June 22, 2017

We need to hear Kohli's side of the story

Now that we've had Kumble's perspective on why he left, we need to know why the captain felt the coach wasn't right for India
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Sometimes, just for fun, it is worthwhile going back to things people have said. Especially famous ones.

On June 3, not long after the first reports of a rift with coach Anil Kumble emerged, Virat Kohli was in hack-slaying mode.

"There are no issues whatsoever," he insisted ahead of his team's first clash against Pakistan. And then he offered some advice.

"All I can say is, if you do not have the knowledge about something, do not spread rumours, do not speculate, and focus on the cricket."

Once warmed up, he took a borderline below-the-belt swipe: "In a tournament which is so much in focus, lot of people like to find rumours before the tournament. They are trying to do their job and get their livelihood. We will focus on our livelihood."

A shrug was all that was needed, instead Kohli chose to let it rip. Three weeks on from that bombast in Birmingham, it turns out it all wasn't just rumour after all. Understandably, with a big-ticket tournament to play, Kohli wasn't going to fan the fires of a simmering rift with his coach. But now that assignment is complete and the captain and coach have boarded flights heading in opposite directions, setting off a rampaging storm in their wake.

Since news of Kumble's resignation broke on Tuesday evening, the narrative on mainstream as well as on social media has been overwhelmingly supportive of the deposed coach. Sunil Gavaskar laid into the players for expecting a "softie" for the role, someone who would "let them go shopping". Irate tweeters have demanded Kohli be sacked too. TV pundits have hollered about the limits that must be placed on the powers of a captain. And speculation has been rife about cliques and vested interests that have forced a legendary figure out. Kohli has essentially been accused of staging a palace coup.

Quite clearly, the obvious fallout is in terms of precedent. If Kohli - and several players in his team, as we are now hearing - have successfully evicted a man of Kumble's eminence, how must his successor operate? Will he be in any position to confront the captain on issues such as tactics, playing XIs, fitness, player management and so on, if he happens to disagree? Will he be reduced to being a mere rubber stamp to the whims of a captain riding a surge of success and firmly established as the leader of the pack? If so, then why will any self-respecting individual want the job? As a former cricketer texted me: "What is it that you are seeking - loyalty or quality?"

It isn't rocket science to deduce that Kohli was angered by Kumble's methods. But was he also convinced those methods were detrimental to the team's progress?

Kumble's own statement after he stepped down is revealing. While gracefully conceding that once the "misunderstandings" became impossible to resolve, it made his and Kohli's partnership "untenable", he reiterated his formula as coach unapologetically. Some of it may come off as glib corporate talk, but like most things Kumble, these are considered words, based on a firm belief system.

"Professionalism, discipline, commitment, honesty, complementary skills and diverse views are the key traits I bring to the table," he said. "These need to be valued for the partnership to be effective. I see the Coach's role akin to 'holding a mirror' to drive self-improvement in the team's interest."

Read between the lines and it is an indictment of the captain. Kumble saw himself as a disruptor; his job was to challenge and drive players to improve and make the most of all their talents and skills. He wasn't in the dressing room to win a popularity contest. In essence Kumble is saying that once he started to "hold up the mirror", it enraged some of the men who looked into it. Hence, what Kumble considered discipline was regarded as "headmasterly". What he called commitment was viewed as "intimidation". The rupture was inevitable.

It isn't rocket science to deduce from this sequence of events, and the dribbles of information trickling out, that Kohli was angered by Kumble's methods. But was he also convinced those methods were detrimental to the team's progress? Were they impeding the players' development as professional athletes? The results over the last year would suggest otherwise but it would be simplistic to view the contribution of a coach merely through the prism of results. As Abhinav Bindra, the Indian Olympic shooter, pointed out on Twitter, he stuck with his coach for 20 years though he "hated" him. Why? Because he told Bindra things he did not want to hear.

Look at Bindra's CV for evidence that there is merit in an elite athlete having someone around who pushes his buttons. It can be enraging and frustrating but the reward is in the outcome you seek.

The proverbial ball is now firmly in the court of those who run Indian cricket. Their first move must be to unshackle Kohli and let him communicate his point of view with the cricket public. While Kumble has spoken through a fairly detailed statement, the reasons for Kohli's discomfort with Kumble have only emerged via sources and assumption.

If they weren't in sync, it's about time we were told why © Getty Images

There can be no doubt that the stakes are enormously high for Kohli. He will know that from where he sits, this is a public-relations disaster. Kumble is a widely admired figure, and as has become clear, enjoys the goodwill of a large section of the cricket community. Kohli, on the other hand, has now added greater heft to the narrative that portrays him as arrogant and brattish. If his team starts to flounder - and on overseas tours the challenges will be sterner - the conversation will return to his high-handed manner in ensuring Kumble's exit. The cricket media now has a reference point to turn to, and Kohli will understand that he will inevitably be portrayed as a villainous figure who waylaid a great man while seeking a yes-man.

