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Kohli, Northug and Ibrahimovic

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Virat_Kohli_India_cricketPetter Northug, the Norwegian champion skier who holds the country’s flag aloft, is often dubbed a cocky and arrogant person, who is un-Norwegian in many ways. He fails to be down to earth and modest, as Norwegians are supposed to be.

In fact, this is an expectation which is drilled into the hearts and minds of Norwegians. It is called the “Janteloven” or the Law of Jante. It is used colloquially as a sociological term to negatively describe a condescending attitude towards individuality and success: a mentality that de-emphasizes individual effort and places all emphasis on the collective, while discouraging those who stand out as achievers.

 

Once, when some Norwegians were labelling Northug an arrogant man, a German in our midst simply asked, ‘Does not he get you medals every year?’

In his autobiography, the Swedish football star Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who is also labelled cocky, overconfident and thereby un-Scandinavian (he was born and raised in Sweden to a Bosnian father and a Croatian mother), says that he is expressive by nature, and likes putting positive pressure on himself by talking highly about himself. Anger and extroversion motivate him to do his best. He ‘talks the talk and walks the walk’.

Now we come from winter sports and soccer to cricket, and from Scandinavia to India. To the one and only Virat Kohli. Certainly, we do not have anything like the Janteloven in India. There are thousands who strut their stuff (in Bollywood, for instance) and retain their huge fan-following... even if the size gets truncated a bit, there are still millions in each fan club.

 

Nevertheless, we Indians like to sit on the couch and find faults. We demand a lot from our stars. We feel like we are spending our time reading about and watching them, and for that, they owe us a lot in return. Those whom we criticize from the comfort of our living rooms actually do not demand anything from us. They would not care whether we watched them or not, talked about them or not, read about them or not. We have this irritating, vexing attitude towards people in the limelight: praising them when they do well (or rather, when they do what we want them to do) and castigating them when they do not.

Rahul Dravid may endure the heat, sweat out there, and go on keeping one end safe, but then he is so ‘boring and slow’. He could take a leaf out of Tendulkar’s book, some would say. It doesn’t matter if he saves the match. Oh, Sehwag entertains… he has the flair. But he must learn from Dravid to be patient, they would comment. Everyone wants to be a connoisseur, without making an effort to understand the intricacies.

Every Indian wants to have their say; and surely has the right to, in my opinion. ‘Kohli is a hothead. He cannot be a good leader that way. He must be as cool as Dhoni or Azhar or Dravid,’ I have heard people saying. Well, Ganguly was also an extrovert on the field... and off the field as well (who can forget the time he took off his shirt to celebrate?).

Was he not at the helm of affairs when the Indian team rose up and established itself in Tests and ODIs as a force to reckon with? Yes, he had Dravid, Laxman, Sehwag, Tendulkar, Kumble and Srinath with him...but while his hot-headedness perhaps helped him to perform when he did, it did not really affect the performance of the other members of the side.

Recall the Tai chi tu symbol of Taoism. The Yin needs the Yang and vice versa. There are moments when the Yin has done its best and is losing steam. Then the Yang needs to take over, while the Yin becomes dormant, to be revived and called to duty when the Yang is tired and has done its best. Azhar-Ganguly-Kumble, Dravid, Dhoni-Kohli...you see the Yins and Yangs at work here. The calm and rational; the intuitive and emotional...and they have all delivered.

 

Words stifled and emotions cloaked, are the strengths of some individuals, who use the energy thereof to motivate themselves and give their best. Likewise, emotions vented out, words said clear and loud, are necessary for some others to march on and excel. What is it that matters? Results? Ends? Or is it the means? Please do not say ‘Both’. Just as different approaches suit different individuals, different times demand different approaches.

Personally, I admire Dravid. Not necessarily as a model to be emulated, but as an individual who stands out in his own way. Likewise, I admire Kohli too. Again, not as someone to be emulated, but as a person who stands out in his own way. Both calm & composed captains, as well as brash & outspoken helmsmen win matches, so victory cannot be correlated with either of these personality types.

A team, ideally, is a collection of 11 different personality types at the most, and a captain is one of these. He just needs to understand the different types in his team, and try to keep his individual strengths. Certainly, I would not want Kohli to keep losing his match fees by being penalized for bad behaviour. He is a rational individual, no doubt, and would not want to end up paying out his hard-earned and well-deserved income.

Look at his batting records of late, coincident with his time as captain in Tests (and understudy to Dhoni in the ODIs and T20s). Simply amazing – he has not let his temper get in the way of his performance. In fact, oppositions know by now that it is not a good idea to provoke Kohli...rather, not provoking him, may prove to be a weapon in their armoury. Kohli is not unfazed by provocations; he thrives on them, by speaking back and letting his willow provide the audio-amplification. Words are loud. Actions are louder still. I like that, I must say. He would rather be a bit unsettled by friendly opponents.

We know that there are sportsmen who abuse themselves...sometimes loudly. There are others who would silently analyse. Or pray. Again, the Yin and the Yang at work. They belong to the same circle for that matter, and usually alternate.

Role models? No sportsman really needs to focus on being a role model. What that implies again varies temporally and geographically. He is out there to DO a job. To PERFORM. To SCORE runs. To WIN matches. To BE A GOOD AMBASSADOR OF THE GAME comes last. There are many who do all this at once. Fair enough. But the basics first.

Having got them right, one could move on to the grander goal – the last-mentioned; for which one would have sufficient time even after his playing days, as an administrator, coach or manager.

Whether it is skis on snow, willow at the wicket or boots on the ball, both mind on matter (read enthusiastic ebullience) or mind over matter (cool confidence) are becoming of a good sportsman (though many would still rank the latter over the former). However, if one could talk of ‘mind below matter’ (read diffidence), that is always a no-no!



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G Venkatesh (born 1972) is a senior lecturer in Energy and Environment, at Karlstad University in S...

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