Why did not he cave in to Mitchell Johnson’s chin-music and verbal volleys? Why did he choose to slam hundreds and give it back to him in the pressers in the end?

Decades back, they had earned the term ‘Ugly Australians’ for a reason. They have played cricket the hard way. They have always wanted to give it to the opposition, leaving no stone unturned to get under their skin.

There is nothing wrong with that. Professional sport is supposed to be played hard. However, you should also be able to take what you give. Unfortunately, being at the receiving end does not go that well with Australia. Deflate their egos and their media retorts to this level.

How is Kohli being pitted against animals not an as serious offence than the ‘monkey’ word?

Darren Lehmann had called Stuart Broad a “blatant cheat” when the latter had held his crease, waiting for umpire’s signal despite edging one to slips.

Now, when Steven Smith did something similar (I am not getting into which was better or worse) the same Lehmann jumped into Smith’s defence after the latter has carried out the unlawful act of seeking help from the dressing room on DRS.

Are the parameters of ‘cheating’ different in Australia depending on the culprit’s nationality?

Why is Kohli suddenly a villain in Australia?

From what I understand, there are two reasons.

First, Kohli sledged Australian batsmen during the second Test at Bengaluru. ‘Sledging’ is something Australians do themselves. They are not used to being sledged.

Secondly, Kohli gave Smith a send-off after the Australian skipper sought help from the dressing-room after being adjudged leg-before by Nigel Llong. Once again, these are antics pulled off by Australians against other nations, not the other way round.

Kohli almost used the word ‘cheating’ in the press conference while referring to the episode. He also mentioned that Australians did it deliberately.  Smith had conveniently called it a ‘brain-fade’ moment, and Kohli described his interpretation of the word in no uncertain terms.

The other interpretation could be this, the words of a Fox Sports subscriber.

The Indian captain was not conservative in answering questions in relation to Ian Healy, who had earlier criticised Kohli’s behaviour.

Healy, anyone?

Kohli is among the best cricketers in the world. There may be substance to his claims of Australian tactics of systematic cheating of using the Decision Review System — or, wait, what is it they call DRS these days? Dressing Room Saviour ploy, correct?

Ricky Ponting had no qualms in confidently claiming grassed catches or not walking off despite thick edges. Michael Clarke was happy to threaten opponents with ‘broken arms’. Adam Gilchrist can claim in his book that Ganguly and Harbhajan had chickened out of the Nagpur Test.

If all that could be forgotten and forgiven, Kohli was definitely entitled to use the word ‘wrong’. Was he not?

Have the umpires or the match referee refuted Kohli’s claims?

Australian media going ‘over the line’

After Australia’s defeat in the Bengaluru Test, Johnson was among the first to take a subtle dig at Kohli.

Peter Lalor, one of the most-read journalists in the circuit, tweeted:

Australian media ripped apart Kohli and Kumble for this — but how many have actually tried to identify the root cause behind the row?

Again, in January 2008, it had been Andrew Symonds who had set off the whole spark that snowballed into one of cricket’s ugliest controversies.

ALSO READ: 15 controversies that stained Border-Gavaskar Trophy (The list is again a fair indicator of who starts it)

It is another story that Australian cricketers later resorted to mudslinging in their books following their heinous on-field behaviour. However, when Kohli gave them a mild dose of the same, they cannot digest.

Australian media reported that Ranchi curator would let Kohli choose the pitch, a claim countered by the curator later.

Ben Horne for The Daily Telegraph accused the current Indian coach Kumble of being one of the instigators of Monkeygate fiasco. He reported that Kohli had struck an Australian official with a Gatorade bottle during the Bengaluru Test. The report further went on to criticise Kumble.

Horne’s report mentions: “Kohli might be the aggressor in the brazen campaign India is running against Australia’s integrity — even striking an Australian official with an orange Gatorade bottle — but coach Kumble, one of the main instigators of the Monkeygate fiasco, would appear to have reclaimed his role as the puppeteer behind the scenes.

“International coaches have access to the officials’ box, but it’s highly unusual for them to make contact mid match, and Kumble’s actions appear indicative of India’s overall attitude that they can dictate to the law makers of the game.”

Another of his articles went under the title “ICC must crack down hard on Indian captain Virat Kohli”. The reason he presented was Kohli’s little regard for rules and rampant sledging.

During the Monkeygate fiasco Jeff Thomson had came down hard on his country of origin. Perhaps these lines make a good read at this moment.

“The Aussies act like morons and bullies and they can’t cop criticism from someone like myself. I think it was appalling that none of the Australians went over and shook Anil Kumble’s hand at the end of the Sydney Test. They just played up and carried on like idiots like they normally do,” Thomson had famously said.

Horne’s article concludes by mentioning: “Kohli is cricket’s ultimate bully, and he has now rallied a country of 1.2 billion people behind him.

“By the end of the Test match, Smith was being routinely booed for the first time in his international career, both when he went out to bat and then when he approached the dais for the post-match presentation.

“A rabid Bangalore crowd with all the passion of an English soccer stadium chanted throughout the last session, ‘Go home Aussies, Aussies go home.’

“This kind of atmosphere is good for the series, but the worry for the Australian team is that it’s been incited by an Indian captain with no regard for rules and with no one telling him there’s a line that can’t be crossed.

“Regardless of whether Kohli makes runs or not in the third Test in Ranchi, the ICC may be creating a beast that’s impossible to contain.”

Unfortunately, a major part of the Australian media contingent agrees to this.

Does it imply that 1.2 billion people are equally wrong to support their captain?

Are the Australian crowds saints reincarnated? What about the infamous Sydney Hill?

Why is this suddenly a worry for Australian team? Haven’t Australia been the side that provided the most hostile environment for playing the game? Why does it suddenly hurt them when someone has decided to stand up to them?

‘An Indian captain with no regard for rules?’ Seriously? What rules? The last time I checked, Kohli was not the one who looked at the dressing-room to seek help on DRS.

Dear Australian media, attempt to rile up Kohli at your own peril. He will not perish like that tree from Solomon Islands.

Losing Tests are fine. But the least one can do is to play cricket the way it should be. And after decades of being bullied, India will prefer being ‘bullies’ than ‘cheats’.