IPL 2013: Kohli-Gambhir fight is ugliest possible advertisement for cricket

Gautam Gambhir (L) and Virat Kohli (back towards camera) during their verbal spat © IANS

Gautam Gambhir and Virat Kohli’s spat was uncouth and unsavoury, but perhaps ended up raising the viewership of IPL. Arunabha Sengupta looks back at the ugly incident which brings back memories of the slap-gate incident in the same tournament few years back involving Harbhajan Singh and S Sreesanth.

When the Indians won the World Cup in 2011, Sachin Tendulkar was chaired around the ground by his teammates. Young Virat Kohli had then captured the hearts of many with his words, “He has carried the team for 21 years. It is our turn to carry him.”
 
If Thursday’s incident is anything to go by, it seems that while Kohli had been accurate in his appreciation of how the great man had carried the nation on his shoulders, the Delhi lad has somehow totally missed noticing how the master carried himself.
 
And of course, he is not alone. Gautam Gambhir has shared the dressing room for more than eight years with the likes of Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Anil Kumble. All these exemplary legends that he has rubbed his shoulders with have made him none the wiser.

‘Ideal’ candidates
 
The spectacle of Indian Premier League (IPL) is fuelled by sound and fury that surrounds the heaves and hoiks of condensed cricket. In that respect, what followed after Kohli had hit Lakshmipathy Balaji down the throat of Eoin Morgan has perhaps done loads of good to the corporations, the media and probably the paying public too.
 
The tournament is the closest cricket ever comes to the reality TV shows so popular for mass eyeballs. If there is one thing that entices more and more people to follow such programmes, it is the vicious delight at witnessing the basest instincts and reactions rising to the surface in full public view.
 
That way, Kohli and Gambhir charging at each other, the foulest of words flying across the charged air and landing with blistering effect on the adversary, must have given many the full value for their money. There will surely be a good proportion of people who consider Rajat Bhatia some sort of a killjoy, a spoilsport — Bhatia had the presence of mind and good sense to step between the two combative stars. Joy and sport are words that have become quite malleable with the current day corporatisation of cricket.
 

 
Yes, they have been teammates — for India, Delhi and their office team when they have found the time to turn out for ONGC [Oil & Natural Gas Commission]. That perhaps makes it somewhat strange for the two men to have made for each other’s throats. However, if we pause to think about it, there are few ‘worthier’ candidates in world cricket for taking the game by the scruff of the neck and dragging it to the brink of disrepute.
 
Both of them have been known for rather lewd celebrations after centuries. Kohli’s ritual of getting to hundreds has been somewhat tempered with time and consistency, but his rowdy reactions are fresh enough even in public memory.

 

IPL 2013: Kohli-Gambhir fight is ugliest possible advertisement for cricket

What should be a moment of joy, is exactly the opposite in Virat Kohli’s case as he celebrates his century in the fourth Test against Australia at Adelaide Oval on January 26, 2012 © Getty Images

Gambhir has not scored runs for long at the highest level, but one remembers him scowling and snarling in a hideous fit of jubilation when he got to his century against Sri Lanka at Dhaka in the Asia Cup last year.
 
On field, Kohli has never been short of the angry word or the eloquent finger. Gambhir has often collided with the opposition bowlers, with the elbow raised in strategic angles.

IPL 2013: Kohli-Gambhir fight is ugliest possible advertisement for cricket

What a role model! “Up yours”, says Virat Kohli to the Sydney crowd on Day Two of the second Test against Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground on January 4, 2012 © Getty Images

If there are two Indian cricketers who can be clubbed with Harbhajan Singh as the worst possible examples as role models, they are indeed Kohli and Gambhir.
 
It does seem quite fascinating that all three of them, Harbhajan, Kohli and Gambhir, have been mentioned time and again by various vested interests as possible captains of the Indian team, often with popular acceptance,as replacement of the ice-cool MS Dhoni. It does underline the outlook of a great many followers of the game, and how they would rather have cricket played.
 
And no, the incident cannot be dismissed as ‘rush of blood’ or ‘heat of the moment’. In football, a body-contact sport, players could perhaps have got away with it. Cricket, even in the crudest version dished out by IPL, has not yet been reduced to a contact sport.
 

Corporate effect?

Is it the greater stakes involved in the corporatised tournament that makes these players stoop to such boorish behaviour? Sunil Gavaskar — the man who backed Kohli for captaincy after the home series against England — seems to think so.
 
The IPL franchises fit the bill of all the traits outlined in Joel Bakan’s celebrated analysis of the ruthless money making organisations in The Corporation. Self-interested, manipulative, avowedly asocial, self-aggrandising, unable to accept responsibility for its own actions or feel remorse — as a person, the corporation would qualify as a full-blown psychopath.The IPL may be viewed as an oligarchy of psychopathic franchises ruling the cricketing financial world.
 
Is that mentality rubbing off on the more susceptible highly-strung individuals?
 
Perhaps to counter-balance such evil influence, the franchises can educate these errant cricketers in corporate etiquette, accepted behaviour policies, and even finance a course of anger management.
 
Five years ago, during the first edition of the IPL, the television cameras spotted S Sreesanth in uncontrollable tears. At the end of the match between Mumbai Indians and Kings XI Punjab, Harbhajan Singh, the captain of the former team, had allegedly slapped the medium-pacer, his teammate of the national side.
 

 
In the post-match conference, Harbhajan angrily asked the media to focus their questions on cricket — a rather difficult thing to do in IPL anyway. And while Sreesanth expectedly dismissed it as normal on-field occurrence, Yuvraj Singh, captain of Kings XI, termed the incident unacceptable.
 
This bizarre happening had coincided with the Mahrashtra Home Minister Siddharam Mhetre voicing his dissent against the cheerleaders to Daily Telegraph: “The scantily-clad foreign girls’ dances are obscene and do not jell with Indian sensibilities, culture and ethos. These are things meant for foreigners and not us.”
 
The Los Angeles Times had not been able to let this go. Soon the paper announced: “Violence between players? Scantily clad cheerleaders? Toss in a rant by Charles Barkley and three minutes of commercials for every 45 seconds of actual game time, and cricket may be ready for an American audience.”
Well, with the recurrence of such spats with the face-off between Gambhir and Kohli, cricket may have qualified big way. Perhaps even World Wrestling Federation (WWF) aficionados will switch channels to spend time watching IPL!

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)