Dashing Kohli can take a cue from billiards great Sethi, who had a sound head on his shoulders to deal with high expectations on the world stage
A veritable tsunami of praise has erupted over the deeds of Virat Kohli, the latest superstar of Indian cricket. There is no question that the exceptional talent, confidence, aggression and consistency of the young Delhi batsman has brought balm to a nation writhing in pain over the triple whammy of disastrous tours of England and Australia, capped by the astonishing failure to make the final of the Asia Cup.
His boyish good looks, general deportment (the recent peccadilloes on the field notwithstanding) and various predictions of the brightness of his future have caused his annual endorsement fee to climb to a reported and well-deserved Rs 3 crore per brand.
But we Indians are never satisfied with just savouring the moment. Without sparing a thought for the possible consequences, we love to ramp up the hype to proportions that could unseat the mind of anyone, leave alone a 23-year-old lad who is now condemned to have every aspect of his humanity dissected by a nation comprising a billion plus rabid fans and an equally rabid media. We have seen the effect the famous 100th century had on someone as seasoned as Sachin Tendulkar: one's heart went out to him when he quietly explained his state of mind on national TV over that landmark.
Observing all this brouhaha from the sidelines, I was irresistibly reminded of the days when a 21-year-old Geet Sethi dethroned me as world billiards champion and the media went berserk. Obviously -- and rightly I might add -- there is a vast difference in public perception of billiards and cricket but I believe parallels can be drawn in a given situation, whether it pertains to sport, business or any other field of human endeavour.
Geet fortunately had a remarkably sound head on his slender shoulders. Virat thankfully appears to have the same. When asked about making 100 centuries (a prime example of our mania for excess) he broke into a boyish smile and said he hadn't even thought about that or words to that effect. It was reassuring to see and hear.
When Geet beat me, I wrote a piece on the importance of not smothering him with a constant burden of expectation. "If you love him, Gujarat" I wrote, "for Pete's sake leave him alone". It was therefore particularly heartening to hear Sachin voice a similar caution. "Virat is a brilliant player, and has done well. All I can say is, don't put pressure on him. Just let him play," said the senior statesman of Indian cricket.
Of course, the sober language of caution is for birds. Those familiar with Bandra patois will recall the familiar saying: Apply, apply, no reply. Despite pleas for balance, the media mania persisted in Geet's case and will persist, with knobs on, in Virat's. Thank the Lord, Geet's unique qualities of head and heart allowed him to stay grounded: he went on to capture seven world titles, a world record thousand-plus break, an Asian gold medal and other honours too numerous to mention.
Other things being equal, it is odds on that Virat's career will follow a similar dazzling path. One fervently hopes for India's sake and his own that he will have the discipline and character to cope with living life in a goldfish bowl. He has a great example to follow: the man, who answers to the name of Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar.