Kohli versus Kumble: Yet another conflict cycle returns to Indian cricket

Last Updated: Thu, Jun 01, 2017 16:13 hrs
Virat Kohli and Anil Kumble during a net session.

Images Courtesy: BCCI, ICC, AP

In 2007, the spat between former India captain Sourav Ganguly and then coach Greg Chappell brought Indian cricket to its knees as we crashed out in the very first round of the ODI World Cup that year.

Now after exactly 10 years as we begin our campaign to defend the ICC Champions Trophy, another spat has been split wide open and at the centre of it is gentleman head coach Anil Kumble. One hopes that history does not repeat itself and we get knocked out early from the Champions Trophy in England.

I had written last year itself how Kumble had inherited a crown of thorns. Kumble's term began inauspiciously with then BCCI chief Anurag Thakur saying that Rahul Dravid was his first choice.

Former Team Director Ravi Shastri also sulked and doesn't seem to have forgotten his missing that job to this present day. Since then MS Dhoni has quit all forms of captaincy but remains a key senior figure, maybe much more respected than Kumble in the team.

Of course Virat Kohli has inherited the title completely from Dhoni captaining India in all three formats along with the leadership of an IPL team, RCB. With the BCCI leadership in the doldrums after the Supreme Court of India intervened, you could say that Kohli is currently the most powerful man in Indian cricket.

And by all manner of reports, Kohli is totally unhappy with Kumble. While Indian cricket is such that rumours swirl and one never knows the truth of any matter, Kumble right now is not in the good books of Team India.

Reportedly Kohli finds Kumble's leadership style "overbearing" (you can't overbear the most powerful man in cricket) and other players have called Kumble a "headmaster" (not the ideal way to handle the team with the most superstars in world cricket).

In fact, "intimidating" is another word that has been bandied around and there's no way someone seniors MS Dhoni will accept that. There is also suspicion that Kumble leaked details of his conversations with senior players and that is another strike against him.

Kohli and Kumble were also supposed to be at loggerheads over the inclusion of Kuldeep Yadav in the final Test with Australia of the last series. Team India skipper vetoed his name in the third Test and Kumble managed to include him in the fourth Test as Ajinkya Rahane captained it and Kohli was injured.

Interestingly Kohli is supposed to have conveyed his discontent to Ganguly, who had a hand in picking Kumble, and who was at the centre of the 2007 controversy. Ganguly must be feeling a great sense of déjà vu as these "conflict cycles" have become part and parcel of Indian cricket.

However, this time Ganguly is on the side of the management and not the players! Kumble pushing the team too hard and stressing the team out is reminiscent of Kapil Dev going after the players as coach in the late 1990s. That was one of the main reasons why the BCCI decided to do away with the foreign coach and India had a stellar run beginning with Kiwi John Wright and ending with South African Gary Kirsten.

Zimbabwean Duncan Fletcher was a mixed bag. While we did have the 0-8 overseas Test debacle, we still beat Australia 4-0 in Tests for the first time and won the 2013 ICC Champions Trophy.

Chappell also had his positives. Team India saw an attitudinal change in the way players stopped taking their place in the team for granted and we became the best ODI chasers in the world. But now history has repeated itself vis-a-vis the Indian coach: First with Kapil and then with Kumble. So it remains to be seen whether the BCCI will revert to a foreign coach. Especially as Indian players don't seem that keen after what happened to Kumble.

Interestingly, the BCCI seems to have shown interest in Virender Sehwag replacing Kumble, but Viru seems disinterested. Even Shastri and Dravid are totally mum on their willingness to take over from Kumble.

Kumble was already in a controversy even before all this came out in the open. He demanded a salary hike and for some reason the BCCI always feels miffed when such a thing happens. In fact one official is said to have claimed that Kumble was pushing the players to demand a hike, dubbing it a form of "unionism".

In the early 1990s, captain Krishnamachari Srikkanth was summarily retired when he put a gun to the BCCI's head demanding hikes for players. Sure enough the BCCI has already come out with an ad for the next head coach and you should remember that Kumble's contract ends with the Champions Trophy.

Curiously the BCCI has indicated that Kumble may apply again and one doesn't know what to make of it if that's true. Interestingly, the Cricket Advisory Committee (CAC) comprising of Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman will decide again. So technically they can pick friend Kumble again!

The Lodha Committee muddied the waters further by questioning Kumble’s short tenure and asking why the BCCI had come out with an ad to replace him.

But one must say that Kumble must feel quite unlucky. The last one year has been a great time for Indian cricket and we have lost very few matches. Kumble had a short stint with India captaincy and a relatively shorter stint with the Karnataka State Cricket Association.

However all is not lost for Kumble. Media reports suggested that top BCCI officials will be landing in Birmingham and MV Sridhar (BCCI's General Manager, cricket operations) will negotiate talks between Kumble and Kohli in presence of Amitabh Chaudhary and Vinod Rai.

But, if Kumble's tenure ends now, then it would be an unwanted hat-trick for one of the most dedicated players that Indian cricket has ever seen!

The author is a Bangalore-based journalist and blogger. He blogs here

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