So, just when we thought everything was hunky dory for Indian cricket (on the field), just when we thought the Virat Kohli era is underway as a well-oiled machine, a not-so-unfamiliar controversy has started brewing. The proverbial can of worms was opened last week when the BCCI surprised most people by issuing an advertisement for the post of India’s head coach. Most assumed that Anil Kumble, the incumbent for the past year, would continue holding the fort.

And the speculation started as “sources” started popping out left, right and center with stories about Kumble’s role in the negotiations of pay-rise, soon followed by reports of a rift emerging in the team between captain Virat Kohli and Kumble, bringing back memories of the Greg Chappell saga.

So what gives?

The reasons Kumble should stay

On paper, without paying heed the stories doing the rounds, there is absolutely no doubt that Kumble deserves an extension if he wants it. Here’s a man who is respected universally in the cricketing world, not just for his exploits as a player but for his administrative and mentoring skills as well. The numbers, which are perhaps the only “source” to believe right now, don’t lie. This is how India have fared.

  • Test matches: Played 17, Won 12, Lost 1, Drawn 4 
  • ODIs: Played 8, Won 5, Lost 3  
  • T20Is: Played 5, Won 2, Lost 2, No result 1   

That’s a win-loss ratio of 3.12 in the 30 matches that Kumble was at the helm. No, try as hard as you might, there cannot be any reason to fault that record.

The other reason for Kumble’s extension would be the stature. He is India’s all-time leading wicket-taker in Tests. He is an acclaimed captain. He is a bonafide legend. This is something that the players have repeatedly pointed out over the past few months. Ashwin called it a match made in heaven. Kohli spoke about how Kumble’s presence has helped him channel his aggression. If there really was a rift brewing underneath, the players hid it magnificently well.

Another standout feature of Kumble’s stint has been the way he and Rahul Dravid, the India A and Under-19 coach, have functioned in tandem. Dravid, who has been reluctant to become the head coach, found a role perfectly suited for him – mentoring youngsters. That in turn provided Kumble with a constant supply of talent, every time the team needed. Jayant Yadav, Hardik Pandya and Kedar Jadhav are just a few names that have benefitted from this chemistry between Kumble and Dravid. The latter is one of the names rumoured to be a potential option to replace Kumble, but as the saying goes, why fix something that is not broken?

The case against Anil Kumble

This is where the argument moves from solid facts to possible theories. The first, and most obvious, theory that came up was that the powers-that-be at the BCCI did not take too kindly to Kumble’s handling of the pay dispute. If he did have a fall out with the BCCI, it was perhaps still a salvageable situation. After all, the decision about his extension is at the hands of the Cricket Advisory Committee (Tendulkar-Ganguly-Laxman, of course) – the men who appointed Kumble at the first place. The BCCI might have been upset, but they were pretty powerless in the whole issue. The ball remains very much in Kumble’s court.

But if it went farther than that, if players were telling the Committee of Administrators, that they are finding it hard to work under Kumble, the argument turns upside down. In fact, the news of a rift between Kumble and Kohli just won’t stop.

Firstly, there is the challenge for Kumble to win back the trust of the players. The cycle begins all over again. The platform built over the past year becomes non existent. Should the players have such control over the appointment of the coach is a question Indian cricket has asked many a time in the past and the answer has almost always ended up in favour of the men who don the blue or whites for the country.

Is all well between Anil Kumble and Virat Kohli? Image credit: PTI

It’s perhaps a reflection of how Indian cricket team has functioned over the past, that the moment there is a hint of player unrest the coach is under pressure. If indeed there is a rift that has developed between Kohli and Kumble, the latter’s position becomes untenable. Kohli’s preference takes precedence and the moment that happens, Kumble, sadly, would be the one making way. Perhaps not his fault, but sadly, the only feasible solution.

Writing for ESPNCricinfo a year back, Ian Chappell touched upon the banana-skin that is the post of the Indian cricket head coach. He said: “If Kumble decides to continue in the role there’s a chance he’ll find out if India treats its coaches differently to star players. If there are hiccups along the way, will there be the same reluctance to sack a luminary coach as there is to demote a star player?”

We’ll soon find out.