London: Disgraced American cyclist Lance Armstrong had an insightful take on booing. “A boo is a lot louder than a cheer. If you have 10 people cheering and one person booing, all you hear is the booing,” he had said.
Steven Smith’s experience with the crowd in the UK in the ongoing World Cup has been something of that sort. Having served a 12-month ban, along with David Warner, for his involvement in the ball-tampering scandal last year, Smith has been subjected to some heckling by the English fans.
While that might be on expected lines for Australians, they must have been surprised to see the batsman getting booed by the Indian supporters here on Sunday. It was only a small section of the capacity crowd that repeatedly referred to him as a cheat, but it wasn’t a pretty sight.
You don’t want to see any sportsman being booed based on his race, nationality or his past actions. Smith has apologised for his deeds and paid dearly for them and it’s only fair that he is allowed to reintegrate with the team in a seamless manner. And the Indian fans’ behaviour made even Virat Kohli cringe in embarrassment.
Kohli isn’t new to getting booed, especially in Australia. A tempestuous player that the Indian skipper is, he is always looking in the eye of opponents, often engages with them in verbal exchanges and rubs the rival fans the wrong way with his over the top celebrations. He was the public enemy No 1 when India toured Down Under in 2014-15. From Adelaide to Sydney, every time he walked out to bat, he was jeered by the Australian supporters. The crowd reaction only acted as a spur to Kohli and he thrived in that hostility to stack up runs to earn grudging respect. Kohli admitted at that time that the hostile ambience only brought out the best in him.
Four years later, when India came back to Australia, there were less instances of Aussie fans booing Kohli who had grown combative. The local media warmed up to him and the Aussie public was more welcoming of him. Still, the crowd in Perth and Sydney remained cold towards him. Having endured such instances, it could have been so easy for Kohli to ignore Smith’s plight.
Kohli and Smith, once the top contenders for the world’s best batsman recognition, haven’t enjoyed the best of relationships in the past. They have taken a dig at each other and it reached a flashpoint in the Bengaluru Test in 2017 following the DRS-gate. Kohli, however, chose to stand up for Smith.
“Look, I think what’s happened has happened like long back; the guy is back, he’s trying to play well for his side,” Kohli said after the match, referring to his open disapproval of crowd behaviour. “Even in the IPL I saw him, it’s not good to see someone down like that, to be honest. We’ve had issues in the past. We’ve had a few arguments on the field. But you don’t want to see a guy feeling that heat every time he goes out to play. What’s happened has happened,” Kohli argued.
You can cheer your team as loudly as you can but there is no need to disrespect the rival team. Kohli, the most popular Indian celebrity, set the right example by showing his sporting camaraderie and respect for his opponent. He also showed he is a great ambassador for the country by apologising to Smith on behalf of the Indian crowd.
“Just because there are so many Indian fans here, I just didn’t want them to set a bad example, to be honest, because he didn’t do anything to be booed in my opinion,” he noted. “He’s just playing cricket. He was just standing there, and I felt bad because if I was in a position where something had happened with me and I had apologised, I accepted it and I came back and still (if) I get booed, I wouldn’t like it, either. So, I just felt for him, and I told him, ‘I’m sorry on behalf of the crowd,’ because I’ve seen that happen in a few earlier games, as well, and in my opinion that’s not acceptable,” he insisted.
“Play hard but fair” maybe Australians’ favourite sporting mantra but Kohli may have just showed them the way of practicing it.