Rediff.com’s Harish Kotian checks out what may have caused the breakdown in the Virat Kohli-Anil Kumble relationship and looks at the way forward for Indian cricket.
While the focus is on cricketing action as Team India begins its Champions Trophy campaign on Sunday, there is high anxiety about how the Virat Kohli-Anil Kumble tangle plays out off the field.
In recent days, the Kohli-Kumble rift has attracted more attention than the Indian team, currently preparing for their high-profile tournament opener against Pakistan at Edgbaston.
For a combination that worked like a well-oiled machine and played a major part in the Indian Test team’s ascent to the top after five consecutive series victories, the rift comes as a big surprise to the cricket fraternity.
Going by Kumble’s track record over the last 12 months, irrespective of what happens in the Champions Trophy, the legendary spinner’s contract extension was considered a formality.
But the Board of Control for Cricket in India’s sudden move on May 25, a day after the team flew to England for the Champions Trophy, to invite applications for the head coach’s post stunned everyone who loves Indian cricket.
There was some consolation for Kumble as he was given a direct entry in the selection process, but the BCCI action clearly indicated that the board is seeking other options for the high-profile job.
The Champions Trophy is likely to be Kumble’s last assignment as the coach following talk that his relationship with Kohli has hit rock bottom.
What caused the breakdown in the successful Kohli-Kumble relationship?
Kohli is apparently unhappy with Kumble’s ‘overbearing’ style of functioning. It all started during the Test series against Australia over left-arm spinner Kuldeep Yadav’s selection.
Kohli did not give in to Kumble’s suggestion that Yadav be included in the side for the third Test in Ranchi.
And when the skipper sat out the fourth and final Test in Dharamsala after an injury, Kumble persuaded stand-in Captain Ajinkya Rahane to include Kuldeep in the playing eleven. This apparently did not go down well with Kohli.
‘We believe the people in the corridors of power have been told that Kumble is overbearing and doesn’t give freedom to the players,’ a BCCI official told The Hindu.
Kumble’s former teammates Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and V V S Laxman form the BCCI’s Cricket Advisory Committee which will take a decision on the new coach’s appointment.
It remains to be seen if the trio give in to Kohli’s demand and not give Kumble an extension.
Some senior players in the Test side are believed to be supportive of Kohli and have expressed their displeasure over Kumble continuing in the hob to BCCI officials.
‘Barring a minor miracle, I don’t see Kumble continuing,’ a source in the know of things told the Indian Express.
The Mumbai Mirror newspaper reported on Thursday that relations are so strained that Kohli walked out on Kumble during a practice session in Birmingham.
Kumble’s exit will make his former team-mate Virender Sehwag the frontrunner for the job after it was confirmed on Thursday, June 1, that the swashbuckler had applied for the post.
Sehwag has been mentoring the Kings XI Punjab in the Indian Premier League and has a good rapport with Virat Kohli during their stint with Delhi in domestic cricket.
Ravi Shastri, Kumble’s predecessor who was controversially denied the job last year, has not applied this time around.
“He was not happy with how he was treated last time,” a source said, indicating that Shastri’s sparring with Ganguly over the selection process left a bad taste in his mouth.
Kumble is expected to meet with BCCI Joint Secretary Amitabh Chaudhary and General Manager (Cricket Operations) M V Sridhar in Birmingham and likely to convey his decision of not wanting an extension of his contract.
If the BCCI decides to pick an experienced coach, then someone like Tom Moody, who has shown his pedigree with Sunrisers Hyderabad in the IPL, could come into the picture.
For the second successive year, India’s tour of the West Indies will see a new coach in place.
Twelve months ago, it was Anil Kumble. The next few days will indicate who begins his reign in the Caribbean.