History, it is said, repeats itself and in Indian cricket it was yesterday once more as Virat Kohli is dumped from white ball captaincy almost as unceremoniously as Sourav Ganguly was sacked in 2005 amid a raging row with Greg Chappell, the then Team India Coach.
The Ganguly saga had underlined those hasty decisions do not present a pretty picture about the inner workings of the world’s richest cricket board. But at the end of 2021, we seem to be back to square one as the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) shocked the cricketing world by axing Kohli and handing over the One Day International (ODI) reins to Rohit Sharma.
The abrupt manner of the decision has created a serious question mark over India’s ‘tryst with split captaincy’. As leadership for different formats is recast, and dressing room dynamics change, a fierce debate has erupted over the cricketing logic behind the move and the unseemly mode of discarding a captain who has India’s best win-loss record and is possibly the finest batsman of his era.
The BCCI has justified Kohli’s removal by arguing that it wants complete separation of leadership in red and white ball Cricket. Ganguly has gone on record that BCCI had requested Kohli not to quit as T20 Skipper but he chose to go ahead with his decision. In the end, the selectors took a call and decided to appoint Sharma as the new ODI and T20 captain.
In looking for cricketing logic behind the move, it is obvious that though Kohli has a splendid captaincy record, he has no International Cricket Committee (ICC) trophy against his name. The loss in the 2019 ICC ODI World Cup coupled with the recent flop show in the T20 ICC World Cup led to growing pressure for Kohli’s removal from the top job.
The dip in Kohli’s batting form also didn’t favour him. Over the past two years, his average has come down and he failed to score a single century. Ex-coach Ravi Shastri has, of course, defended Kohli’s lean patch, citing bubble fatigue.
It’s also being argued that some players had trust issues and communication gaps with Kohli. Hence, Rohit Sharma was deemed a better option as he has a history of guiding younger players and is a proven leader for Mumbai Indians in the Indian Premier League (IPL). Also, when given a chance to lead India, Rohit has done well, leading Team India to 8 wins in 10 ODIs and 15 wins in 19 T20Is.
Beyond cricketing logic, however, is the unsavoury way in which Virat has been publicly sacked. Unlike the T20I captaincy change, where the announcement came from Kohli, citing his workload, the ODI leadership switch is solely a BCCI decision. While quitting T20I captaincy, Kohli had expressed his desire to continue to lead in Tests and ODIs.
The ODI captaincy change could easily have been handled with more grace and professionalism. Whatever the politics in the dressing room or in BCCI corridors, a terse one-liner in a media release is no way of taking away leadership from one of the legends of the game.
Transparency has always been an issue with the BCCI and the opacity over dumping Kohli seems almost a recipe to create discord and disharmony. Besides sacking Kohli, the BCCI made no mention of his achievements as an ODI captain and it took the board honchos almost 24 hours to even put out a tweet thanking Kohli.
Ironically, this sordid drama is playing out at a time the BCCI President is Ganguly who himself suffered at the hands of Chappell. Surely, he could have intervened and ensured a dignified exit for Kohli is a query that disturbs most cricket lovers.
Split captaincy, at best of times, is a tricky prospect. Australia and England have succeeded as their white-ball captains play no role in Test cricket. But both Kohli and Sharma will play together in all three formats. Balancing personal equations and egos is bound to be a tough task. What the two will be grappling with is a case where they will be receiving commands in one format and be the commander in another. The Kohli-Sharma duo will need to show the kind of maturity which ensures that they play under each other without ever permitting their egos to come in the way of team goals.
Will split captaincy work for Indian cricket? The jury is still out on that key question but the BCCI may have queered the pitch by its daft rather than deft handling of Kohli’s removal.
For the moment, the BCCI has made Rahul Dravid’s coaching assignment a lot tougher. In the interplay between Kohli and Sharma, Dravid will have to play a critical role as a buffer along with being an affectionate, even-handed elder statesman in this period of transition in Indian cricket.
(Siddhaarth Mahan works as an actor in the Hindi film industry. He tweets @Siddhaarthmahan)
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