What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? The age-old paradox that has seamlessly slipped into pop culture over the years has witnessed good humoured conjecturing over the ultimate outcome of this fascinating conundrum. It’s not incorrect to say that one may have witnessed the above figurative phenomenon in the form of the recent Anil Kumble-Virat Kohli spat in the realm of sport.
When Anil Kumble was appointed as the head coach of the Indian cricket team in 2016 amidst much fanfare, the aficionado in me salivated at the prospect of what the pugnacious former test captain could bring to the table. With the Indian cricket on the upswing under the fiery leadership of Virat Kohli, the team’s future appeared to be in safe and more than able hands. Performances soon justified the promise as India went about surgically eviscerating the likes of West Indies, New Zealand, England, Australia and Bangladesh in test matches over the next 11 months.
All appeared to be hunky dory as the team continued to scale heady heights across all formats; achieving a level of noteworthy consistency in terms of selection, performance and results. The Kumble-Kohli partnership appeared to be at the forefront of this new-found renaissance and a positive brand of play. The Indian team arrived on English shores with a spring in their step for the Champions Trophy 2017 as defending champions. The stage was set, preparations were in place, spirits were high and expectations were realistic. In essence, all was well. Or was it?
What began as a harmless murmur about an alleged discord between the coach and the captain at the start of the tournament, gradually metamorphosed into the proverbial unavoidable elephant in the room fuelled by an unrelenting rumour mill eager to breach the sacred confines of the dressing room. Despite this major distraction, India did manage to reach the finals only to capitulate at the hands of an inspired neighbour. An unfortunate result but a commendable campaign nevertheless. It ensured that the average cricket connoisseur was taken on a quintessential emotional roller coaster ride; replete with the crests of exhilaration and the troughs of despair. While Kohli put up a brave front and credited Pakistan for being the better side, Kumble chose to vent his ire behind the scenes; berating the side for surrendering far too tamely. According to insiders, this was perhaps the hair that potentially broke the camel’s back.
What transpired over the next few days post the sobering defeat constitutes a massive blemish on Indian cricket. As it turned out, the rumours surrounding the tenuous relationship between Kumble and Kohli were well founded and matters had come to a head. Equipped with the uncomfortable knowledge of his untenable relationship with the skipper and the slim possibility of a contract extension; Anil Kumble chose to take the moral high road; tendering his resignation in a press statement that reeked of hurt and disappointment. One couldn’t help but feel sorry for the man who once famously donned the white flannels for the country with a broken jaw and a steely resolve in the Caribbean. In an already flawed system that deifies individuals to ridiculous levels and rewards nepotism, the ugly machinations of Indian cricket have seemingly claimed another victim.
Ramachandra Guha; an erstwhile member of the Committee of Administrators (CoA) appointed by the Supreme Court to legally refurbish the functioning of the BCCI; had alluded to the ‘superstar syndrome’ that pervades Indian cricket in his resignation letter back in May 2017. With Virat Kohli seemingly throwing a temper tantrum akin to a petulant child and paving the way for Anil Kumble’s unforeseen exit; Guha’s astute observation has received further credence. This ‘my way or the highway’ approach sets a dangerous precedent and fosters a general air of fear and insecurity propagated by the more influential faces in the dressing room; inimical to the long-term interests of Indian cricket.
One can profess to be an armchair expert and indulge in variegated speculation about the causative factors behind this unfortunate scenario, but that would be a waste of time. The truth is that in Anil Kumble; India had an astute taskmaster who took his job seriously and perhaps didn’t allow his wards too many off-field liberties. Something that clearly didn’t sit well with certain members of the squad.
In Virat Kohli, India has an audacious leader who hates failure and defeat more than he savours success and victory. On paper, it seemed to be a great match but eventually turned out to be a case of ‘two likes repelling’ each other. Kohli may continue to taste success on the field but his behaviour in this regard has lost him a great deal of credibility and goodwill while Kumble can consider himself hard done by. Whatever be the case, an alliance that promised the stars has crashed and burned into the earth like a meteor… leaving behind a crater of rancour, embarrassment and uncertainty.