For almost a month, ever since news broke that there would be no perfunctory renewal of his contract, Anil Kumble had been a man walking the plank.
Things came to a head after India were thrashed — by Pakistan, no less — in the final of the Champions Trophy at The Oval. With the team already over the Atlantic and on their way to an ODI series in the Caribbean, Kumble announced that he had lost interest in staying in the job. But before leaving, he made sure he lobbed a grenade in the direction of the dressing room.
“Though the BCCI attempted to resolve the misunderstandings between the Captain and me, it was apparent that the partnership was untenable, and I therefore believe it is best for me to move on,” he said in a statement that was published on his Twitter account as well. “Professionalism, discipline, commitment, honesty, complementary skills and diverse views are the key traits I bring to the table.
“These need to be valued for the partnership to be effective. I see the Coach’s role akin to ‘holding a mirror’ to drive self-improvement in the team’s interest.”
The reaction, with emotions at fever pitch following the loss to Pakistan, was predictable. Virat Kohli, who had led the Test side to unprecedented heights in the past year, was suddenly the villain of the piece, with Kumble the victim of his rampant ego and petulance.
And it’s not just the laymen either. Even Indian cricket stalwarts have taken sides. Kumble, India’s greatest match-winner by a distance, commands huge respect, and the manner of his departure prompted much talk of an immature captain wanting only a yes-man around. Sunil Gavaskar spoke of the team wanting a coach who would let them go shopping, and later added: “My advice to Virat would be to make a statement and make things clear.
“Kumble also needs to clarify who in the BCCI informed him about Virat’s unhappiness about him. A statement from Kohli will help clear the air, saying ‘this is what I feel and my issue with Kumble’.”
Except that Kohli wasn’t going to do anything of the sort. At his press conference in the build-up to the rained-out first ODI in Trinidad, Kohli said some diplomatic lines about Kumble’s stature in the game — “I will always have respect for him as a cricketer and whatever he has achieved” — before insisting that there would be no airing dirty laundry from his side.
“We have created a culture in the last three four years that whatever has happened in the dressing room remains inside, we have tried to maintain that sanctity throughout,” he said. “For us, that is paramount and very sacred. It is something which I will not explain in detail in a public scenario.”
The very fact that there is such an expectation is ridiculous, as is the widely held notion that the Indian players are entitled brats who have hung a good man out to dry. If anyone owes the cricket-watching public an explanation, it’s the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), which has looked increasingly rudderless since the Supreme Court-appointed Committee of Administrator took the reins.
Sections of the board have been aware for months that elements within the team, most importantly Kohli, had reservations about Kumble’s style of functioning. There isn’t a player in the group saying that they haven’t benefited from Kumble’s nous — the upswing in the bowlers’ performances speaks for itself — but there have been concerns about his sphere of influence.
With Kumble pushing for a more proactive role in selection, it became a question of who was the dressing room’s Alpha male. Some players also didn’t take kindly to an approach that bordered on hectoring rather than persuasion.
Ultimately, this is just a story of two individuals that weren’t on the same page, and had different visions for how they wanted the team to be run. To look for scapegoats and victims in such a scenario is both pointless and pathetic. The notion that the players got rid of a hard taskmaster because they are lazy is preposterous. Few in the international game have ever worked as hard as Kohli does, and his influence has spread within the group.
From those that have applied for the job, Virender Sehwag and Tom Moody are the favourites, but with the deadline extended to July 9, there could be more candidates. A year ago, Ravi Shastri lost the job, despite having done little wrong and notwithstanding an excellent rapport with Kohli. Don’t be too surprised if he’s back in the hot seat.
West Indies tour a missed opportunity
Only the administrators, who have managed to extract an additional $112 million (Dh411.4m) from the ICC in a reworked revenue deal, could tell you the point of India playing five ODIs and a Twenty20 in the West Indies now. But having committed to such an utterly meaningless exercise, the least India could have done is use it as an opportunity to blood new talent.
What exactly is the point of playing Yuvraj Singh and MS Dhoni in the Caribbean? It’s not like you’re unaware of their abilities. These matches should be used instead to give someone like Rishabh Pant a clear mandate to go out and do his thing. Similarly, second-rung spin options could have been played, with Ravinchadran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja rested altogether.
Both men struggled in England and with the 2019 World Cup the next major tournament on the horizon, India really need to revisit their spin strategy. Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav have made excellent starts to their international careers, and India badly need to bring wrist spinners into play on surfaces that offer nothing for the traditional finger spinners.
Chahal has performed consistently on what used to be a bowlers’ graveyard at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore, and now is the time to make sure he has 25-30 games under his belt before India go into the World Cup. More explosive hitters like Pant are also needed, especially with no certainty over how long Dhoni and Yuvraj can go on.
Part of the reason for India’s success in 2011 lay in Dhoni and Gary Kirsten, then coach, utilising the games in the previous two years to test out players like Kohli, Ashwin and Yusuf Pathan. The new dispensation, regardless of who is the coach assisting Kohli, needs to show similar foresight.
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