June 1, 2017

It's bigger than Kohli v Kumble

The question that arises from the fallout is: should players' personal likes and dislikes influence who gets to be coach?

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BCCI secretary "not aware" of team's discontent with Kumble

A battle that has broken in the Indian camp is likely to produce no winners. It is certain, however, to produce rumours, half-truths, intrigue and innuendoes, and those will do no credit to Indian cricket or the men involved.

A breakdown of the relationship between the coach and the captain is invariably unsettling for the team, but when the names involved happen to be Anil Kumble and Virat Kohli, the reverberations are inevitably far more severe.

At best, there can only be damage control from here. But no happy pose of rehearsed bonhomie or joint press conference can completely reverse what has been unleashed: of all things, a breach of trust is the hardest to mend.

About the discontent, there is no doubt - ESPNcricinfo has the story confirmed from multiple sources - but it's puzzling how it got to be like that.

The previous coach for whom the words "headmasterly" and "intimidating" were used was Greg Chappell, and the year 2007 was among the unhappiest for the Indian team. But unlike then, there had been no indications of simmering dressing-room tensions this time.

It is no secret that Kumble has championed the cause of Cheteshwar Pujara, and apparently there have been differences of opinion too about the inclusion of Kuldeep Yadav in the Test team

On the face of it, Kohli's grouse would seem baffling. Few Indian cricketers in recent memory have been as fiercely committed to a regimental work ethic and personal discipline than Kohli himself, and it is often suggested in jest that many of his team-mates have taken to eating Japanese cuisine following his abstinence from Indian delicacies. It would seem odd if Kumble's insistence on discipline and fitness was a bugbear for Kohli.

Kumble is a titan of the game who represented India with a giant heart and ferocious pride, and Kohli's passion and commitment towards dragging Indian cricket forward is unquestionable. It is reasonable to assume that there are differences in temperament and over some nuts and bolts of team and player management and the odd selection issue. Indeed, it would be a surprise if two strong-willed and high-achieving individuals agreed on every single matter.

There is no doubt that it is the captain who leads the troops to battle and the players who ultimately deliver the outcome. Because so much of the decision-making takes place on the field, the role of the coach in cricket is far more peripheral than in most other team sports. And it is inevitable in a dressing-room tussle that the coach is more dispensable than the captain. In the coming seasons, India will depend more on the might of Kohli's bat and leadership abilities than the back-room support, however vital, of a head coach.

However, the question before the decision-makers of Indian cricket is not merely whether Kumble, whose tenure ends with the Champions Trophy, should continue. The larger question is whether the coach must rely on the sanction of the captain and senior players, and whether his survival be dependent on staying in the good books of a powerful few?

The captain is certainly the boss on the field, but should he also be allowed to decide how the coach functions? © PTI

There is no doubt that a coach's position becomes untenable if he loses the dressing room, like it happened with Chappell, but it is also not helpful if he becomes subservient to the wishes of the captain.

Since neither Kohli nor Kumble has spoken in public, it is impossible to comprehend the exact details of their differences. Some selection issues have been spoken of. It is no secret that Kumble has championed the cause of Cheteshwar Pujara after he was benched on the tour of the West Indies, Kumble's first series as coach, and apparently there have been differences of opinion too about the inclusion of Kuldeep Yadav in the Test team. It has also been suggested that some players haven't taken kindly to the rigours they have been put through to prove their match readiness while returning from injury.

But speculations can create only more mistrust. Already, there is the question of timing. It is unfathomable why the matter wasn't raised and addressed immediately after the Australia series. Even if Kumble hasn't been the ideal coach and it was in the best interests of Indian cricket to move on, the idea of advertising the position a week before the Champions Trophy and then the news coming out that the Indian captain wasn't enamoured with his methods has, for all purposes, reduced Kumble to a lame-duck coach. The embarrassment apart, it feels disrespectful.

It is perhaps now left to the men who appointed Kumble in the first place to inject some sanity into this difficult situation. Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman have been left with the task of making a reassessment of the decision they made a year ago, and they must do so forensically, without their judgement being clouded by the personalities involved. Kumble has been their long-time comrade, and it is understood that Kohli has spoken to a couple of them in person.

But they have only one question to ask themselves: irrespective of the results achieved during his tenure, did Kumble perform the job in the manner envisioned? They must then objectively assess Kohli's concerns and speak to as many players as they need to. The broader issue is neither about Kohli nor Kumble, who might not even want the job now. It is about setting some markers.

Players are the most important members in a cricket team, but the future of a coach must not be hostage to personal likes and dislikes, or clash of egos. A dressing room is healthy where there is openness and honesty, and ideas are discussed and challenged in the right spirit. It's helpful if the coach is popular with the players, but it isn't essential.

Kumble's future with the Indian cricket team isn't moot anymore, but it would be a pity if he was to be a victim of the superstar syndrome. It would set a terrible precedent.

