It’s time Indian fans stopped being grumpy when a cricketer chooses to put familial commitments above the game.
When fans got to know last month that Virat Kohli had decided to leave Australia after the first Test for the birth of his and Anushka Sharma’s first child which meant the captain will have to miss the remaining three games in late December and January, not everyone looked at his decision with approval.
The precedent set by some of the former players in Indian cricket appears to have made it a sacrosanct that playing for India should be the most important thing in a cricketer’s life. Everything else — be it a birth or death — comes second.
Fans will remember how MS Dhoni had been rigorously preparing with the Indian team ahead of the 2015 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand even as his wife Sakshi gave birth to daughter Ziva back home, now a star on social media. Then fans will also remember how Sachin Tendulkar had flown back for a few days to India during the 1999 World Cup primarily hosted by England to attend his deceased father’s cremation.
As recent as last month, fast bowler Mohammed Siraj decided to stay with the Indian team in Australia even as his father passed away after a long illness back home. Cricketers often cite reasons like ‘continue playing was what their deceased parent would have wanted them to do most’.
Nothing wrong with that. A player knows best and it’s totally their call if they decide not to look away from cricket momentarily in the time of grief or imminent paternity.
However, if a player does decide to do otherwise, he shouldn’t be unfairly judged and criticised for putting family above cricket. Becoming a father is no ordinary moment and players are entitled to be with their partners for an occasion which, by all accounts, is challenging on all levels. In addition, the joy of being with your new-born right there is something which is incomparable. A cricketer’s duty to his child and wife in no way can be less important than his duty to his country.
Remember the same Kohli had decided to continue as an overnight batsman during a Ranji Trophy game even as his family was making preparations to cremate his deceased father. Competitions for places, whether it’s in a domestic game or an international, is really tough in India and players in fear of losing their place can also make such decisions. Yes, it can’t be totally ruled out.
In South Asia particularly, one often sees cricketers honouring cricketing commitments even when the need to be with their family was never greater. In total contrast, cricketers from England, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand can be expected to look beyond the game in extraordinary times. There are a great many examples that come to mind from those countries.
England allrounder Ben Stokes is one of the recent examples; he was granted indefinite leave to attend his brain-cancer struck father after the first home Test against Pakistan in August early this year. Last year during the World Cup in England and Wales, David Warner flew back to Australia to attend the birth of his and his wife’s third child.
It’s time, we in India and South Asia at large, treated this issue with the same sensitivity. We should welcome and celebrate Kohli’s decision. It’s a great reminder that there is much more to life than just cricket.
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