He may be enjoying a break from cricket with a holiday in the United States of America but it is a good bet that Virat Kohli’s mind will be quite occupied by the goings-on back home within the portals of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). And, perhaps, reflect a bit on how he could sharpen his own captaincy skills.
Over the past few weeks, Kohli has dealt with additional pressure heaped on him by a BCCI officer and other officials who leaked his text message about the then Head Coach. It suited them in their battles with Anil Kumble. Worse, Cricket Advisory Committee’s Sourav Ganguly has now made it appear as if Kohli has just no understanding of how the coach-aspirants want to function.
Ganguly may be peeved that the CAC’s decision to continue with Kumble as Head Coach was scuttled but that should be no reason for him to create the impression that Kohli needs to be told afresh on what the coach’s role is. Who will know the adverse impact on the emotional state of a captain in conflict with a coach better than Ganguly?
To be sure, as the former India captain himself reiterated, the fact that the captain is more central to cricket than a team coach is well known. But the coach’s role in helping with the preparation of each player and in assisting the captain with his strategic planning has come to occupy an important place in the modern scheme of things in cricket.
It seems as if Kohli’s captaincy is now being viewed under the microscope by the mandarins of the BCCI not because there is an alternative readily available and challenging him but because they now think he has grown too big for his boots in taking a position about the choice of the team’s Head Coach. Kohli’s wings are being clipped by the very men encouraged him to fly.
It will be interesting to see how Kohli responds to the additional challenges he is now facing. Will his captaincy skills evolve or will his grey cells be more engaged in the mere art of survival? There is no doubt that he scores high on some areas of captaincy, not the least being his backing of his troops and in owning up his decisions. There are others which remain work in progress.
On the face of it, it appears that the intelligent cricketer that he is, Kohli will make the most of time to the ICC Cricket World Cup in sharpening his captaincy. He must get the team combinations right, pick the best bowlers and employ them the optimum time and be spot on with the field placing, without needing predecessor Mahendra Singh Dhoni to micromanage that.
After all, Dhoni’s calming, reassuring presence behind the stumps will be conspicuously absent sooner than later. Kohli will have to find his own way to walk the tightrope between sustaining his own batsmanship and contemplating bowling changes and field placement all the time. This will be truer on flat tracks where the bowlers are rendered toothless.
The captain faced some flak for not batting first on winning the toss in the final. His choice of arsenal in the ICC Champions Trophy final against Pakistan was scrutinised. India missed fast bowler Umesh Yadav on a belter since off-spinner R Ashwin was predictably ineffective. A class act otherwise, Ashwin has tended to concede plenty of runs on flat pitches in Australia and India.
Kohli’s decision to persist with Jasprit Bumrah after he sent down an extended over was slammed as well. Of course, Bumrah had got Fakhar Zaman to nick one to Dhoni but off a no-ball. It may have been prudent to take him off the firing line and give the young fast bowler time to recover emotionally. In the event, in the final, Bumrah was not quite the lethal bowler he has been.
There can be no doubt that the Board officials will find examples like these to pressure the selection committee, subservient in the best of times because of the nature of their appointment, into changing captains. They will speak of how even when he was not available to lead the team in a Test match owing to injury, his presence was always felt.
It is such things that Board officials are likely to cite when they sit in judgement over his captaincy. Therefore, it becomes imperative that while his leadership skills evolve, he insures himself adequately against the extra pressure that BCCI may bring to bear on him. It may help him to introspect a bit, pick the brains of the right people, and back himself in his journey as captain. Else, he may go the Sachin Tendulkar route when it comes to leading the Indian cricket team.
It is not as if Kohli will not be aware of the machinations of Board’s officers and officials. And at some point, he may even be prepared to vacate the seat on his own. But does that augur well for Indian cricket? It is a question that everyone who has a role in shaping the destiny of the team has to consider each time one speaks or acts.
It can only be hoped that India’s best batsman remains unruffled by the present goings-on in board rooms – and in the minds of some devious officials.