Cricket World Cup 2019: Virat Kohli and Kagiso Rabada playing a game of chess over IPL spat

India captain responds to South Africa fast bowler's 'immature' remark with kindness, but real battle will be on field

India's Virat Kohli launched a charm offensive against Kagiso Rabada. Paul Childs / Reuters
India's Virat Kohli launched a charm offensive against Kagiso Rabada. Paul Childs / Reuters

Virat Kohli can at times appear to be a cricketing contradiction.

On the one hand, the India captain comes across as the kind of brand ambassador the game desperately needs - bigging up Test cricket, both in speech and in deed, picking up causes worth fighting for with his own bosses at the BCCI, such as poor scheduling of tours, and speaking glowingly of fellow stars.

But when he gets on the pitch, he leaves behind all forms of political correctness, turning into a competitor ready to swat all opposition bowlers and fielders in front of him - mostly, and thankfully, by scoring a mountain of runs and winning games, but sometimes also by tongue-lashing them if they made the mistake of engaging in banter or eye-balling him.

The Australians have been at the receiving end of Kohli's aggression; just ask Mitchell Johnson, James Faulkner and, more recently, Tim Paine.

His latest spat is with South Africa fast bowler Kagiso Rabada, who recently criticised him as childish in the aftermath of a seemingly fiery on-field exchange during the Indian Premier League.

South Africa fast bowler Kagiso Rabada has called Virat Kohli 'immature'. Paul Childs / Reuters
South Africa fast bowler Kagiso Rabada has called Virat Kohli 'immature'. Paul Childs / Reuters

"I was just thinking about the game plan, really, but Virat, he hit me for a boundary and then he had a word," Rabada recalled in an interview. "And then when you give it back to him, he gets angry. I don't get the guy. Maybe he does it because it gets him going, but that comes across as very immature for me.

"He is a phenomenal player but he can't take the abuse."

Not entirely surprisingly, Kohli refused to bite back yesterday, choosing instead to discuss the matter with the Proteas paceman personally.

"What did he say?" Kohli asked at the pre-match news conference ahead of today's South Africa-India Cricket World Cup match in Southampton.

When given the general sentiment, Kohli responded by saying: "I've played against him so many times. If anything needs to be discussed, we can discuss it man to man."

On being pushed, he added: "Whether [Lungi] Ngidi plays or [Dale] Steyn plays or not, Rabada is always going to be a world-class bowler and a threat to any side he plays against. On his day he can go through any team.

"In the past we have been able to handle it, but that's only because we've been respectful of his skills but also assured of our batting.

"You have to be respectful but have that self-belief in yourself as well. And that balance will be very crucial. We always need to respect that and find ways of scoring against him."

It almost certainly looks like the two players are engaging in a game of chess - through the media - and the fans have fallen for it. Just look at the tweets below:

If Rabada's remark on Kohli can be deemed as a tactic in gamesmanship ahead of their crucial match, the latter's move to respond to aggression with kindness and respect might well be a sensible countermove. It has certainly made Kohli - who otherwise has a reputation of being a spoilsport - look the bigger man. That said, Rabada has, perhaps, got what he wanted: gaining the attention of the man he is spoiling to have a fight with.

What matters is how they will face up to each other on the field in a few hours' time - and they both know it. Both bowler and batsman will likely engage in an absorbing contest - should the opportunity arise - where they will let ball and bat do the talking.

But it is hard to rule out any tongue-lashing or eye-balling or both while they are at it - judging by how proud but irascible both stars can be.

It should be a match-up full of entertainment.

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Updated: June 5, 2019 12:11 PM

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