Barely hours after India’s gut-wrenching semi-final loss to New Zealand, reports of unrest within the Indian dressing room began doing the rounds. These have gone on unfettered for over a month now and suggest that skipper Virat Kohli and his deputy Rohit Sharma do not see eye to eye, especially the former’s treatment of our bowlers in the wake of the team’s defeat against England.
Immediately thereafter, reports came thick and fast of a split captaincy with Rohit leading the team in shorter formats and Kohli holding forth in Tests, just as Anil Kumble and MS Dhoni did some years ago. The skipper was even supposed to sit out the West Indies tour with Rohit and Ajinkya Rahane leading the two teams. However, all of a sudden, things changed and Kohli was back in the limelight (and the lead).
After repeated denials of any rift within the team from a bevy of officials, support staff and analysts, Kohli himself attempted to set the record straight suggesting that there was no dissent in the dressing room. He called it “baffling and ridiculous to read such reports” and underscored the fact that without great camaraderie there was no way the Indian team could’ve produced results over the past two years.
“I will tell you something, if I don’t like a person or am insecure you will see it on my face or from behavior towards him. I have always praised Rohit Sharma whenever I’ve had an opportunity. It’s baffling where these rumours are coming from and am not sure who is benefiting from all of this,” Kohli said, perhaps overcompensating for his silence leading up to the press conference.
A word on Instagram or a comment on Twitter when Rohit first unfollowed Kohli and then Anushka Sharma would have sufficed. In fact, if anything the skipper’s spouse caused a further flutter when she in turn unfollowed Rohit and his wife on social media and followed it up with a cryptic message, “A wise man once said nothing. Only truth can shake hands with silence in a mess of false appearances.”
The comment was read as an indirect message to her husband’s detractors in the team. There were also reports that the BCCI, which has been floundering like a rudderless ship ever since the Committee of Administrators began administering it, reportedly asked a senior player to post an “All is Well” message via his social handle and said player refused.
So for Kohli to suggest that he has been praising Rohit whenever possible comes across as a case of overcompensation of one’s stance at the crease to counter the swing. It can serve no purpose save queering the pitch for both the captain and his deputy at a time when India is embarking on an important tour to determine the Test Champion, while also preparing for next year’s T20 World Cup.
In fact, this writer went through each of Kohli’s post-match comments during the World Cup and came across one that appeared to suggest more than what was said. After India’s first match against South Africa, Kohli said, “At no stage, he felt like he was going to throw it away. He played the perfect innings for that kind of a situation and that kind of an attack,” he said of Rohit’s century.
Do we read a tinge of the back-hand here? Was Rohit supposed to bat at a frenetic pace, which is what the top-3 Indian batsmen have done over the past two years? Or are we reading too much into a comment that was meant to warm the cockles of the one commented upon? Possibly the latter!
One feels that if the BCCI was run by one of the erstwhile Corporate Satraps, they would have handled the situation better. They would have impressed upon Kohli that the best way to handle such a crisis, if at all it exists, would be to call the person over for a family lunch and talk it over. Perhaps a word of apology or a comment or two about acting in the heat of the moment would have been a better solution – one that would have kept dressing room secrets firmly secured behind closed doors.
Instead, on this occasion, the BCCI first leaked the information that Kohli may not hold the customary captain’s briefing before the team departs on an overseas tour and then got the captain to face up to questions about the supposed rift. And true to form, Kohli once again over-compensated with his defense, leaving the media with more questions than answers.
With the CoA definitely not geared to handle such crises, it may also have been a better idea for the coach to step in and call the aggrieved parties over for a drink maybe. Because everyone agrees that Ravi Shastri’s forte is man-management and not strategy, for which he has two assistants. Maybe the coach could have used his Mumbai connect with Rohit to smoothen out any rough edges.
Ironically, the coach used his most aggressive commentator’s voice to pooh-pooh all talk of a rift at the press conference, forcing Kohli to overcompensate.
Maybe, it is time that Ravi Shastri realized that not everyone is a Tilak Raj, the bowler off whom he smashed six sixes in an over to equal Sir Garfield Sobers’ record in January 1985. Sometimes, offense is not, in fact, the best defense.
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