India have just won a terrific Test at Lord’s, and it’s a good time to discuss their philosophy, Kohlism. That a team reflects its captain is one of the cliches of the sport. A great sight of the contemporary game is the passion and energy that Virat Kohli brings to it. And the supreme confidence too, not just in himself as a player but in his team as well.
When India came out to bat again after lunch on the last day, it was sheer chutzpah. The nine balls they played didn’t matter to either Mohammed Shami or Jasprit Bumrah. But what it did to the English openers, who had begun to mentally prepare themselves to bat and then had to stop-start their routine all over again, was immense. The result was two ducks at the top of the order. India never let go after that. Results often balance on such subtleties.
To understand your bowlers so well and to recognise their power well enough to decide that 60 overs would be enough to dismiss England is remarkable. In the end India didn’t need even that much. Nor did they need a spinner. It was a brave decision to drop Ashwin, by far the best in the world; questions would have been asked had India failed to dismiss England. But 39 of 40 wickets so far have fallen to the seamers, and Ravindra Jadeja needed to bowl just six overs.
One of the unintended consequences of Bumrah’s intimidatory bowling to James Anderson in England’s first innings was England’s tactics backfiring on the final morning. To attempt to dismiss numbers nine and ten through intimidatory bowling with the field spread out was absurd.
If England felt the match was theirs at that point and they needed only to teach Bumrah a lesson, they paid a heavy price for this short-sightedness.
Bumrah’s attack on Anderson was out of character, and frankly, both unnecessary and unfair. He might have been advised by his captain. Television loved it of course, especially on the final day when the retaliations and reprisals took over. India seemed to have a pressing need to show who was boss, as did England. But the latter’s ammunition was inadequate. Who did what first is unimportant in such cases.
And so to Kohlism. It can be defined as a philosophy where hostility and retaliating before being provoked is key. Confrontations are encouraged, in the belief it pumps up bowlers. It also involves conducting the emotional orchestra of that portion of the stadium where the Indian supporters sit. There is too the notion sometimes that a victory is not enough, it has to be accompanied by humiliation, a word that has no place in sport. Stump mikes did pick up much derisive laughter.
For years as Indian teams rolled over and died in the face of aggression (one top batsman even burst into tears when sledged), they were held up as examples of good behaviour. Actually, they just lacked the self-belief.
Then a number of things came together to give Indian teams the swagger they had lacked. The financial power of the cricket board, the No. 1 rankings, the victories abroad, the belief that international cricket would die without India’s support. On the field, captains like Sourav Ganguly and Kohli refined the arrogance to a fine art.
But in Ganguly’s time there were players like Rahul Dravid and others who ensured that things didn’t go out of control. This is not to suggest that things went out of control at Lord’s but it could have. There is no Dravid in this team. If there is — Ajinkya Rahane, perhaps — the majority is likely to overrule him.
There is a choice to be made here. Do we want our cricket team to be seen as aggressive bullies who act as if the 22 yards and everything else belongs to them, or is there another way of winning that does not reach down into the lesser devils (as opposed to the better angels) of our nature?
Need to pull back
To a generation brought up on aggression and giving as good as you got, Kohlism might appear natural and reasonable. Perhaps it is. But with three Tests remaining, and the relations between teams already beginning to dip, things could get worse. Both teams need to pull back, but especially the one which has Kohlism as its stated policy. Umpires will have a difficult time.
This Indian team is too talented, too various in its gifts, and too successful for it to be remembered merely for poor behaviour. To put down India’s incredible showing on the final day to inspiration provided by the tensions earlier is unfair to the skill and motivation of the bowlers.
Aggression is welcome, even necessary, but it can slide into boorishness and gratuitous violence. That really is the danger.