Captaincy conundrum: Testing times ahead for Virat Kohli

#IPL, #Mumbai Indian, #Virat Kohli

(Image: Instagram/virat.kohli)

So, after the Indian T20 captaincy, Virat Kohli has finally decided to quit the captaincy of IPL team Royal Challengers Bangalore as well. Many would argue — and perhaps rightly so — that the decision has come a little too late and that, too, when the captain was literally left with no option.

The moment Kohli decided to announce that the upcoming T20 World Cup in the UAE was going to be his swansong as India captain in the shortest format of the game, it was inevitable that he would do the same in the IPL. After all, what is the point of inviting scrutiny in a format and in a role in which he has already decided to walk away from the highest challenge, which, of course, is leading the national team.

And what is the point of even trying to prove oneself better than Rohit Sharma in the IPL, where it is simply impossible to do a catch-up job since no one can realistically target five title wins in the IPL in the next 7 years. If all goes well, the Mumbai Indian skipper may well add one more to his already crowded IPL-trophy cabinet.

Some former players, including Sunil Gavaskar and Sanjay Manjrekar, have wondered about the timing of the announcement, just ahead of the resumption of the 2021 IPL season. But Kohli has done the right thing. At least, if one tries to contextualise it in the backdrop of what has been happening behind the curtains in the power corridors of the BCCI.

Sensible decision

The logic and intention behind both decisions (giving up the India T20 captaincy and IPL captaincy) are based on similar assumptions as far as eventual results are concerned. If his team wins the title, it is a fitting finale and sort of ticking the one box that Kohli has been desperately missing in his CV. If he again fails to win a trophy, critics and fans won’t be asking for his head and Kohli will bow out on his own terms. It will be a huge relief in those circumstances.

In hindsight, Kohli could have timed his decision better. Had he announced the IPL captaincy decision along with his first announcement, it would have made more sense and would have dispelled any conspiracy theories that suggested that he was being nudged by the BCCI. Last week, his argument of keeping himself fresh and unburdened did sound hollow as he was still going to play as a batsman in the T20 format for India and was going to captain RCB in future as well.

Many critics, including this writer, had wondered aloud that if Kohli was so keen on prioritising his batting, why hadn’t he first moved away from the RCB captaincy, which is more taxing than his duty as India’s T20 skipper? While the Indian team usually plays around 10 matches in a calendar year, an IPL season, on an average, consists of at least 15 matches in just two months. Of course, one can always say that the move of quitting the RCB captaincy is better late than never.

Not quite the king anymore

The days of complete dominance over every cricketing decision in Indian cricket are a thing of the past for King Kohli. The proverbial wheel is slowing turning full circle. Just a couple of years ago, the then BCCI CEO Rahul Johri would ‘consult’ Kohli even on the colour of the tiles being used in some building at the National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru. Now, the BCCI is not even on the same page with the captain as far the future leadership of other formats is concerned.

Kohli’s ‘self-appointment’ to the ODI and Test captaincy in his official statement was met by Jay Shah’s statement that ‘Virat will continue to contribute as a player and as a senior member of the side in shaping the future course of Indian cricket. Mark the choice of the words ‘senior member’ and not captain!

“Historically, every Indian captain enjoys the backing of the board as long as he is scoring heavily (or taking wickets in big numbers, in the case of a bowler). But the moment a captain goes through a relatively longer bad phase, and if there are options, he is going to be under pressure,” explains former Mumbai Ranji captain Shishir Hattangadi, now CEO of Baroda Cricket Association. Gavaskar’s one-time opening partner for the Mumbai Ranji team, Hattangadi doesn’t mention Kohli by name, but his meaning is very apparent.

Enter, Anil Kumble

Many people were surprised that former India coach Anil Kumble is also suddenly back in the hunt as the next head coach of the national team. But those who closely follow the BCCI’s functioning know that timing is everything. Kohli’s popularity is definitely not at its all-time high at this stage and if the BCCI indeed wants him to quit the ODI and Test captaincy on his own, what could be a better move than to bring in Kumble (his bete noire) as head coach!

And, do not for a moment dismiss it as a mere media conspiracy theory. The BCCI, under any regime, has never appreciated a very powerful captain. The comeback of Romesh Powar as women’s team coach earlier this year after his ugly spat with then captain Mithali Raj is perhaps an example for everyone that the current regime may also not have forgotten how an iconic player like Kumble was humiliated in his first stint and hence a proper and fair course correction is required.

It simply kills two birds with one stone, so to say. While Kumble’s comeback is ideal for such a transitional period in Indian cricket where both the white ball and red ball captains are 32+, a new and young captain like KL Rahul or Rishabh Pant may need a guardian-like coach in Kumble. The presence of Kumble is also likely to soothe the nerves of seniors and juniors across formats since he is widely respected. During his time as a senior player, Kumble never had any issues with a strong personality like Sourav Ganguly or legends like Sachin Tendulkar or Rahul Dravid.

Not only that, he was immensely respected by young players like Harbhajan Singh, Yuvraj Singh, Virender Sehwag and Zaheer Khan, among others.

Kohli may have relinquished the captaincy in the shortest format of the game but he is going to face many challenges inside and outside the dressing room to retain his ODI and Test captaincy. It will be a test of his patience and resilience.

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