New Delhi: The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), the world’s richest, is at risk of no longer looking invincible. It is currently beset with a host of needless issues. And at the heart of it is the board president Sourav Ganguly—a former Indian captain—who is being pulled hither and yon. The burning issue revolves around a proposed move to shift (read, sack)Virat Kohli as captain of one format of the game and select a new captain. Everyone expected the BCCI head, a former Indian captain, to handle the twin issues with calm.
After all, it’s all about a captain and his exit. It had to be handled with honour, ostensibly because in India not a single cricket captain has ever been granted space or freedom to exit on his own. This time many hoped it will change because at the head of the board is a former cricket captain, an iconic figure.
But it seems to have worked the other way.
Now, Ganguly and Kohli are contradicting each other. It has gone to such an extent that the BCCI president is being labelled a liar. Worse, Ganguly is taking refuge behind the board saying the matter will be resolved by the board itself and there should not be any speculation in the media. What Ganguly did not say was the fact that he and his supporters had realised that the image of Indian cricket and the controlling authority, the board—powerful enough to dictate world cricket calendar and rights money disbursals—could no longer take any further beating of its image. So, the BCCI refused to go along with the temperamental cricketer, and will not take any call about Virat Kohli but hold it for a while.
Other top officials of the board also felt any decision to remove Captain Kohli in the middle of a series in South Africa could prove disastrous, especially if Kohli cracks a few centuries and wins the series against a relatively weaker South Africa.
This is not all.
The BCCI top brass is also aware that Kohli is at an advantageous position because he came to address a presser organised by the board and did not call a presser on his own. So thought the board leadership, it would be better to leave Kohli for the time being.
But the manner in which the decision to sack Kohli from ODI captaincy was handled and the way the top man approached the highly sensitive issue was certainly not cricket.
Kohli decided he wanted to give up T20 international captaincy because of workload, and the BCCI remained silent. India crashed out of the T20 ICC World Cup, and it was then the selectors decided they didn’t want two white-ball captains. They gave ODI captaincy to Rohit Sharma and announced the decision with a one-line statement without giving any reasons. The one-liner was disrespectful to Kohli, a cricketer who has a win record touching 70% in ODIs. Probably, his detractors in the BCCI underestimated Kohli’s 45.3 million fan followers on Twitter, not to mention his 173 million followers on Instagram.
And it was only after the entire BCCI (including those who disagreed with the president) was mercilessly trolled on social media that the board on 9December2021put out a “Thank You Captain” tweet. Ganguly then weighed in on the issue after a day and said they had asked Kohli not to step down as the T20I skipper. He said there was a Zoom call and some of the top brass of the board were present. The selectors, tellingly, remained silent. Some media reports said Kohli was given 48 hours to take a call. Another report said Kohli, and the selectors had clashed and there was a crisis in the dressing room as well. There was confusion within the huge community of cricket lovers in India, confusion all round.
The BCCI, strangely, made no official statement in the hours after announcing the change in captaincy. Nor did it deny Kohli’s alleged rift with the selectors. Kohli stayed quiet and did not make a statement on his various social media handles. He waited for the pre-departure press conference ahead of the South Africa tour. As the Test skipper, he knew he would have a chance to clear the air. He did exactly that.
On 16 September 2021, Kohli posted a message on social media that he will be stepping down from India captaincy in the T20 format. “Understanding workload is a very important thing and considering my immense workload over the last 8-9 years playing all 3 formats and captaining regularly for the last 5-6 years, I feel I need to give myself space to be fully ready to lead the Indian Team in Test and ODI Cricket,” he said.
Now read the last line carefully and Kohli’s emphasis on test and ODI cricket.
And then, the BCCI issued a statement. It also had Kohli’s statement from Twitter added to the end.
Now, cut to 8 December 2021.
The BCCI issued a statement announcing the Test squad to face South Africa in South Africa. And in that, as a footnote, a line reads: “The All-India Senior Selection Committee also decided to name Mr Rohit Sharma as the Captain of the ODI and T20I teams going forward.”
So, what changed from Kohli clearing time and wanting to lead the team in two formats, and the board endorsing it, to him being relieved from captaincy in two international formats?
There was confusion in the middle, left and right.
A website rightly said: “Sourav Ganguly’s communication model is a bit of a disaster. He speaks when it would have been better for him to keep quiet and goes mum when he actually has to do the talking!”
Another news portal quoted a senior BCCI official as saying that Kohli and Ganguly had no communication outside the official platforms. “The Indian skipper even put Ganguly’s number in the block list at one point,” said The Probe in a report.
Look at the way the confusion started. When Kohli was removed from ODI captaincy, BCCI president Ganguly said he had asked Kohli not to quit T20 captaincy. But Kohli was specific about stepping down from T20 captaincy and did tell the BCCI top brass that he would like to continue as skipper in the remaining two formats (tests and ODIs).
Yet, Kohli clarified in a press conference on the eve of the team’s departure to South Africa that no one, not even the Board president, spoke to him on captaincy issues or his availability to play under Rohit Sharma.
All hell broke loose.
Cricket cognoscenti said Ganguly should have remembered what happened to him during the Zimbabwe tour when he was asked to step down by coach Greg Chappell. He had waited to get a century after two long years and then, he used a press conference to launch a vicious attack on Chappell. Seniors in the team, reportedly, told Ganguly not to make team meeting discussions public, but it would appear that former skipper Ganguly did not listen.
Ganguly should have realised his public comments about Kohli were in bad taste and reflected a deficit of trust, especially around the time when a tour was to start. Cricket veterans in India are also wondering why the selectors made changes when there has been no ODI cricket in the recent past and the T20 decision was already made for the board?
Worse, the odds were stacking up against Kohli as well. He hasn’t scored a century in the last 53 innings, or since November 2019, in a two-day Pink Test against Bangladesh. He was an inspirational skipper for everyone till the time runs were being scored. But as soon as he hit a lean patch, everything turned upside down.
Many also did not like his unpleasant comments to the hard-working BCCI secretary, Jay Shah, who had stepped in to defuse the situation after the WTC final. Kohli, claim many, has often rubbed many BCCI officials the wrong way. When selectors tried to contact Kohli in England over the phone to discuss the replacement needed for India’s senior squad in Sri Lanka and about vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane battling a hamstring injury, Kohli didn’t take the call on the pretext of babysitting. And the same was conveyed to the selector to call in the morning.
The selectors were shocked. The selectors also did not like Kohli’s decision to keep India’s best spinner Ravichandran Ashwin out of all the four test matches played in England. Sources say there was no pressure on Kohli to quit T20 captaincy, but that the captain felt the heat, read the undercurrent correctly and announced his resignation to defuse the tension.
The Ganguly-Kohli “match” seems far from over, despite efforts by the BCCI leadership to defuse tensions.Stuck in the middle are millions of fans, for whom cricket is more than religion. They are, sadly, finding the game inside the 22 yards and outside boundary ropes, very, very different from what is expected of the “Sport for Gentlemen (and the equally peerless Gentleladies)”.