Sambit Bal is editor-in-chief of ESPNcricinfo. @sambitbal

Comments have now been closed for this article

  •   Narendra Kv on June 5, 2017, 13:49 GMT

    A coach is doing his job, if he can help deliver results. A good mentor does not always say what his wards like to hear. If the accent is on results, this ego clash should not be encouraged. End of the day, neither Kohli nor Kumble can play for Pakistan

  •   cricfan54815731 on June 4, 2017, 19:25 GMT

    should players' personal likes and dislikes influence who gets to be coach? The answer Sambit is absolutely YES ..The job of the coach at international level is more of a friend and a mentor than being a school teacher who teaches the people ..Can Anil Kumble iron out technical difficulty in Kohli's batting? Can he teach Umesh Yadav how not to bowl to leg side . Thats setting unrealistic and stupid expectation from a coach . A coach has to understand the strength and weakness of a plyer and know how to get the best out of his player .Understand where a player adds more value ...Its important that understanding between players and coach should be amazing ,,Only then can someone add value and take the team forward.

  • aelaya4539127 on June 4, 2017, 10:11 GMT

    its all controversy....indian media needs to somehow stay relevant in cricket unfortunately

  • rob on June 4, 2017, 2:17 GMT

    @ Jose: G'day mate, fancy meeting you here !! I've already said my piece on this but I'd just like to mention something that happened to me years ago that might surprise you. In another life I worked for the Aus government. The feds. At one stage my department went through a series of 'restructures' and I had to apply for my own job not once, but thrice, in a 2 year period. The big difference I guess is that it wasn't just me who had to reapply for their job, it was everyone grade 5 or higher. .. It was a magnificent example of government style 'busy work'. In the end there were no changes that I knew about. Everyone stayed exactly where they started as far as I know :)

  • vinender on June 3, 2017, 22:22 GMT

    I think kohli's attitude will start affecting the other decent personality team mates. He should be sacked as a captain. So other players feel more comfortable. Not a bad idea if Mr. kohli can join anger management course to correct his behaviour. But he is not a suitable guy for captaincy, should be removed.

  • dinesh9557268 on June 3, 2017, 17:54 GMT

    Many here are seen commenting about broken jaw incident, and the fighter spirit of Kumble. Kumble is a legend and a fighter too. But this example was wrong. Performances of both the Karnataka great bowlers in this series was poor. A very weak WI batting amassed huge runs in the first test and thus Captain Sourav was angry. Kumble was replaced by Bhaji in the next two matches. His performance also was not great. So Kumble regained the spot in the fourth test, during which he has broken the jaw and still bowled to ensure his existence, taking the only wicket of Lara, who always failed against India. Don't forget that. Better give examples like 10 wicket vs Pak or series winning performance against England in 1993.

  •   ravi.narla on June 3, 2017, 15:01 GMT

    Who would set that marker. Certainly not Sourav and Sachin coz they themselves did not like Chappel. Coaches job should be like a corporate job. Evaluate the players performance, identify areas of improvement and verify that if the player has improved or not and report that to BCCI apart from setting benchmarks for fitness levels and also impart modern day techniques for the increasingly competitive nature of today's game. If a player is found indisciplined in terms of work ethics then regardless of the stature to the player they should be appraised depending upon that after all nobody is bigger than the game itself. It is a matter of setting the job responsibilities. I seriously wonder why these kind of issues happen in a professional organization. I personally feel BCCI should recruit an EX player with good administrative skills or someone from a management school with a good cricket knowledge to run the office.

  • Pad on June 3, 2017, 13:32 GMT

    Here we go again. Indian cricket is getting in to another phase of one player is getting more powerful and important than everyone else attached to Indian cricket. Lets sit back and watch.

  • oarisu0597211 on June 3, 2017, 12:56 GMT

    Kohli is one of the best batsman in modern cricket, but he is unquestionably a terrible person. I can still remember the look that Kohli gave to a young player after a sloppy fielding in an IPL game this season, after few balls Kohli himself did the same kind of sloppy fielding and he laughed. India should get rid of this guy for the greater good and set an example.

  • Aditya on June 3, 2017, 10:56 GMT

    The head coach and the captain have to have a symbiotic relationship, whereby, both benefit, along with the team. Kohli cannot make the coach function according to himself, and the same goes with the coach. Will Kohli appoint the team to the upcoming West Indies tour, without the selectors? Can he overrule the selectors? Will he coach the Indian Cricket team? Does Kohli feel that he is very big, perhaps bigger than the Indian Cricket team? If Sehwag wants the job of the head coach, then doesn't he feel any reservations about Kohli? If no Head Coach can express reservations about Kohli to the B.C.C.I., being concerned about their own job, then perhaps, Kohli is bigger than his team.

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