The needless drama surrounding the appointment of the head coach is behind us. Now that a jumbo coaching staff — apologies to Anil Kumble, no pun intended — has been put in place by various layers of committees within and supervising the Board of Control for Cricket in India, can we expect the cricket continue with no more distractions? And for us to enjoy the cricket on offer.
There will be no greater joy in the theory that the captain has now been placed on the endangered list being proved wrong. There should be no doubt that Virat Kohli will have to ensure that his seat belt is safely buckled — and the airbags are working — as the road ahead just got bumpy. Even if international cricket has always been a high-pressure game, it just got more turbo-charged.
This is not based merely on a hunch that Kohli will be brought under pressure by officials who have used him in their battles against Kumble but an awareness of how the BCCI has functioned over a number of years. BCCI officials — and, more recently, its officers — have used some captains, coaches and players as pawns in their games.
Skippers like Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, Bishan Singh Bedi, Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Dilip Vengsarkar, Kris Srikkanth, Mohammad Azharuddin, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid have all had to deal with the idiosyncrasies of the Board officials. The one captain who had a comfortable ride through this tenure was Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
You may think Ganguly would have increased that choice list but he faced turbulence when the BCCI president’s throne changed from Jagmohan Dalmiya to Sharad Pawar. As one of the player-leaders who were catalysts in ushering in a professional set-up in the team’s backroom, he had to distance himself from captaincy at the first signs of trouble.
You can now expect Board officials — and its officers who have played no mean role in l’affaire Kumble — to start pointing out how Kohli has had his way and is possibly growing too powerful. You can expect them to plant thoughts that no cricketer should be allowed such unfettered powers. You can expect them to say the Kohli-Shastri regime must produce results.
Yet, with Shastri apparently guaranteed of his place as head coach for two years, the pressure on Kohli will be enormous. Given the Board’s propensity to sacrifice captains at the first signs of their growing strength, the Delhi lad will have to consistently deliver captaincy of a high quality (read victories) to retain the leadership position.
With challenging Test tours to South Africa, England and Australia ahead of the 2019 World Cup in England, Kohli will have to be at the top of his game both as batsman and, more importantly, as captain if he is to remain in the hot seat until the World Cup and beyond. At the slightest signs of wobbling, the Board will not hesitate to show that he is but an expendable.
Without a powerful BCCI president to back him — like Ganguly had Jagmohan Dalmiya and Dhoni had N Srinivasan — Kohli may soon find himself at the receiving end. The Board has already spread the belief that Kohli was the one who got Kumble out — and it suited the Board that the incumbent was made to quit. What’s more, it added the notion that Shastri is Kohli’s choice.
Against such a backdrop, the Board will expect Kohli to make every assignment a winning one. Everyone who knows cricket will be aware that is an impossible and unfair expectation to set, let alone meet. But the Indian captain must not hope to be assessed in fair light all the time and be ready to face flak from within BCCI.
The good thing is that Kohli may be quite well educated in the manner of the Board’s functioning. His own recent experience of having his message about Kumble being “overbearing”, sent privately to a Board officer, being shared with the mainstream media will have enlightened him adequately to the levels BCCI can take machinations to.
Kohli could well see the manner in which Ganguly, as member of the high-profile Cricket Advisory Committee, spoke of the committee’s need to talk to the captain about how the coaches wanted to function as another indication of the kind of pressure that can be and will be heaped on him in the coming months.
He will also have the sane counsel and personal experience of former captains, Shastri and Rahul Dravid, to draw from. Shastri led in but one Test and Dravid gave up captaincy after a roller-coaster ride when pressured by some Board officials. Therefore, Kohli may end up tackling the challenge just as he has to deal with the world’s best bowlers in different conditions.