The cricketing world is divided, especially in the largest country of the sport’s enthusiasts, over the breakdown between India captain Virat Kohli and national coach Anil Kumble.
It is a sign of the times that the captain has cast a shadow on the coach’s skill set at the end of his term just as his work was to be appraised for a possible extension. That has left every one to wonder and ponder about the future of Indian cricket in the near term as they negotiate the Champions Trophy defence in England.
But before that some pointers from the past:
August 18, 2008 – Kohli debuts for India in the ODI team. Game No 15 is in his hometown Delhi in December 2009, 13 months down after Kumble decided to retire at the same place where he entered the record books with all 10 Test wickets against Pakistan. Importantly, he made the decision on the fourth day of the third Test against Australia, but spoke to each player individually and then told the selectors because he did not want the team to “lose focus”, in his own words. The man, who pushed the limit physically by playing with a broken jaw just months back, had injured his finger, realized his time was up and handed over the captaincy to MS Dhoni. Kumble has never given the team less than 100% and he said wanted to be remembered most for that.
December 2013 – After a two-year break, Kumble and Javagal Srinath, took charge of Karnataka State Cricket Association, and stepped down after the first three-year term. In the next term they campaigned for a team “that could take the vision forward” but it fell flat. About an extension, this is what he said: We needed power to contribute and change the course and we’ve done that. For us to contribute back [in the future], I don’t think we need the power.
July 2, 2016 – The first thing that Kumble did after becoming coach was not take stock of the team he had in hand. He asked, instead, for a meeting of all stakeholders – from captain Dhoni to U19 coach and former colleague Rahul Dravid to selectors and administrators – at the National Cricket Academy, Bangalore. It was a first. The idea was to put the feeder line in process for exactly what the NCA was meant to be. Kumble wanted routine reports on players sidelined with injuries, especially fast bowlers. Next few days, players had to slog and play a compressed Test match. Ishant Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Shami got special attention.
February 27, 2017 – Absolute favourites against visiting Australians, the Indian Test team suffer a humiliating 333-run defeat inside three days at Pune. Instead of reading out the riot act, Kumble quickly arranges a trekking trip to Tamhini Ghats for an overnight stay with no post-mortem and pep talk. Silent words translate into a 2-1 victory for India in the four-Test series.
Cut to the present day.
1) Virat Kohli, who made his Test debut only in 2011, is dictating terms.
2) Kumble failed in reforming KSCA and still needs power to contribute. Power by way of having the right men on his side. Despite the odds, he has re-applied for the job like a faithful employee.
3) The bowlers he helped out have improved. Apparently, one or more of them have cited their unhappiness about being put to work. Atleast Kohli has allegedly said his players too share the “headmaster” approach vibe.
4) The “we-are-in-this-together-in-bad-times” feeling between the team and the coach is gone. From Pune in February to May until the departure of the squad for England, things have gone horribly wrong on the communication channel.
Agreed, cricket is not a coach-heavy sport. The captain is more in the driver’s seat. Agreed that former cricketers need not be held in awe and respect. Agreed that today’s coaching methods have changed. Agreed it is not the first time an Indian captain has decided to set the agenda for the coach. Ganguly himself and Greg Chappell set the precedent. You don’t want a strong-headed coach. Neither a rubber stamp.
Kohli was hoping he will get to reign just like MS Dhoni did. With a slight difference. Where Dhoni flourished under N Srinivasan, a court-appointed panel has thrown a spanner in Kohli’s ambitions.
Psychological gurus will tell you it is the modern way for a coach/mentor to get his way with a young generation with a carrot and stick approach a la Ravi Shastri.
There is also nothing to suggest from history that Kumble did not. What it does affirm also is that Kumble has failed to balance his integrity for Indian team’s growth with changes in corridors of power in the cricket board.
Worse, his former teammates have not done much to help this time around. Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly tipped the ball in his favour against Shastri last year. It is alleged Tendulkar tried to find a middle ground with Kohli, but in vain. A resignation letter from the court-appointee Ramachandra Guha may or may not force his sheepish colleagues on the panel to step in.
Every Indian player calls Tendulkar as “Master” or “God”, Kohli included. Ganguly is more famous as Dada.
In the end, the call is again on the Master to ensure wisdom prevails as well as Ganguly, known for his dadagiri, to ascertain that a captain flexing his muscles too much is not going to help either.