Rider on the Storm

Riding a wave of success since taking over as captain, Virat Kohli will be under intense scrutiny after the coach saga, reports Atreyo Mukhopadhyay.

Published: 01st July 2017 10:00 PM  |   Last Updated: 03rd July 2017 01:08 PM   |  A+A-

Anil Kumble and Virat Kohli after India defeated Australia in the final Test in Dharmsala

It was December 2006. In reply to Karnataka’s 446 in a Ranji Trophy match at Feroz Shah Kotla, Delhi were 14/4. Virat Kohli had lost his father the previous night. In walked the 18-year-old and batted five hours to make 90. It was his debut season in first-class cricket. His first notable score at the senior level saved the match and India’s domestic circuit noticed the arrival of a player of exceptional mental strength.

Wankhede Stadium, April 2011. M S Dhoni’s team had won the World Cup and the Men in Blue had just completed a lap of the ground with Sachin Tendulkar on their shoulders. Kohli’s statement that it was time for them to carry the man who had carried the nation on his shoulders for 22 years suggested here’s a youngster who knows what responsibility means.

Talented, with temperament belying age, and aggressive batsman willing to stare the opposition in the eye, to captain of a young team, the journey was fast and eventful. Success, stardom, a dash of controversy stemming from romance with a Bollywood figure — it contained almost everything a script-writer could conjure. After Tendulkar and Dhoni, the great Indian cricket enterprise and allied industries had found the next face to base campaigns on.

The journey sees as unexpected twist. Tolerably excitable, who wears passion on his face, to irreverent and disrespectful, the Kohli tale suddenly sees the entry of a villain. Even at a time when perception can change in the blink of an eye, this is one transformation the Indian cricket fan finds hard to come to terms with. How can someone find faults with the methods of coach Anil Kumble, the epitome of virtues every kid in the country’s countless cricket coaching clinics is asked to idolise!

Other than sending shockwaves, Kohli’s rejection of one of India’s most iconic cricket figures has also changed the notion about the Indian cricket captain. With exceptions like Lala Amarnath, Tiger Pataudi or Sourav Ganguly, most had been conformists, not just with the establishment or theories of the game, also with the definition of a typical Indian captain. Competent players and strategists, they were hailed also for their gentlemanly ways, seldom crossing certain predefined limits on and off the field.

By having his way in selection of coach, Kohli has become the first India captain on whom ‘brash’ sits as easily as all the accolades his batsmanship draws. Not completely unknowingly, he has created a situation for himself wherein everything he does will be under intense, and at times, unforgiving scrutiny. Every slip will be attributed to arrogance, errors in judgment will be linked with disrespect for some of the country’s iconic cricketing figures.

It’s a risk no India captain has even come close to taking. “I have full confidence in Anil. He is the most capable person to be the coach and I am not happy to know that he will no longer be around in that capacity. But I don’t think Virat will burden himself with these thoughts or it will affect his game. From what we’ve seen, he’s a tremendous batsman and passionate captain. Mentally strong, he has also shown signs of maturity. I don’t think this issue will put him under additional pressure,” says Ajit Wadekar.

“But Virat will have to face the consequences, whatever they are. That’s what you have to when you take such decisions. I’m sure he knows the importance of what he is doing and what the implications can be. I think he is ready to face what lies ahead. To know whether this affects his captaincy or how good a leader he is, we have to wait,” adds Wadekar, the only Indian cricketer to have worn the hats of captain, coach and national selection committee chairman.

Considering Kumble’s image, stature and the cricketing values and philosophy he embodies, it was shocking for fans to discover that the person they visualise as successor was not in favour of him continuing as coach. Legends like Bishan Singh Bedi and Sunil Gavaskar expressed sadness at the way events unfolded. But there is another school of thought that finds Kumble’s decision to go to be the natural outcome, given the position the characters occupy.

“I am sad because I expected the Kohli-Kumble combo to take Indian cricket to great heights. But I am not surprised. If the captain is of the stature that Kohli has in Indian cricket at the moment in this kind of form, the coach has to go when differences between him and the captain can’t be sorted. No matter how great the coach is,” says former India spinner Maninder Singh, whose last few years in international cricket coincided with the rise of Kumble.

“That’s because at the end of the day, the captain has to handle the team and take the blame if the results are not good. Seldom do you see the coach getting the flak. And Kohli seems to be very clear about what he wants. You can say that the timing of all this was wrong because the news started coming out just before the Champions Trophy. But then, it’s the team led by the captain that plays, not the coach. Even though I don’t believe Kumble’s methods were overbearing, I can understand why things have unfolded the way they have,” adds Maninder.

The test in this new chapter of Kohli’s career will be a stern one, as the Indian team has a number of overseas trips lined up for the next season. After Sri Lanka in July-August where the series may not be the most challenging, South Africa towards the end of the year and England next year will be eager to ask questions, especially after having lost badly on their last visits to India. Having shown that responsibility brings the best out of him, Kohli has to be ready for a different kind of examination, where failure is certain to evaluated beyond the usual parameters of victory and defeat.

