The reported differences between India captain Virat Kohli and coach Anil Kumble have apparently led to the resignation of historian (and an avid follower of Indian cricket) Ramachandra Guha from the Supreme Court-appointed Committee of Administrators (COA). That is what almost all the leading national dailies have reported in their Friday editions.
Guha, it is said, was for extending the term of Kumble, a legendary bowler of the game, as the coach for his outstanding record over the past one year; he was also against Kohli’s overbearing attitude on even off-field activities.
Of course, this is not the first time that Indian cricket is witnessing differences between the coach and the captain. We do remember the era of Ganguly (till then India’s most successful captain) and Greg Chappell (who apparently was appointed as the coach with Ganguly’s recommendation). In that tussle, Ganguly was sacked first as the captain and then as a player for nearly a year. And it is well known that humiliations were meted out to Ganguly not necessarily because of cricketing reasons but mostly due to the power game of the day within the Board of Cricket Control in India (BCCI); his mentor Jagmohan Dalmia (a former BCCI president) and his supporters had lost to the rivals led by the veteran politician Sharad Pawar, who at that time was also a powerful Union minister. Chappell took full advantage of the situation to oust Ganguly.
Of course, it must be noted that the coach-athlete relationship in every game, including cricket, has undergone various shifts in attitudes over the years. These days, athletes are rebelling against what they say “authoritarian practices” administered by many coaches. Now, increased media exposure, recruiting and financial pressures and outside social influences have forced coaches to redefine the bottom line with athletes, while still trying to protect their pride and won-lost records.
What then are the differences between Kumble and Kohli? According to former BCCI secretary Ajay Shirke, Kohli was opposed to Kumble’s appointment as the head coach from the very beginning and the BCCI had had to persuade the Indian captain to accept the choice of Kumble, but in the process (though Shirke does not say so in so many words) Kumble was given only “a one-year contract”. But then Shrike must be knowing the truth, as he was the BCCI secretary when Kumble was appointed as the coach. Kohli was all for Ravi Shastri, better known as a commentator than an ace player.
This being the case, the press reports on why Kohil and Kumble fell out - that Kumble was a strict disciplinarian, that Kohli and his teammates did not like Kumble’s insistence on proving fitness before selection in the final eleven, that Kohli resented occasional suggestions by Kumble through the 12th man on bowling changes during matches – are really secondary issues, even though on each one of them, Kumble seems to have exercised his legitimate role.
It is also said that Kohli did not want Kumble’s interference in the selection of the final eleven. The coach apparently was unhappy when Kohil insisted on dropping Cheteshwar Pujara from the final eleven in a match in West Indies, following the suggestion of a cricket commentator. It is well-known that Kohli preferred Rohit Sharma over Pujara. Similarly, he did not like Kumble’s advice of playing Chinaman bowler Kuldeep Yadav in the fourth Test of the series against Australia in Dharamsala earlier this year. Kuldeep played the Dharmshala Test only because an injured Kohli was not leading the team and he won the game for India!
Here, a few words on the relationship between the Indian cricketers and commentators are in order. It is perhaps not well known that all the commentators are cleared by the BCCI, whoever may be the broadcasting sponsor. Secondly, today, all the commentators, whether Indians or foreigners, are former cricketers. The only non-cricketer, who had arguably excelled in giving insights of the game through his commentary in recent years, has been Harsha Bhogle. But he was unceremoniously sacked by the BCCI last year, arguably because Indian players in general and the then captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, in particular, did not like his criticism of their performance against New Zealand at the World T20 in Nagpur.
As Bhogle lamented later, “But I do miss the generation that's gone. Sachin (Tendulkar), Rahul (Dravid), Anil (Kumble), Sourav (Ganguly), Srinath, (VVS) Laxman... It was a beautiful generation, where I never had to worry about what I'm saying. When Sachin was struggling, I once said, 'Here's an emperor walking the streets like a common man'. I did not hear back from anyone that, 'Sachin did not like that'. I could be completely frank, to the extent that Sourav, on air, had asked me of my opinion. I declined and told Sourav that he was the one who had played at the highest level. And he said, 'How many World Cups have you covered? Go ahead, I want to know what you think.'"
In other words, gone are the days when "neutrality” was the most valued thing for cricket broadcasters. One remembers in this context how the Australian legend Ian Chappel, one of the finest broadcasters today, has been avoiding offers of live commentary of the matches India play because he opposed BCCI restrictions on talking about “Indian selection, DRS (the then Indian opposition, following Dhoni’s insistence, to the referral of the on field umpire’s decision to the third umpire) or administrative matters.”
It is in this context that one may see the enormous sense in Guha’s resentment (this he had said in an email on 25 May, according to the Indian Express) that the captain and players are already deciding commentators “and if they are allowed to coach of their own choice, they will be soon deciding the selectors, even the CEO (of BCCI).”
Coming to Kohli, it is known that he does not like being questioned and his shortcomings being pointed out. As his former Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) coach Ray Jennings said, “He (Virat) is a very talented kid but sometimes thinks he is better than the game.” Jennings, who coached the IPL franchise from late 2008 to 2013 and was replaced by Daniel Vettori as RCB coach, is sure that Virat was the reason behind his sacking. Now the point is that if Kohli thinks he knows everything, does India require any coach at all as long as he is the captain? Why should the BCCI spend crores of rupees on a coach who will simply be seconding what Kohli thinks and does?
In fact, the mother of all questions is whether Kohli is bigger than cricket? If it is so, then the BCCI has two options: either be dictated by the captain or relieve him from the captaincy so that he, a great talent that he is, should only concentrate on his game.
Personally, I will go for the second option. Change Kumble as a coach if you so want. But simultaneously change Kohli as the captain in the long term interests of the cricket in India.