Kumble’s entry may ring exit bells for Kohli

With Virat Kohli announcing that he will be giving up his captaincy of the T20 team after the World Cup, the Patriot takes a look at why he chose to do so and his possible replacements

The odds are piling up against Team India captain Virat Kohli. The man known for breaching the three-figure mark at regular intervals hasn’t scored an international century in the last 53 innings, or since November 2019, in a two-day Pink Test against Bangladesh. The player who was instrumental in getting chief coach Anil Kumble out of the dressing room single-handedly in 2017, could only helplessly see Jumbo (as Kumble is popularly known as) entering the dressing room again if everything goes as per script written by the BCCI bosses, post the T20 World Cup.

Fact of the matter is that Kohli was an inspirational skipper for everyone, in the team and within the Board, till the time runs were coming off his willow. But as soon as he hit a lean patch, everything started turning topsy turvy for him. And he has only himself to blame for letting it go out of his hands when he blamed his entire team for “lack of intent” following the World Test Championship final defeat to New Zealand last month.

Going by BCCI insiders, a senior cricketer had blamed the team’s “unhappiness” over Kohli’s unpleasant comments to secretary Jay Shah, who had to step in to defuse the situation after the WTC final. Virat’s over-aggression has started damaging his own image inside the dressing room as well. On one occasion, he yelled at one of the coaches, saying, “Don’t confuse me” when the latter made suggestions to the skipper during a batting session in the nets.

 

Ashwin factor 

 Ravichandran Ashwin of India bowls during the Reserve Day of the ICC World Test Championship Final between India and New Zealand at The Hampshire Bowl PHOTO: Getty

It all started in July when one of the senior selection committee members tried to contact Kohli in England over the phone to discuss the replacement needed for India’s senior squad in Sri Lanka. The selectors wanted Prithvi Shaw, Suryakumar Yadav and Devdutt Padikkal to travel to the United Kingdom as Shubman Gill, Avesh Khan and Washington Sundar were ruled out of the Test series because of injuries. 

Even vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane was battling a hamstring issue then. But Kohli didn’t take the call on the pretext of babysitting and it was conveyed to the selector to call in the morning. The selectors decided anyway to rush in only Prithvi and Surya as replacement. 

But the issue that has rattled some senior BCCI officials the most, is keeping India’s best spinner Ravichandran Ashwin out of all the four-Test matches played in England.

Everyone in the BCCI believed that Ashwin should be part of Team India in England. But Kohli was adamant about playing batsman-cum-spinner Ravindra Jadeja ahead of the Tamil Nadu off-spinner in the first three Tests where conditions were seamer-friendly. However, everyone in the Board was expecting Ashwin to play the fourth Test at Oval where the pitch is traditionally known to favour slow bowlers. And, it was the same wicket where Ashwin took six wickets in a County game not long ago. So, to keep out someone with 413 Test wickets & five Test centuries was hard to digest for everyone at BCCI.

Jadeja, on the other hand, had only two wickets to show from the last three Tests. To say that Ashwin paid the price for a fragile middle-order where Jadeja, the batsman, scored 133 runs in the first three Tests, where key batsmen like Ajinkya Rahane had only 95 to showcase along with the skipper’s average show with the bat, may not justify Kohli’s logic here.

 

Kumble, the headmaster

For those who may think that there was pressure on Virat to quit T20 captaincy, the answer is quite opposite. Virat was never told to relinquish his post by anyone in the Board. He, however, read the undercurrent correctly and tried to defuse the tension by announcing his resignation from the shortest format after the upcoming World Cup. 

BCCI, on the other hand, is happy and has gone public with the reason “reducing the weight from Virat’s shoulders to allow him to focus more on his batting”. Regardless of what happens in the T20 WC in the UAE, Rohit Sharma is more or less being prepared to lead Team India in this format.

But the real battle will only start once Kumble will be formally approached by the Board to take over from Ravi Shastri. There is hardly any secret that Virat openly campaigned for Shastri in 2017 and got his way in the ugliest way, to say the least.

Whosoever follows cricket and its politics must remember the spat between Virat and Kumble in 2017 and Committee of Administrators (CoA) chairman Vinod Rai, appointed by Supreme Court of India, and then CEO Rahul Johri backed the Indian skipper despite CoA other member and former India women skipper Diana Edulji had conflicting views.

This is another matter that the same Rai later admitted that “Kumble was the best coach available and he would have kept him in the role if it had been possible”. Kumble, however, graciously backed out from the controversy then and never made any public comment about “that ugly incident”.

Those who have played alongside Kumble or were in the team during his stint as chief coach strongly agree that the former India skipper is a hard taskmaster and is not easily overpowered in any cricketing debate inside or outside the dressing room. The former Karnataka Cricket Association president was even called “Headmaster” by Virat & Co. And how could anyone expect Kumble, whose “professionalism, discipline, commitment and honesty” was questioned by Kohli in 2017, to feel comfortable with the same person in the same dressing room on his return?

 

Options before Virat and BCCI

Given the strong signals that are coming from the BCCI, there is hardly any doubt over Shastri’s departure. Whether or not Kumble is hired back as a chief coach is another matter that can be dealt with in the coming month. 

In simple and straight words, Kohli’s future even as a player in Team India would largely depend on his batting form. But one thing is sure that even BCCI president Sourav Ganguly is hellbent to see Shastri exit. 

The Bengal Tiger was never in favour of appointing Shastri as a coach but had to agree to the views of his colleagues, Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman, in the CAC (Cricket Advisory Committee). However, if Kumble makes a comeback after T20 WC in the UAE, the atmosphere within the dressing room may not be that pleasant for Virat and no one in the BCCI would like to have two warring camps within the team that may force BCCI to look for a new leader for Team India in the other formats — Test as well as ODI — soon to avoid any unpleasant situation.

Going by the whispers around, the next T20 skipper Rohit Sharma is also not a great fan of Kumble’s style. But then given his age, there is a majority view within the Board that some younger leader has to be groomed to replace Virat first before taking over from Rohit!

(Cover: India captain Virat Kohli recently announced that he will be stepping down from captaincy of the T20 team after the World Cup in October PHOTO: Getty)

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Chander Shekhar Luthra
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