Is Virat Kohli right to avail paternity leave with the team in crisis?

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After the humiliating defeat in the first Test against Australia, India is a team down in dumps.

Some outstanding seam bowling from Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc saw India surrender their advantage and capitulate to its worst hour of embarrassment while collapsing to its lowest Test score of 36. But instead of the post-mortem of the performances, the aftermath of the loss has already garnered headlines, the biggest of which being Virat Kohli’s paternity leave.

Just after the Border-Gavaskar series programme was made public, Virat Kohli had issued a statement clarifying that he will lead the team during the first Test in Adelaide before returning to be with wife Anushka Sharma, who is due to give birth to the couple’s first child.

Virat Kohli is sort of a captain who likes to lead from the front, and for him to leave at the time where the team needs him the most has drawn mixed reaction mostly on social media.

The Indian captain leaving a tour midway and leaving his team in jeopardy has been quickly compared to MS Dhoni’s actions during the 2015 summer in Australia.
During the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup in Australia, India’s then cricket captain MS Dhoni discovered he had become a father – via text message.

Keeping the team’s interest in mind, Dhoni had skipped the birth of his daughter to lead the team in the World Cup, saying: “I am on national duties, so I think everything else can wait.”

Five years later, the same dilemma faces another Indian cricket captain. Only this time Virat Kohli has put his family before his profession.
Despite being candid about it and explaining the reason directly to his fans and lovers of the sport, Kohli was questioned (again) about his decision. Dhoni’s example was cited again to further ridicule Kohli.

Giving it a miss: Indian cricket team captain Virat Kohli.

Virat Kohli and absentees: Previous incidents

In the past, many cricketers across the globe have gone on paternity leave to be present at the birth of their kids. This practice has become more common in recent years, even in countries such as England, Australia or South Africa. So to consider Virat Kohli’s decision is not out of the world, or something that is extremely drastic.

Just as an example, former Australia spinner Shane Warne was away in England when his first two children were born, and Allan Border was 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.”

To consider the Indian angle, it can be recalled that current BCCI President Sourav Ganguly and also VVS Laxman 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.

Virat Kohli the batsman

Just as Virat Kohli the skipper, team India will sorely miss his inspiring presence on the field. But more than anything, facing the dogged Australian pace trident, Kohli the batsman will be a major loss to India and hardly anyone can fill in his shoes. The batting side will be very vulnerable without him as only he has the ability to withstand the pace of Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins.

In the triumphant 2018 series, the Indian skipper had scored 282 runs in 7 innings at an average of 41. Apart from his runs, it is his mindset that deters any bowling side in the world. He not only defends but also manages to attack the bowler if he bowls a loose ball.
India had lifted the prestigious Border-Gavaskar trophy the last time they had travelled to Australia in 2018/19 but Tim Paine-led Australian team would be hoping to seek their revenge this time around. In Kohli’s absence, it will be an uphill task nonetheless. The truth is, given his performances over the past year-he is irreplaceable at the moment as a batsman and as a leader.

In cricket-mad India, players are revered almost as demigods, often facing unforgiving expectations. It is, however, to be remembered that they are human beings first-for whom family matters as well.