The most recent player to face unjustifiable public backlash is Virat Kohli. But this time there’s a darker reason for it – if that were even possible. The problem was not that Kohli’s bat did not talk; it was that he did
Yuvraj Singh is the only person in cricketing history to win the Under-19, T20I, and ODI World Cups, playing critical roles in each of these campaigns. He still holds the record for the fastest fifty in T20Is – a feat he accomplished with the help of six sixes in an over. He is one of only two men to score a fifty and a take a five-wicket haul in the same ODI World Cup match. He won Player of the Tournament at the 2011 World Cup while unknowingly suffering from cancer. He fought off the disease and made an international return in time for the 2014 World T20.
In the final of that tournament, he struggled to score off the best bowler in T20I history, making a labourious 11 off 21 balls.
Indian fans reacted to their multiple-World Cup-winning champion having a bad day at work by trolling him mercilessly online. Some people even drove up to his house to pelt it with stones.
Sadly, this was far from an isolated incident. Some cricket “fans” tend to put cricketers on absurd and unhealthy pedestals only to turn on them with unwarranted fury after a bad performance.
Effigies of some Pakistan cricketers were burnt following back-to-back defeats to India and West Indies in the 2015 ODI World Cup.
The West Indies team’s bus was infamously pelted with stones during the 2011 World Cup after they beat hosts Bangladesh by 9 wickets. Ironically, there were reports that the stoners mistook the West Indian team bus for that of Bangladesh and in fact wanted to target their own team for the loss.
Even the usually congenial Sri Lankan fans, protested after a defeat against India in 2017, refusing to let the home team exit the stadium. It took riot police to restore order and allow the team to finally depart.
All this boils down to the fact that cricket fans – and this is perhaps true of sports fans the world over – have a sense of wanton ownership and entitlement over the players of teams they support. It’s why fans say things like “we” won or “we” played badly. The truth is that “we” did no such thing. The players did. Players who are not answerable to “us”. Players who, since the start of the pandemic, have been going from one bubble to the next with barely any respite.
Kohli would speak in support of Mohammed Shami was expected; but his vociferous condemnation of “spineless people on social media” has come as a welcome surprise.
The most recent player to face unjustifiable public backlash is Virat Kohli. But this time there’s a darker reason for it – if that were even possible. The problem was not that Kohli’s bat did not talk; it was that he did.
“To me attacking someone over their religion is the most…pathetic thing that a human being can do.”
That Kohli would speak in support of Mohammed Shami was expected; but his vociferous condemnation of “spineless people on social media” has come as a welcome surprise. Indian cricketers have been accused of complicity through silence in the past, but by not mincing his words Kohli has made an unmistakable statement about where he stands.
And that has turned Kohli into a target of the people he condemned. Some people on Twitter have brought up Kohli’s caste as being a reason for India’s poor showing. His legacy as a batsman – nobody has scored even close to the number of runs he has since his international debut – and leader – no full-time Indian captain has a better win/loss record than him – is being questioned.
But the shocking casteism is almost a parody of reality at this point, and the attacks on Kohli’s cricketing achievements are frankly laughable in their ineptitude.
What is far more disturbing is the fact that his daughter, less than a year old, is the target of nauseating threats online. It is something Anushka Sharma has had to deal with as well. As is so often the case with trolls, they eventually resort to misogyny.
For far too long, public backlash has been accepted as part a cricketer’s journey. To some degree, one might even argue that it’s a sign of “passion” (Spoiler: those arguments do not hold). But abuse and threats are not even in the realm of acceptability. More so when said abuse stems from bigotry.
The abuse Kohli and his family are facing is because he spoke out against hatred. It is incumbent upon any sane, rational cricket fan to stand against the abuse. If we (and here is where the “we” is appropriate) do not, then quite simply, cricket deserves better fans than us.
Shiamak Baria-Unwalla is a journalist, multimedia producer and content manager. He has worked with companies like ESPNcricinfo, CricketCountry, Oaktree Sports, and Sportz Interactive and contributed to projects for the Olympics, NBA India, and Mumbai Indians, among others. He tweets as @crikipedia.