Ever since the Maharajkumar of Vizianagram, more famously Vizzy, entered the history books for his manipulative and discourteous style of functioning as captain of the team that toured England in 1936, Indian cricket has always suffered from trust deficit and rifts. Money, infinite power due to political contacts, vindictiveness or plain jealousy have hurt Indian cricket time and again but never has it occurred that two talismanic captains have publicly contradicted each other on a sensitive issue like captaincy.
Indian cricket is replete with instances when top officials have betrayed each other, political parties openly aligned themselves with men of their choice, senior players have caused rifts inside the team and captains have clashed with coaches. For the sheer attraction and popularity that cricket has, top businessmen and heavyweight politicians have used the chair of the BCCI president to bolster their public profile but when a former captain tarnishes the lustre of the world cricket’s most powerful seat by uttering something that is perceived as a ‘lie’, then that’s very worrying.
Virat Kohli has always been known for his aggression and boldness. He has been criticised for throwing politeness and courtesy to the winds with his on-field mannerisms. But on the eve of the Indian Test team’s departure to South Africa, a polite and tactically pugnacious Kohli exposed the BCCI for its lack of transparency and poor communication style. More specifically, Kohli called Ganguly’s ‘bluff’ after Rohit Sharma was handed the ODI captaincy in a very surreptitious manner ahead of the India vs South Africa series starting on Boxing Day (December 26) in Centurion.
When a slew of Supreme Court judges, including Chief Justices, reconstituted the BCCI constitution in August 2018, it was largely aimed at giving absolute control to senior cricketers who aspired to become administrators. The new constitution was made to make BCCI more professional and transparent in its dealings and eradicate the influence of politicians and government servants in running cricket, a religion in India.
NOT THE SAME MAN
Sourav Ganguly’s ascent to the BCCI president’s chair in October 2019 was seen as a watershed in cricket administration. It was felt that he will galvanize BCCI with the same brush with which he magnificently made the Indian cricket team a clean, confident and united force to be reckoned with especially on overseas tours. Ganguly was seen as aggressive, intelligent and fair. He led from the front and built around a team of upcoming cricketers who revered Ganguly as a captain with vision. But his stint as BCCI president has been exactly the opposite. Ganguly has been seen as weak and wobbly in dealing with administrative matters. The manner in which he chose to defend Rohit Sharma’s elevation as ODI captain was badly timed. Probably, like most powerful BCCI presidents, he never expected Kohli to come out with his side of the story.
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This has been Kohli’s boldest move ever. To effectively say that Ganguly is lying on removing Kohli as ODI captain is a reflection on how the BCCI is being currently managed. Captains and legendary players have never got their respect from Board mandarins. Ask Rahul Dravid the current head coach. Ask Sachin Tendulkar, the man who has scored 100 international centuries for India. Ask Ganguly himself. Despite being successful as a player and captain, Ganguly needed the backing of BCCI president Sharad Pawar and chief selector Krishnamachari Srikkanth to play his farewell series against Australia in 2008.
Kohli was not wrong in demanding better communication and transparency on his removal as ODI captain. The BCCI thought a footnote in a press release announcing the Test squad to South Africa was enough. Ganguly, who refrains from talking to the media on important issues, opened up to a TV channel saying he had “personally asked Kohli not to step down as T20 captain.” Kohli denied this and on the contrary reiterated that he always wanted to lead in Tests and ODIs and was only told “one and a half hours before the meeting to select the Test team to South Africa” that he would no longer be the ODI captain.
Virat Kohli’s removal as ODI captain is being seen from various angles. Perhaps Ganguly is taking revenge for Kohli not agreeing to have Anil Kumble as head coach and wanting Ravi Shastri instead. In 2017 after the ICC Champions Trophy in UK, Kohli, thanks to the Supreme Court-appointed Committee of Administrators, had prevailed over the Ganguly-VVS Laxman-led Cricket Advisory Committee in getting Shastri as chief coach. Today, Ganguly is president of BCCI and Laxman is head of the National Cricket Academy.
There are murmurs that Kohli will eventually lose his Test captaincy too. This may not be for cricketing reasons alone. Kohli was the only one who was vocal when Mohammed Shami was trolled after India lost the T20 World Cup match against Pakistan by 10 wickets. When BCCI kept mum and other celebrities with large social media followers were ‘diplomatic’ in their defence of Shami, Kohli was more forthright.
"Attacking someone over their religion is the most pathetic thing one can do as a human. That is a very sacred and personal thing. People take out their frustration because they have no understanding of what we do… We stand by him (Shami) 200 per cent. Our brotherhood in the team cannot be shaken,” Kohli said in a press conference ahead of the T20 World Cup match against New Zealand.
Has this honesty come back to hit Kohli? Is Ganguly doing something to please the powers that enable him to stay as president?
These questions will continue to do the rounds. The spotlight will be on Kohli when the Test series starts in Centurion on December 26. Kohli has not scored a century in over two years and he has more than form to handle. A slip-up in South Africa will only give Ganguly & Co. enough rope to engage with Virat Kohli with brutal vengeance.