After being unceremoniously removed from the ODI captaincy, Virat Kohli’s problems seem to be deepening further as Ashwin candidly aired his views about the treatment meted out to him
A lot has obviously been happening inside the Indian team’s dressing room if our best, or world’s best, spinner has been talking loudly about the “treatment” meted out to him by the recently-retired chief coach, who was the best of pals with the current captain.
Yes, it’s certainly not a happy situation for Team India captain Virat Kohli to be in, especially when his most dependable match-winner, Ravichandran Ashwin, has been airing his views openly over how he was considering retirement from the game in 2018. A decision he reached after chief coach Ravi Shastri failed to back him after the 2018-19 series Down Under.
In an explosive interview with a cricket website released on 21 December, when Kohli and Co were preparing for the Boxing Day Test in South Africa, Ashwin, mincing no words, explained how he felt “absolutely crushed” after the tour Down Under in 2018-19, when coach Shastri famously called Kuldeep Yadav India’s No 1 overseas spinner following the team’s first-ever Test series victory on Australian soil. This, when Ashwin was going through a tough time as he was battling career-threatening injuries like “athletic pubalgia” and “patellar tendonitis”.
This came after Tamil Nadu’s off-spinner helped India win the first Test at the Adelaide Oval, but was forced to miss the next three games due to fitness issues. In the fourth match of the series, left-arm Chinaman bowler Kuldeep Yadav got an opportunity in Ashwin’s absence as Kohli decided to go with two spinners. Yadav grabbed this opportunity by taking five wickets at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
The 35-year-old off-spinner stated that it felt like “he was thrown under the bus by the then Indian head coach”. This was the time when Ashwin’s career was at a crossroads. After losing his place in both the One-dayers and T20 International sides in 2017, there were serious doubts about his spot in the Test team.
Which way is the wind blowing?
Ashwin is certainly not a novice in Indian cricket. He understands what it means for a player to express their opinions in public, especially while the team is on an overseas tour, without putting all those who run the show behind the scenes in jeopardy.
And there are no prizes for guessing who is at the receiving end here…
Kohli has been in the eye of the storm ever since he chose to go public about his differences with Indian Cricket Board president Sourav Ganguly. It was not long ago when questions were being asked why Ravindra Jadeja had become so indispensable to skipper Kohli that Ashwin could not even get a look in during the most recent overseas Test tour of England.
This was for many Kohli, the batsman, trying to hide his insecurity about the team’s middle-order, including his fading batting form. He was trying to barter match-winner bowler Ashwin for batting all-rounder Jadeja. And a month later, Ashwin played an integral part in Team India’s success in the home series against New Zealand, where he bagged his career’s eight Man-of-the-Series award.
And Shastri was hand-in-glove with skipper Kohli in keeping the world’s best spinner out of the team. That’s why Ashwin said that he considered retirement between 2018 and 2020 when he felt like he was not being given the kind of backing that others in the Indian team were given while he was dealing with recurring injuries.
Ashwin, India’s third-highest Test wicket-taker and seven wickets away from equalling former captain Kapil Dev’s tally, said that there was “insensitivity” towards his injuries.
Ashwin has also revealed that he has been working on his mental health for four to six months under professional guidance. When the 35-year-old was recently asked about his calmness in the game and whether it had any relation to the pandemic, the Indian spinner said that “it started well before that”.
The question now is: What does Ashwin’s outburst against Shastri mean at this point? Is he not wary of the consequences that he might face while talking about dressing room issues in public while Kohli is still at the helm?
The answer to both questions is “no”.
Losing grip over the team
Going by BCCI’s insiders, Kohli’s grip over his team has loosened. He is no longer the sole decision-maker and the new chief coach, Rahul Dravid, has equal–maybe even more–powers bestowed upon him.
Kohli was once powerful enough to suggest the dismissal of former head coach Anil Kumble in 2017. Who doesn’t remember how Kumble, a rare cricketer with cricket administration experience (he was president of Karnataka State Cricket Association for three years), was unceremoniously removed by then BCCI administrator Vinod Rai at Kohli’s behest?
But Ashwin may not be worried anymore. He now has a mentor like Dravid to ensure fair treatment inside the dressing room. That’s why Ashwin is not worried about making it to the final XI in the Boxing Day Test starting 26 December in Johannesburg. Rather it is for Kohli to make sure that the bat does most of the talking and help his team score the first-ever Test series victory in South Africa.
Not to forget that Kohli was removed as India’s ODI captain by the BCCI, three months after the star player stepped down as T20I skipper. The BCCI named Rohit Sharma as the new ODI skipper last week, but how long Kohli will continue to lead India in Test cricket is something that will be decided after the series in South Africa.
In a matter of two months, almost everything that was riding in Kohli’s favour has now deserted him. It is also a reality that the Indian Test skipper has not scored a Test century in almost two years since his last against Bangladesh in 2019.
The Indian captain has also failed to win a trophy in Tests, World Cups or the Indian Premier League. And, with the BCCI’s top brass not pleased with his “tell-all” press conference, loyalties have begun to shift the other way.
Rohit has been seen as a possible successor to Kohli after South Africa. One could say Kohli has dug himself into a hole. And he has only one way to claw his way out of it: Score big runs to assist Team India in winning the Test series in South Africa!
(Cover: Getty Images)