Why is Virat Kohli so hated?

Virat Kohli with David Beckham

Even as the debates rage over his suitability for new-age T20 cricket, Virat Kohli went past 500 runs in an IPL season for the tenth time. He’s done so in just 10 innings, while striking at 147.49, faster than he has ever scored except for that incredible 2016 season when he piled up 973 runs. As ever, Kohli does what he does best, seemingly immune to the outside noise. Here, we try and understand what’s at the heart of the intense hatred he’s often subjected to on social media.

World Cup final, 2011: Lasith Malinga has taken out both Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar in his first four overs. India’s pursuit of 275 is tottering when Virat Kohli arrives at the crease. He makes 35 off 49 balls, and stitches together an 83-run stand with Gautam Gambhir. It not only keeps India on track, but provides the platform for MS Dhoni to come in and take charge.

Champions Trophy final, 2013: In a match reduced to 20 overs a side, India start poorly and then suffer a middle-order meltdown. Kohli holds the innings together with a 34-ball 43 and is out in the penultimate over. R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja (with bat and ball) deserve enormous credit, but without Kohli’s forgotten gem, India would certainly not have been celebrating in white jackets.

World T20 final, 2014: Kohli walks out to face the tenth ball of the final. By the time he’s run out for 77 off final delivery, he has shown rare mastery on a two-paced pitch, hitting five fours and four sixes from 58 balls faced. Had the rest of the team scored at Kohli’s pace, Sri Lanka would have been set a tricky 160. Instead, they romp past the target of 131 in 17.5 overs.

World T20 semi-final, 2016: Kohli clatters the West Indies bowlers to all parts while making an unbeaten 47-ball 89. Had his teammates kept pace, India would have finished with more than 220 on the board. Instead, India bowled no-balls and dropped chances as West Indies cruised past 192 with two balls to spare.

These are just some examples from a storied career which make it hard to explain the near-visceral hatred for Kohli on some social-media platforms. This is a player who has played a fulsome part in two global trophy wins and who has thrice been Player of the Tournament on the big stages. Had he only failed, there would be some logic behind the agenda-driven campaigns. Instead, despite having strong claims to be the best all-format batter of his age, Kohli has also become the man millions love to hate.

Why? If you watch the Beckham documentary, you will get a sense of what the Manchester United star went through after the 1998 World Cup. Beckham’s red card against Argentina in the round of 16 – a match England lost on penalties – was blamed for the ‘golden generation’ falling short, and the abuse cascaded down from the stands for months once English league action resumed in August that year.

Apart from the typically puerile homophobic slurs, the vilest chants related to Victoria, his pop-star wife. You didn’t need to be an amateur psychologist to get to the heart of the vitriol. Beckham was young, handsome, well-paid and he was dating a ‘dream girl’. Jealousy goes back to the time of Kane and Abel, and it was an obvious factor in the demonization of Beckham.

Kohli’s case is little different. From being a slightly chubby West Delhi boy his teammates called ‘Cheeku’ to the face of two dozen brands, Kohli has come a long way. And where Beckham found love in the world of music, Kohli fell for an actress. Anushka Sharma was very much a star in her own right when they started dating back in 2013, and a lot of the snark can be dated back to that time.

Anushka joining Kohli in England for the first two Tests of the 2014 series in England was seen as some sort of crime – the team manager’s idiotic comments comparing wives and girlfriends didn’t help – and she quickly became a lightning rod for public anger each time he failed with the bat. Apparently, it wasn’t Jimmy Anderson’s sublime swing bowling or Mitchell Johnson’s short ball that was the problem, but Anushka’s presence in the stands.

But what getting together with his partner also did was make Kohli a much more mature individual, who didn’t react to every single provocation. Back in the early, innocent days of Instagram, when he had 2.5million followers (he has 268m now), Kohli posted: “I don’t need my name in lights, I’m famous in my father’s eyes.” The accompanying note said: “The strength you give me from above can never be understood by the negative people down here. Life wasn’t, isn’t and will never be easy. Making most of yours is your own choice. And am most certain you are proud up there. #walkyourownpath#lovethosewhomatter.”

Strength. Negative people. Those who matter. Even eight years ago, Kohli seemed to have made peace with what his life would become. He would be in his cocoon and keep performing. Damn the doubters.

Ultimately, the daily conveyer belt of abuse says so much more about the small minds – it’s no coincidence that most of these intellectual pygmies are jealous males – who says these things than it does about Kohli. Come the T20 World Cup, Kohli will once again be a cornerstone of India’s effort, just as he was last time when the sixes off Haris Rauf pulled off one of the most improbable wins in cricket history. As for the trolls, there is no hope. The brain damage caused by jealousy and resentment is irreparable.