A spectre is haunting Indian cricket - the spectre of the Dilli Boi. Aggressively tattoo-ed, jauntily bearded and filled with innovative maki- and bhendi- interjections, he strides across the landscape like a rampant, hormonal colossus.
Here we see a Virat Kohli belting out runs by the tonne, eyes flashing, threatening to lunge from their eye-sockets in berserker frenzy as he charges into battle on the cricket field. Whether he’s hurling himself and the team into the smog to prove a point to the Lankans, or hurling himself into the air to celebrate a wicket (seriously, what was that?), every pore of his being seems to scream his Dilli-ness with unapologetic abandon.
There’s a Shikhar Dhawan hacking, cutting and slicing away in piratical fashion, flinging himself around the field with little regard for his own or others’ safety. We cannot forget Ishant Sharma, wild, untamed hair flying in all directions as he charges up to the crease and thumps the ball just short of a good length. Pitch it up, for goodness’ sake!
Now the virus has infected the surrounding countryside, as a “new Kohli” (didn’t the old one just get here?) announced himself at U-19 level this week: Shubman Gill, running up the kind of numbers in the World Cup that would put Bradman in the shade, while mouthing off words that some other former Australian cricketers would blush to hear. Do in Rome as Romans do of course but a) this was New Zealand and b) it’s Romani ite domum, not Romanes eunt domus.
The Dilli Boi has spawned a rare situation in the matters of cricket. Bengalureans and Mumbaikars are, for once united: we don’t like this. Aggression is supposed to be meeting the fastest ball with the straightest of determined bats. The “tock” should be heard at the nearest railway station. Aggression is in the eyes, not in words or in tattoos. On the field, it must be clothed in self-awareness - a quiet raise of the bat, soft mid-to-low fives and measured appeals. What are these throat-ripping yells that have come to assault our ears?
Calm down, boys. It’s just a game. Not a Connaught Place night club with no restrictions on stag entry.
Historically, being an Indian cricketer abroad between 1947 until about 2001 mostly meant diffidence. Aggression, and the implied threat of cricket-based-violence-with-bat-and-or-ball, was a feature of West Indian and Australian cricket. Noble surrender or magnificent defeat was our lot. The Indian captain’s petulance was reserved for actions off the field - magnificent gestures that had little impact on the outcome of the game. All of this loudness and “aggro” is deeply unsettling, especially for those of us past the median age for the average Indian.
What’s worse, all of this is rubbing off on other youths. Drawing rooms in Bengaluru and Mangaluru are abuzz with concern over KL Rahul’s proliferating tattoos (not to mention his ever-revolving-door status as test opener). Gujjus groan in anguish as the sedate and steady Pujara runs himself out going for foolhardy singles in the company of Kohli (in a test match. A. test. match).
We cannot suppress our disquiet when we ask: Is the Dilli-fication of Indian cricket unstoppable and irredeemable? But the anguish is partly eased as we see that younger, more impressionable minds in the junior team are being moulded by the hands of St. Rahul of Adelaide (or Lord Dravid of Jamaica, if you prefer). Prithvi Shaw, Gill, Kamlesh Nagarkoti and others will carry with them the knowledge that the greatest era in Indian test cricket was built around quiet fortitude and great technique; a certain bourgeois sensibility that, evidently, bypassed parts of west Delhi.
The sages assure us that Dilli bois in whites/blues are only being true to their authentic selves. That these are young men exhibiting such traits as have been ingrained in them in their specific socio-economic and political-cultural settings. One would like to take their word for it. Having willingly exposed himself to the raging-teen hormonal stage of the Dilli Boi, perhaps His Rahul-ness (as the inevitable next Indian team coach) might be trusted to guide them on the path to good sense (and fewer tattoos) (and less misogynistic sledging) (and less product in the hair).
Until then, our strong disapproval of this Dilli-fication of the Indian team will continue as we watch with furrowed brows and barely moderated frowns, and point out to all concerned that Kohli’s Dilli bois haven’t won a Test in Australia or a test series in England.
What are you going to do about it?
This open letter was contributed Alok Prasanna Kumar, a lawyer from Bengaluru. He will accept tweetstorm responses at @alokpi. His DMs are not open.
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