In defence of Virat Kohli’s paternity depart

Rohit Mahajan

36 all out — thus ends Virat Kohli’s Australian summer, with India’s lowest ever score in Test cricket and one of their most shocking defeats. Kohli’s scores of 74 and 4 in the defeat would deflate him — run out due to a mistake by Ajinkya Rahane in the first innings, sixth man out in the second innings, after being frustrated by falling wickets at the other end. After two days of breathtaking cricket, a prosaic end to the Test — an eight-wicket win for Australia.

Not the best memory to take home, as Kohli returns to India to be with his wife, Anushka Sharma, for the birth of their first child. His competitive spirit would have preferred to remain in Australia, as he admitted: “Obviously, you want to be committed to the team’s cause.…”

Kohli is doing the right thing by returning home.

His decision has been made possible by the changing perceptions about gender roles — and cricketers becoming more secure about their place in the team. Most of India is marked by strict compartmentalisation of gender roles — men as family heads and breadwinners, women as homemakers and carers of children. The modernisation of the Indian society and the need for a second income are causing these gender roles to intersect. Kohli, a man with a tough guy image, is the right man to project a progressive message to Indian men — being a nappy-changer for his baby wouldn’t emasculate him.

Merely six years ago, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Kohli’s predecessor, was in Australia when his daughter was born. India’s first World Cup match was still a week away — perhaps he could have flown to India for a couple of days? Asked if he’d like to be with his family, Dhoni said: “Not really. As of now, I’m on national duties so I think everything else can wait. The World Cup is a very important campaign.”

Dhoni hates to show emotion in public. His answer was characteristic of him. Kohli wears his heart on his sleeve. His choice to be with his family is in character, too.

Cricketers worldwide have gone on paternity leave to be there at the birth of their kids. From anecdotal evidence, it seems that this practice has become more common in the recent years, even in countries such as England, Australia or South Africa. Shane Warne was away in England when his first two children were born, and Allan Border was actually batting against India in Sydney when the news that he had become a father was flashed on the scoreboard: “Congratulations on the birth of your daughter Nicole. Born this afternoon.”

In the Indian context, it can be recalled that VVS Laxman and Sourav Ganguly were playing abroad when their first-borns arrived. When Sunil Gavaskar’s son Rohan was born, he was with the Indian team in New Zealand. The team’s next stop was the West Indies, and Gavaskar saw Rohan for the first time two-and-a-half months after he was born.

Recently, Kapil Dev said that in his time, cricketers couldn’t afford to visit their new-born: “Things have changed. We couldn’t do… Who’s going to feed us this evening’s food?”

Food? That’s a bit extreme because really, cricketers weren’t exactly poor in his time.

What’s more likely is that there was real fear of missing a Test or series, and the man who replaced you doing well and keeping you out. Test cricket was the only format available — when Gavaskar left for New Zealand in January 1976, India hadn’t played a Test match for a full year! India played only five matches in 1975 — two Tests, three ODIs. There was no way a cricketer was going to skip a game then.

With three international formats and the IPL available, cricketers are more secure about their place, and more secure financially too. That’s why they can ‘afford’ to skip a game or two.

It may be remembered, too, that the analogy of cricketers as soldiers fighting for the nation is very false — a soldier can’t leave his post and go home for the birth of his child.

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