Sharda Ugra and Satadru Sen both have very good essays on Virat Kohli’s displays of anger over the Australian tour. Since I’ve long been a supporter of the spirit-of-cricket meme, I too have a problem with players flipping the middle finger at crowds and mouthing sister-fucker as part of a debut century celebration.
But I want to add a cautious dissent: analysts and commentators often offer tributes to hyper-rational players who, possessed of a “cricketing brain,” are able to astutely judge a match situation without allowing it to overwhelm them. What is conjured up is a homo economicus figure straight out of the Enlightenment (and maybe the Victorian era): cool, calm, without emotion.
This model, however, has been under attack in the social sciences, particularly in the field of behavioral economics, for about two or three decades now. We know that the human mind relies extensively on emotions in decision-making and that particular situations often dictate how a brain operates. It’s not that we are all irrational, only that we are predictably irrational in many ways (for e.g., we tend to worry much more about potential losses than we’re happy about potential gains). It’s not a battle between emotion and rationality, but perhaps choosing between the right emotions (anger could lead to a Kohli century, or, as we all know, to the dark side).
Which is all to say that I don’t particularly mind it when players draw upon emotions — in this case, anger — to power their on-field behavior. We’ve seen it time and time again — I wrote about Yuvraj Singh’s anger after being sledged by Andrew Flintoff in the 2007 World Cup, when he hit six sixes off Stuart Broad. There’s also Zaheer Khan, who began his comeback on an England tour after having jellies thrown on the pitch by a mischievous Alistair Cook. I clearly haven’t thought through my take on how emotions work, but I know at least some of the time, they do. So let anger, pride, sorrow, fear work its way into our understanding of cricket.