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Sunday Sentiments


    Posted On November 26, 2023

    By Karan Thapar

    I would say of the many ways of gauging a gentleman perhaps the most critical is grace in defeat. If that gentleman is a sportsman it’s even more important. How you behave when something you desperately desire and seemed poised to win slips out of your grasp, leaving you a shattered loser, reveals the quality of your character.


    That was the test our cricket team faced last sunday and stumbled. This is why I’ve chosen to write about their response to a heart-breaking defeat. When you place heroes on a pedestal it’s also incumbent on you to acknowledge their blemishes, particularly when the cricketing world has seen them live on television.


    Matthew Sullivan, writing in News.com.au tells us: “Many Indian players left the field after shaking hands with the Aussies and couldn’t bear to stick around to watch Pat Cummins lift the trophy.” If true, that was not just ungracious but unforgivable. It reflects badly both on the team and the Indian people.


    I personally noticed Virat Kohli’s behaviour when he received the Man of the Tournament award. I understand he was dejected but what I cannot accept is he was ungracious. He shook hands with Sachin Tendulkar but ignored everyone else. This wasn’t just rude, it was inexcusably self-indulgent.


    Why am I singling out Kohli? For two reasons. For hundreds of millions he’s a hero and he’s made a fortune presented as a role model. They follow what he does and, even, imitate him. This is why his lapses cannot pass unnoticed. As a star he deserves praise but he also merits criticism.


    Now, you could say I’m being harsh. After winning ten consecutive games to lose in the final was an unexpected and very difficult blow. If that affects a man’s demeanour and conduct and, as a result, he forgets the politeness and graces expected of him, it can and should be overlooked. That’s not an argument I accept.


    Let me tell you why. The 2021 US Tennis Open men’s singles final was a far bigger moment for Novak Djokovic. If he had won it, as everyone expected, it would have been his fourth grand slam in the same calendar year. That would have equalled Rod Laver’s performance, way back from 1969. It would have made Djokovic the third person in the history of men’s tennis to win a calendar grand slam. But he lost.


    By any count, it was a bigger defeat than what Virat Kohli experienced last sunday. Also – and this is not a small point – it was far more personal. It was, therefore, a much more telling test.


    Djokovic came through with flying colours. No doubt he was shattered and there were tears in his eyes but this is what he said to Daniel Medvedev, who had just defeated him: “If there’s anyone who deserves a grand slam title right now, it’s you. So well done. Absolutely. You have an amazing team. You are one of the greatest guys on the tour. We get along very well. I wish you many more grand slams, many more majors to follow. I’m sure you’ll be on this stage in the future again.”


    That was sportsmanship. That was gentlemanly behaviour. Sadly, it’s the opposite of how our team behaved last weekend.


    And do you know what Djokovic said to the spectators? “I would like to say that tonight, even though I have not won the match, my heart is filled with joy and I am the happiest man alive because you guys made me feel very special. You guys touched my soul. I have never felt like this in New York. Honestly, I love you guys. Thank you very much for your support. Everything that you have done.”


    In contrast, our cricketers – Kohli, perhaps, particularly – are great players but they still have to learn to be good losers. The first is a matter of sporting prowess. The second is a quality of moral fibre. You can’t be truly great without the latter.

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