Kumble falls to a Kohli googly

Anil Kumble is a legend and in scalping him, Virat Kohli has diminished his own stature. It might suit Kohli’s interests for now, but posterity might have a different story to say.

The larger than life Anil Kumble stepped down as India’s coach after being deemed “authoritarian” in his methods.   -  REUTERS

On the morning of June 19, a few Indian news channels were guilty of airing inflammatory bits on the ICC Champions Trophy final that Pakistan deservingly won at India’s expense, just the previous night at London’s Oval. As the cameras focussed, a bunch of irate fans set a few posters, featuring their favourite Indian players, ablaze, and one individual hoarsely said: “The game is fixed.” It was the theatre of the absurd. India had just lost a match, nothing more, nothing less.

The defeat was an aberration for a remarkable squad and the extreme reactions of a few misguided fans were also a deviance from the expected norm of rational behaviour. Just as the drama died down, a bigger quake rocked Indian cricket’s heart. It started as a mere announcement on the BCCI’s official website on June 20th evening, followed by a press release at night. Its import was startling — head coach Anil Kumble had withdrawn his candidature.

Bluntly put, the former India captain had quit a post to which he added dignity and had embellished it further with fine results. India under skipper Virat Kohli and coach Kumble had a bull-run over the last year, deflating opponents, winning Tests and ODIs, with the loss to Pakistan in the Champions Trophy climax being the lone blip. It seemed a partnership made in sporting heaven but as the counter-cliché goes, there was trouble in paradise.

It started with stray whispers, then a few BCCI officials leaked stories to the media about how Kohli is opposed to renewing Kumble’s coaching contract due to the latter’s allegedly ‘authoritarian’ style. Kohli promptly denied everything to the press in an interaction at Birmingham, he also blamed the fourth estate about manufacturing stories. But truth has a way of surfacing at the most inopportune moment and Kumble’s statement on Twitter, in which he clearly said that the captain had expressed reservations about his style to the BCCI, and also added that the relationship had become ‘untenable’, blew Kohli’s cover.

The rift from the captain’s side, was out in the open thanks to the departing coach. It meant that Kumble, despite being India’s greatest match-winner, had to unfortunately retreat. True to his stature, he left with grace but the manner in which the episode played out, first in the dressing room and then in the public domain, raises many unnerving questions.

Can a captain and his players decide upon who their coach should be? Isn’t it an inversion of hierarchy? Yes, a certain element of rapport is essential between the cricketers and the support staff and more between the captain and the head coach but can that be the over-riding theme in the selection of an individual, assigned to mentor a team? The past throws up a few details like when the senior group of Kumble, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and V. V. S. Laxman were informally consulted on coaches by the BCCI when it was scouting for candidates. But even in those days, coaches were given time to deliver their promise, a long rope was given. And even that group of distinguished cricketers never had a veto on the coach, like the power that Kohli now seemingly wields.

Kumble, while leaving, remarked that his relationship with captain Virat Kohli had become “untenable.”   -  PTI

Kumble’s exit is truly unprecedented in sport at large. Nowhere has a coach been forced to leave despite ushering in good results over a period of one year. The point is, dressing rooms or locker rooms witness frayed tempers at times. John Wright once held Virender Sehwag by his collar, but the emotional angst ebbs away, and the team and coaches rally around that one idea that drives them – a collective performance that yields a triumph. But now with Kohli and reportedly a few other players playing a hand in forcing Kumble out, it reveals the scary truth of a captain wielding excess power. It surely is not a healthy environment for a squad to function.

It also sends out a message to those who seek to succeed Kumble — toe the captain’s line or be prepared to be ejected. It is not a good thought to have. Coaches are supposed to think about enhancing the skill sets of their wards and help them focus on winning games. Instead if coaches end up worrying about their position and longevity, they are bound to be yes-men to the skipper and they will not hold a mirror to the leader or the team at large. A squad can get delusional if the coach just follows the path laid by the captain.

Kumble is a legend and in scalping him, Kohli has diminished his own stature. It might suit his interests for now, but posterity might have a different story to say.