Premature end to a great partnership

Premature end to a great partnership

Premature end to a great partnership
It was too bright to last, the partnership between Indian cricket captain Virat Kohli and head coach Anil Kumble. For a good part of the year, the pair shined as they got the team into great competitive shape, sharing a collective vision of making India the best possible squad in all formats.

Yet, despite working together for a year and producing some fine results, the pair appeared doomed – especially with officials playing devious roles. 

Like in some human relationships, the expectation that they would settle down to make India a competitive unit in all formats and in all conditions was belied. Indian cricket was left red-faced when Kumble chose to leave the grand stage, some of his dreams yet to be realised.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) officials and officers sold a variety of stories in public to vilify Kumble. Among other things, he was said to have run a WhatsApp group of friendly journalists, admonished a player after the ICC Champions Trophy final, argued with Kohli over his choice of XI every time and sent unfit players to the National Cricket Academy for rehabilitation.

We will never know which of them is rooted in truth and has not been embellished by the imagination of scheming Board officers who wanted Kumble out because he responded to the Committee of Administrators' request to make a presentation before them about restructuring the payments to players and the coaching staff.

Sadly, it was neither Kohli nor Kumble who brought their differences out in the open. It was a Board official who told the media about Kohli’s message, ostensibly to Board CEO Rahul Johri, that Kumble was overbearing. How the message escaped from Johri’s phone and found its way in print will be wrapped in mystery – and, for good measure, denial.

Kohli’s June 3 press conference ahead of India’s opening game in the ICC Champions Trophy at Edgbaston did not offer anyone a clue about what was to emerge by the end of the event. He was candid in admitting differences but gave the impression that these were routine in the manner of differences within a family.

A lot of people read Kumble’s note on social media and immediately jumped to the conclusion that Kohli was the direct reason for his exit. I was among the handful which insisted on looking at the culpability of the BCCI officials and officers, eager as they seemed to see Kumble’s back as the head coach. When Kohli was caught in thecross-hairs of fans across the country, more evidence of BCCI officers being involved surfaced.

They were scrambling to prove that it was not Kohli’s fault that Kumble was out of a job but his own greed and high-handedness. Kohli was candid in his first interaction with the media in Port of Spain at the start of the limited-overs tour of the West Indies. He said the team would respect Anilbhai’s decision to step out. He said the team would maintain privacy and sanctity of the changing room throughout. “I would not express that in detail in a public scenario,” Kohli said.

Dressing room rumours

Yet, there were reports immediately, citing a source in the dressing room, that Kohli had expected Kumble to not talk about their rift. Worse, this source challenged Kumble’s claim that he had heard about Kohli’s “reservations” a day after the Cricket Advisory Committee (CAC) asked him to continue as head coach.

It is such wretched sources which have been the problem rather than provide a solution. The final proof of the BCCI officer’s involvement, if any were needed, came with the surfacing of the "Kumble Document" a month after he had made the presentation to the CoA in Hyderabad on May 21.

Clearly, it was shared with the sole intention of painting the former head coach as opportunistic and greedy, with a Board official accusing him of promoting conflict of interest. Kumble is not the first superstar cricketer to quit the top coaching job unable to walk the tightrope in his relationship with the captain and players and keep his "masters" in the BCCI happy. Kapil Dev and Greg Chappell are other big names that spring to mind in the Indian context. The success of men like John Wright and Gary Kirsten is now being attributed to their low-profile presence.

Perhaps, there is a message there for the BCCI and CAC which comprises legends like Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and V V S Laxman.  They must find a head coach who does not stray from the key task of helping the players prepare for the big battles and lets the captain run the ship.

The only reason such simple lessons don’t stare at the BCCI officials and employees are straightforward. Typically, these gentlemen are looking elsewhere or have their eyes closed in the hope that the problem would go away. But in this instance, they have perhaps been guilty of adding fuel to a simmering fire.

Yet, the BCCI must find a manager who can ensure that the players and the coach are on the same page and does not hesitate to throw the rule book on either of them if necessary. It must be someone who can douse the fire rather than resort to tactics that are not suited even to neighbourhood playgrounds. If not, we will see more partnerships, seemingly bright at the start, fade away soon.

(Rajaraman is a New Delhi-based veteran sports writer)
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