“Victory for Virat!”
Tune in to any news channel or go to any online discussion board today, and the talk will all be about how Indian captain Virat Kohli has got his way with Ravi Shastri, officially, replacing Anil Kumble as Team India’s head coach. True, it’s not the world’s best kept secret that Kohli enjoyed working with Shastri. With the former captain as the Team Director, the team was coming along rather nicely before the Cricket Advisory Committee decided to replace Shastri with Kumble, with the BCCI handing him a ridiculous one-year contract.
A hop, skip and a jump later, here we are. Back to square one.
Well, almost square one. Shastri will now be joined by Zaheer Khan as bowling coach and Rahul Dravid as batting consultant for overseas Test series.
The last month has been a bit of a mess in Indian cricket, to put it mildly. Do a quick google trends study over the past month, and one may find that ‘sources close to the Indian team’ is perhaps the most used phrase on the internet, from that evening in May, when the ill-timed advert for the position of new coach came along to now, when we have a replacement. It’s speculation after speculation over what’s been going on behind the doors of the Indian dressing room. Kumble-Kohli rift? Players-Kumble rift? Kumble-BCCI rift? Players-players rift? Advisory committee-Shastri rift?
It’s time to put all that to a rest and move on.
Sure enough, this whole episode has not reflected well on Kohli as a leader. A coup, it seems no less from the outside, to have his way has left the fans a bit disillusioned with the star cricketer who could do no wrong in the eyes of Indian fans in 2016 and early 2017. The runs kept coming, the series wins kept coming. But then, all of a sudden, a public-relations disaster with the ouster of Kumble. To his credit, he has kept his composure in press conferences in the past few weeks, choosing to say very little, lest more damage be done. The team went to the final of Champions Trophy and won a ODI series in West Indies, with all the distractions.
The episode all raises questions on the Cricket Advisory Committee’s responsibilities. The Indian coaching set-up will now resemble the Mumbai Indians coaching set-up now, perhaps.
The futility now lies in debating whether what happened to Kumble was right. It really does not matter anymore. Unlike most other sports, cricket is a captain’s game and not just in India. The sooner the fans make peace with the fact that, the easier it is. What’s happened with Kumble was perhaps not justfied, but won’t matter in the grander scheme of things.
The caveat? Results.
Moving forward, it now comes down to how the team does on the field. Cricket fans, like sports fan in general, are a myopic lot. While what’s happened in the past few weeks has brought down the image of Kohli as a captain worth rooting for, a leader worth following to battle with, the coming months will determine how his reputation evolves. Nothing less than a series win in Sri Lanka – the team that just lost an ODI series against Zimbabwe – would do.
If and when Australia come visiting for ODIs and T20Is, will be a chance to make a statement. But the true challenges await when the team goes to South Africa later this year, Australia and England soon after. Shastri was already part of a Test series defeat in Australia, when the Kohli era started taking shape. The team earned a lot of praise despite the 2-0 defeat, and an improvement on that would signal that Kohli has truly arrived. And any success in England, given the recent results there, will be opened with welcome arms. With Zaheer and Dravid on board too, the scrutiny on results will be higher than Indian cricket is normally used to.
That’s all it comes down to, really. None of this drama would matter then. On the flip side of it all, however, Kohli would do well to understand that, if the results do not follow, vitriol will.