It will go down as one of Indian cricket’s greatest failings to not get its gifted batsman Virat Kohli and the wonderful cricket thinker Anil Kumble to be on the same page. Kohli had the opportunity to emerge a great leader by understanding reasons for conflict with the head coach and by finding ways to rise above it.
Sadly, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) looked the other way and played no role in conflict resolution and any friction in the team’s collective thought process. Worse, it appears to have encouraged Kohli to walk in a direction that made him look the single biggest reason behind the dysfunctional relationship with the head coach.
Kumble was one the leaders of the pack when the Indian cricketers sought a coach from overseas to help the team on their journey back to sanity from the grim saga of match-fixing. Along with skipper Sourav Ganguly and his deputy Rahul Dravid, it was seniors like Sachin Tendulkar, Javagal Srinath and Kumble who impressed mandarins on the board to endorse a change.
In the wake of Ajit Wadekar’s long run as cricket manager coming to an end in 1996, India tried World Cup-winning players like Sandip Patil, S Madan Lal and Kapil Dev besides Anshuman Gaekwad in that role in the span of four years. The end of their respective tenures came about because some players were dissatisfied with the cricket manager’s inputs.
Back then, it seemed a sound idea to shift to a coach from overseas — John Wright. The work ethics changed as did the manner of preparation. A whiff of professionalism floated in the air around Team India. And thinking within the team changed somewhat. As irony would have it, Kumble has now been hard done by a captain who seems willing to be manipulated by some board officials.
If ever proof were needed that board officials were the ones who were playing games, setting up Kohli against Kumble and letting key men like the then member of the Committee of Administrators (CoA) Ramachandra Guha, media and people believe that they were at loggerheads, it came through clearly in Kumble’s dignified statement released on social media.
“I was informed for the first time yesterday (Tuesday) by the BCCI that the captain had reservations about my ‘style’ and about my continuing as the head coach,” he wrote, indicating that this was after the CAC had asked him to continue as head coach. Of course, he also indicated Kohli may not have valued the professionalism, discipline, commitment and diverse views that he got to the table.
Instead of bring the two key personnel to the drawing board and reading the riot act to them, board officials saw this as an opportunity to see the back of Kumble. He had not endeared himself to them by responding to a request by the Supreme Court-appointed CoA and making a presentation about, among other things, the remuneration to Indian cricketers.
It was always clear that expecting statesmanship from the present lot of office-bearers — acting in the roles of president and secretary as well as the treasurer — was going to end in disappointment. More so since some of the board officials themselves would have been eager to see Kumble’s exit despite the team’s successes in the past year.
Yet, long before Kumble rejected the Cricket Advisory Committee (CAC) offer to continue as head coach, there was evidence in public domain about the machinations of BCCI officials. Clearly, it was a board official who shared Kohli’s message to him — and, to my mind, that would have been solicitied as a response to a question — that Kumble was overbearing.
It is a good wager that having used Kohli to settle scores with Kumble, the board, as we know it, will not hesitate in dispensing with Kohli’s captaincy at an opportune moment. Wily-nilly, he is under extra pressure immediately. BCCI has thrived with such tactics over the years and it will take more than a Lodha Committee for the beast to change its nature even a bit.
While that may take time coming, the message to the new coach is already clear: play ball with the men in power or face the music. Hopefully, the CAC will cast aside myriad emotions and pick the best of the available coaches to take over the position of head coach of the Indian team. It must exercise its responsibility with the greatest care and thought.
Even if it was told rather late in the day that it would have to interview aspirants for head coach’s job, CAC should have found the team between commentary stints during the Champions Trophy to come up with a plan to make Kohli and Kumble come together and draw a roadmap. There seemed to be no sense of urgency in diffusing what was developing as a crisis. The CoA, with no mandate to oversee cricketing matters, needlessly jumped in the fray with its own point of view.
As batsmen and thought leaders, Ganguly, Tendulkar and Laxman had played no mean roles in shaping the destiny of Team India. Now, with Indian cricket battling to remain in the upper echelons of world cricket, this trio of retired cricketers faces the task of deciding the team’s direction in the coming years. It cannot let any emotion come in the way when making its choice.
For, this one decision will decide how the Indian team responds to the challenges they will face in all formats of the game in the coming season when it will spend a considerable amount of time away from home. Indeed, the CAC cannot afford to take a false step by making players need to have more than a pinch of salt ready when hearing the head coach.