The bane of Indian cricket has been the repeated uncertainty and anxiety dumped on the national team by BCCI and its band of selectors. Those wanting Virat Kohli to be on tenterhooks till the selection committee chose to re-appoint him skipper after “even a five-minutes meeting” are only too well aware of Indian cricket’s disgraceful dark days.
In fact, any proud follower of Indian cricket would hang his head in shame at the manner in which board officials played games with India’s skippers in the past.
In the 1958-59 series against West Indies there were as many as four captains –Polly Umrigar, Ghulam Ahmed, Vinoo Mankad and Hemu Adhikari – for the five Tests. And no, they were not injured. Instead there was no much of politics being played out that at one stage Umrigar was left weeping.
In the Madras Test, with minutes to go for the toss, the West Indies captain Gerry Alexander was frantically going around asking India’s players who their captain was.
This state of flux was the plight of Indian cricket for ever so long. Captains were appointed and sacked on whims and fancies of Board members. Nobody, not Nawab of Pataudi, not Ajit Wadekar and certainly not S Venkatraghavan or Sunil Gavaskar himself was safe from the Machiavellian ways of the board’s seasoned ‘politicians’.
Why, Venkatraghavan, sadly, came to know of his sacking through the pilot’s announcement mid-flight to India.
When the team boarded the plane in London, Venkat ascended it as India’s skipper. But when he got off the flight he was merely a player as the mantle had passed on to Gavaskar, as gleefully announced by the pilot.
It is surprising that Gavaskar who himself had to go through much uncertainty and anxiety when captaincy was alternated between him and Kapil Dev on a whim, should want Virat Kohli to undergo similar trauma.
One would have thought that he would have welcomed any opportunity to put the captain at ease and made him feel that he was indeed in charge, rather than making him go through needless apprehension.
But that was not to be. Gavaskar wanted the ‘lame duck’ selectors (their term ends in October) to have met for at least five minutes to reconfirm Kohli as skipper. Needless to point out that such a move would have triggered off humongous speculation, comments and opinions with a Mumbai-lobby batting for a particular player, a Delhi lobby for yet another and may be all the rest for somebody else.
More than anything, this would have sent an unsettling message to Kohli that he was dispensable and would have kept him off balance, may be permanently.
Surely the great Gavaskar who knows a thing or two about being snubbed and belittled, did not want such a scenario.
It is nobody’s case that the current selectors are the cat’s whiskers. But it is not their fault that they were appointed. The Lodha reforms, if followed to the T, will lead to a lot more such anomalies which are akin to the tail wagging the dog.
Pointedly, even this is not a novel scenario for Indian cricket. In the past, Raj Singh Dungarpur, who was only a very average first class player of Rajasthan to begin with, cocked a snook at some legendary cricketers in his committee. He rode roughshod over them and ensured that he had his way always. He had even informed Mohammad Azharuddin, who till then had not even led South Zone, that he would make him India captain in a few days time. And he did.
Significantly the few times the Indian team captain saw some stability was when Saurav Ganguly had the backing of Kolkata strongman Jagmohan Dalmiya and Mahendra Singh Dhoni had the backing of N Srinivasan.
Before them, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble were barely on top of the situation and had a less than ideal relationship with their respective chairman of selectors.
It is in this context that the opportunity to cut Kohli to size with “even a five minutes meeting” must be desisted. It would do nothing to further the cause of Indian cricket for its skipper to be kept off balance for even a few moments. Much of Kohli’s energy, focus, ambition, drive and determination come from the fact that he is a supremely confident cricketer who revels in adversity and having his way. The Indian set-up must find ways and means to tap into that fountain of energy and channel it to work for the team. Erecting hurdles just to pull him down a notch or two would be counter-productive.
It would be no exaggeration to state that any cricketer from under-14 category wants to be like Kohli in terms of fitness, energy, passion, commitment and drive. That is the sort of undoubted mesmeric inspirational ability that Kohli possesses. Why would India’s selectors, board or former cricketers want to deflate that? Do we need to go back to that era when like the apocryphal crab, pulling down one another was a game in itself?