Virat Kohli’s widely anticipated press conference on the eve of the team’s departure for the three-Test series threw Indian cricket — reeling under unsavoury controversies in the past few weeks — into greater turmoil.
High drama had preceded the press conference. Kohli, who had announced that he would relinquish the T20 captaincy prior to India’s disastrous showing in the World Cup, was also stripped of the ODI leadership as the BCCI decided to pursue the split-captaincy model.
Rohit Sharma, India’s outstanding batsman in the past couple of years, with excellent credentials as captain in the IPL (five titles for Mumbai Indians) and whenever he’s led the Indian team in Kohli’s absence, was given the assignment for both white-ball formats.
Not an entirely unexpected move considering Kohli’s failure to win a single ICC tournament, compounded by a protracted lean patch which has seen him go without an international century for over two years. In the same period, Rohit has gone from strength to strength in every format.
So far so good. But the narrative took sudden twists and emerged as soon as Rohit was announced captain for the ODI series in South Africa. Shortly after, Rohit was declared unfit for the Test series because of a hamstring injury. A day later, rumours started swirling in the environment that Kohli would be unavailable for the ODI series because of his daughter’s first birthday.
Stories about strained relations between the two biggest stars currently in Indian cricket had been going around for a couple of years. It appeared that the purported conflict had now reached flashpoint. Kohli’s press conference, it was thought, would shed light on recent developments in this soap opera. Instead, it turned out to be dramatically different.
Kohli not only promised wholehearted support for Rohit as white-ball captain (and coach Rahul Dravid), but when asked about the whys and hows of the white-ball captaincy that had been taken away from him, turned his sights to debunk statements made by BCCI president and former India captain Sourav Ganguly on the issue.
Ganguly had claimed a couple of days earlier, when the controversy over the white-ball captaincy was brewing, that he had spoken to Kohli about not giving up the T20 captaincy. However, in the press conference Kohli, without naming Ganguly, said nobody from the BCCI had spoken to him about this.
Ganguly had also said that the ODI captaincy and the need for one man to lead in white-ball cricket, had been discussed with and explained to Kohli, who denied this. Kohli said that he got to know of the split captaincy decision only an hour or so before the Test squad was chosen by the selectors.
What was confounding about Ganguly’s statement was that had Kohli not resigned from the T20 captaincy, he would have been captain in all formats as earlier. Did this mean that Rohit’s elevation to the top job in T20 and ODIs was by default and not merited? This seemed harsh on a player who had performed wonderfully as batsman and captain whenever he got the chance.
Moreover, why Rohit was not appointed ODI captain when he was given charge of the T20 team? If the BCCI wanted the split captaincy model, why wait for four-five weeks and announce this with the selection of the Test squad?
It must be remembered that Ganguly was drafted into taking a public position by the BCCI only after the backlash over the insensitive manner in which the transition of the ODI captaincy had been revealed — a single stony para in the press release announcing the Test squad. Ganguly’s job was damage control after social media went ballistic at the slight to Kohli, which went completely awry.
It could be that grave misunderstandings arose between BCCI president and Kohli because of massive lapses in communication but the latter’s statements in the press conference set the cat among the pigeons. Ironically, this face-off is between two feisty individuals, similar in approach, who also happen to be two of India’s most high-achieving cricketers.
The question being asked now is who from the two is being economical with the truth. But the crux of the matter, in my opinion, is how the BCCI functions. Had it been less opaque and not prone to needless obfuscation, such problems would not arise.
For instance, why was the change in T20 and ODI captaincy not discussed by the chairman of the selection committee with the media? What is there to hide? This can be extended to several other issues where the Board has preferred stony silence leading to speculation, often wild, instead of providing clarity, however prickly the process.
There’s a lesson there somewhere. Sadly, it has come at the cost of Indian cricket’s image being sullied.
Ayaz Memon is an Indian sports writer and commentator
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