The G.O.A.T vote: When opinion offends

Last Updated: Mon, Jan 07, 2019 17:02 hrs
Koffee with Karan

It is arguably the most banal show on television. It is irreverent, because the host can afford to be irreverent. It is a celebration of sycophancy, because Bollywood is a celebration of sycophancy. It is popular for the same reason the movies and reality television are popular – people can lull themselves into the belief that what they see is not scripted.

Since Karan Johar began to misspell “coffee”, he has run through his party guest list several times. Perhaps left with no other options, he has begun to look outside Bollywood – or, more accurately, to the periphery of Bollywood, other rich and famous people.

On his January 6 show, he had cricketers Hardik Pandya and K L Rahul over.

Soon enough, the episode began to trend on social media.

Johar asked the cricketers who they felt was the better batsman, Sachin Tendulkar or Virat Kohli. They both answered “Virat Kohli”.

And Twitter went berserk.

Some users posted hilarious memes and some others posted photographs of V V S Laxman and Rahul Dravid for a “detox”, while still others were enraged and offended.

Sachin Tendulkar, over a quarter of a century, created several records – and it is likely that the only one which will never be broken is the longevity of his career. Not many 16-year-olds make their debuts in an international side anymore. And given the competition, the visibility, and the annual cricketing schedule, it is unlikely any cricketer, irrespective of age, will last two and a half decades in an international side, let alone be a guaranteed pick in every match for which he is available.

It has been just over a decade since Virat Kohli made his debut.

And yet, he is often compared to cricketers who have retired – is he a better batsman than Tendulkar? A better captain than Dhoni? A better motivator than Ganguly?

Whichever the answer is, a chunk of the Indian public is raring to take offence.

One of the most asinine phrases I’ve heard is “Greatest of All Time”, even more asininely acronymised “G.O.A.T.”

One encounters it most often and most bizarrely in sporting rivalries between contemporaries – Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, for instance. Not so long ago, Messi made an uncharacteristic appearance in a cringe-worthy Adidas advertisement with an actual goat. Soon after, Cristiano Ronaldo debuted what came to be known as his “goat celebration” – he stroked his chin, seeming to indicate “goatee” after scoring a goal.

Every time a player performs consistently well, having proven himself remarkably talented at the highest level of a game, breathless commentators, reporters, and fans wonder if he is the “G.O.A.T.”

Pele or Maradona, Maradona or Messi? Kapil Dev, Sunil Gavaskar, Garry Sobers, Don Bradman, and Sachin Tendulkar have long been compared in various permutations and combinations.

The pointlessness of the comparison aside, where is the logic?

Would W. G. Grace be as famous if he were playing today? Would Shane Warne have been as effective a century ago?

Do the climates, pitches, and opposition make absolutely no difference to a player’s career?

Every so often, lists will be made of the greatest all-time teams. The makers of these lists will not have to decide in which era these impossible teams will have to play, much less think about whether communication would be possible between the players – of whom some may refuse to cross seas, of whom others may be too racist to talk to their teammates, of whom yet others may be laid low by airsickness or seasickness, as the case may be.

But they will all have to decide on a line-up, and will be criticised for whom they do not pick in the playing eleven.

It has always bewildered me that a prejudiced opinion is of so much importance to others.

Some months ago, Virat Kohli himself asked a fan to leave India if he rated the Australian and English cricket teams higher than the Indian one, rather than “live in our country and like other things”.

“Get your priorities right,” the captain snarled, leading to some discussion on his temper, his impulsiveness and combativeness on the field, from the demands he makes of his players to his impassioned celebrations.

And this came into play again when, in the middle of talk about girls and parties and drinking and movies, two cricketers were asked about two other cricketers.

Why did both answer “Virat”, Twitter wondered. Were they sucking up to the captain? Were they afraid of him? Had they missed most of Tendulkar’s career, the inception of which preceded that of their lives? Or did they honestly believe Kohli was the better batsman?

Thanks to social media, all of us are expected to have strong opinions on everything.

And thanks to social media, all our opinions are sure to offend someone who disagrees with us.

One hundred and forty characters – or two hundred and eighty, as the case may be – don’t give much allowance for nuance. But they do give plenty of room for venom.

As the space given to our opinions shrinks even while ease of access grows, as the expectation of expertise dips even as the speed with which we form and post opinions increases, one wonders whether the time we spend on social media is inversely proportional to the size of our brains and directly proportional to the number of issues irrelevant to our own lives that offend us.

More Columns by Nandini Krishnan:

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Why the Ambanis should rule India

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Nandini is the author of Invisible Men: Inside India's Transmasculine Networks (2018) and Hitched: The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage (2013). She tweets @k_nandini. Her website is: www.nandinikrishnan.com"