There is another less-discussed, yet important side to the story. It concerns the Board of Control for Cr­ic­ket in India (BCCI) and its role in the developments. Not without justification, a section of observers say that the board should have been more proacti­ve and not allowed the captain to have his way. There are examples of authorities seeking the opini­o­n of players in coach-related matters, but reserving the final call for themselves. By not intervening earli­er and eventually letting Kohli’s views prevail, did the Indian board just want to get rid of Kumble, who had ru­f­f­led feathers by demanding a hike for coaches and pl­ayers?

“BCCI’s internal turmoil and the absence of a firm decision-maker at the top have a lot to do with the chaotic way this was handled,” says a BCCI member. “I don’t want to say who of Kumble and Kohli is right or wrong. But after sensing a problem, the BCCI did little to douse the fire. In a way, it’s unfortunate that this happened at a time when there is confusion over who heads the board.”

There are other views also, justifying the BCCI’s stand. They believe since Kumble has announced his decision to quit, Kohli should be given all the support he needs. “It’s a new team with a new captain and a captain should get what he wants because he is responsible for success and failure. Purely for that reason, not taking into account Kumble’s role in off-the-field matters, it made sense to support the captain,” says another official, who seems to convey what a majority of board members think.

Different stakeholders, different opinions. The common thread is Kohli, who heads into the unknown firm in belief what he is doing is good for his team. Consciously or not, he has also broken stereotypes. Prudent or not, let time tell.

COURTING Controversies

2011 Showing his frustration
On his first tour to Australia, Kohli showed his middle finger to the Sydney crowd after they hurled abuses at him when he was fielding near the boundary line in the second Test of the series. He made amends later, slamming 116 in the fourth Test in Adelaide. 

2013 War of words on field
In the IPL match against Kolkata Knight Riders, Kohli was out going 
for a wild slog off Laxmipathy Balaji. As he walked back to the dressing room, a few words were exchanged with rival skipper Gautam Gambhir, who charged towards him. An ugly war of words erupted.

Kevin Pietersen
Pietersen was English cricket’s bad boy. And of course, he also reportedly had a dislike for coaches. Pietersen, who arrived on the world stage with good shows against South Africa, the land of his birth, had infamous fall-outs with two England coaches, Peter Moores and Andy Flower.

2015 Courting trouble
During the World Cup campaign, Kohli sparked a huge controversy when he used abusive language at the wrong reporter for a story on girlfriend Anushka Sharma filed almost six months ago. The issue refused to go away and the dashing 
right-hander was pulled up by the 
BCCI over the incident.

Defending a friend 
When trolls targeted his rumoured 
on-and-off girlfriend Anushka Sharma, even 'celebrating' her split with the Indian star, Kohli sprung to her defence, saying she has only given him 'positivity'.

Saga Retold

June 23, 2016
BCCI’s Cricket Advisory Committee (CAC) comprising Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman appoints Anil Kumble as head coach, strangely on a one-year term, ahead of former Team India Director Ravi Shastri. There are reports Kohli favoured the latter.

Sept 28 
After Cheteshwar Pujara is criticised by Kohli over his strike rate, Kumble throws his weight behind the Test specialist, saying “strike rates are for bowlers in Tests.”

March 11, 2017  
There were apparent disagreements over the final XI for the fourth Test in Dharamsala. Kumble wanted chinaman Kuldeep Yadav while Kohli wanted Shreyas. 

May 25, 2017
BCCI invites applications for coach as Kumble’s one-year tenure ends. This takes everyone by surprise as Kumble was expected to get an automatic extension, thanks to the superb performances of the side under him. 

May 30 
Reports of rift between Kohli and Kumble appear. Sources tell this paper that BCCI too is not happy with the coach, thanks to his involvement in pay negotiations and direct communications with Committee of Administrators (CoA).  

June 1 
BCCI acting secretary Amitabh Choudhary refutes reports of rift during England trip. Sources tell this newspaper that many players are against Kumble. 

June 3 
During a press conference in England, Kohli rubbishes reports of rift in press conference.

June 6
After a long suspense, Kumble reapplies for post. 

June 14 
The CAC continues efforts to bridge gap between 
Kohli and Kumble. 

June 12 
CoA chief Vinod Rai says Kumble will continue as coach for West Indies tour. 

June 20 
A couple of days after final loss against Pakistan, Kumble resigns, saying partnership with captain “untenable”. 

In his nascent captaincy, Kohli 
has some enviable records...
In Tests
Mat: 26 | Won: 16 | Lost: 3 | Drawn: 7
Mat: 27 | Won: 20 | Lost: 6 | NR:1
In T20Is
Mat: 3 | Won: 2 | Lost: 1 | NR:0
 After eight Test series in charge as full-time skipper, he is yet to lose one.
 First Indian Test captain to score a double century overseas (vs West Indies in 2016)
 First Indian Test captain to score two or more double centuries (he has four as captain, as many as Don Bradman. Only Brian Lara is ahead of him, with 5)
Rise & Rise
 Begins his Test captaincy with three straight centuries 
(115, 141 & 147 
against Australia).
 Smashes 211 in Indore as New Zealand are whitewashed 3-0.
 Makes 235 in Mumbai Test as England lose despite making 400 in the first innings. India wins the series 4-0.
 81 against Pakistan in the Champions Trophy opener helps India coast to big win.


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