As an unabashedly ambitious captain and batsman, it is certain Kohli has targeted overseas series wins in South Africa and England next season, and in the 2019 World Cup. How did he come to be convinced Kumble wouldn't be an ideal ally in accomplishing those goals? We often hear that a winning team is a happy team, then why is it that after their combination delivered so much success in these last 12 months, there were rumblings of discontent? In what ways was Kumble "overbearing"? Why was the dressing room "intimidated" by his presence? In every interview he did after being appointed coach, Kumble insisted the captain was the boss of a cricket team. Did he not actually operate by that dictum?

Details of specific events will, of course, remain private, as episodes in change rooms must, but an overview of the concerns that led to this breakdown must be provided. After all, to the outsider, Kumble appears to have done nothing wrong. Unlike some coaches in the past, he did not seek the limelight, he wasn't given to leaking team secrets to friendly journalists, and his cricketing acumen is not in doubt.

When he was appointed, Kumble was considered the perfect match for Kohli. Both driven, passionate men, eager to achieve lofty goals. Why, then, has Kumble been cast aside in a year?

To keep Kohli's side of the story under wraps is no longer an option. On June 3 in Birmingham, he produced a combative performance that we know now wasn't entirely reflective of the realities of his team's backroom. It is now time to let the convictions he stood by be shared with the world at large. At stake is the reputation of the eminence of Indian captaincy.

Gaurav Kalra is a senior editor at ESPNcricinfo. @gauravkalra75

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Heramb on June 25, 2017, 5:26 GMT

    @ALEXK400 Completely agree with you that 'star' Indian players do not like to be told,which is a significant bane of the popularity of the game with the amount of money through commercialization of the game engineered by the BCCI. It is the performance of Team India that matters and not the tantrums/presence of 'star' players.India it appeared handed the CT to Pakistan through a lackluster performance resulting in a massive defeat that hastened the exit of an unwanted Kumble. Not too convinced about the commitment of current Indian players to the performance of Team India as IPL seems to be their top priority.Players like Rohit Sharma unfit through a majority of India's 2016-17 home season after the home series against NZ, was fit to lead Mumbai Indians in IPL 10.Speaks volumes about where the priorities of Indian players lie similar to their Caribbean counterparts though the lack of money in WI cricket compels cricketers like Dwayne Bravo to make the choices they ultimately have made.

  • Ashok on June 24, 2017, 23:41 GMT

    While Kumble-Kohli split has got all the attention, the Indian Women's team showed their skills by beating England on their own back yard. To be quite honest, when success goes to one's head, they lose their ability to distinguish between Right & Wrong. Cricket is a Team sport. The Team members & all the Coaches must learn to get along with each other to keep the entire team as a successful unit. In any top organisation there are differences of opinion between many top level executives on a daily working basis. They resolve their differences by talking & discussing. Did Kohli ever go to Kumble with his opinions about what He or players like changes in his approach? Had he done so Kumble would have adjusted his approach. Fastest & easiest way to resolve a conflict!. Take the example of Indian Women's team- so much talent yet until last year they had no contracts. They are paid <1/10 of Men's contracts yet there are many super stars in the Team. Humility is a Virtue.

  • Alex on June 24, 2017, 20:22 GMT

    I think i am close to pin point the real reason kumble had to drop out. Kumble had his vision and try to implement in hard nosed way. He even pushed certain players ignoring kohli's objection. Captain is responsible for win or loss in the field ultimately. Kohli felt coach is interfering in captain's area. He needs players who he can trust. Inorder for coach to get his point across , he needs to communicate not force it like my way or no way. But kohli could n't act on that until he gathered enough support. Kumble did that with every players dictating how they should train and get fit and play his way. This did not sit well with players. Indian players do not like to be told. Especially star players. They are here because of their past achievement. The whole kumble and kohli saga may not be personalities but due to lack of man management skill on part of kumble. Kumble had grand vision and wanted to implement it and did n't care much about players thought. CAC guys are incompetent.

  • Bhaskar on June 24, 2017, 15:25 GMT

    I am not siding with both Kumble or Kohli. Kumble was a hard task master who did not gel properly with new age players other than his pupil Ashwin. Kumble is not a cool person who can be treated as a friend by the cricketers, he has always maintained a strong identity as an intelligent & bookish person.

    Kohli became a villain for the way he conducted himself after the champions trophy defeat when facing the media right after the match, this really has planted seeds of doubt on him why his motive was more to teach Kumble a lesson than win against Pakistan. I admire Kohli for the way he goes for wins even when all lose hope, Adelaide test when he captained for the first time is an example. He has never feared a chase but that Kohli was seriously missing in the final. It looked he was happy to be a loser.

    I have never known any school where the pupils select a teacher, this should always be the case in the team also. Do not bring Dhoni back as captain, time to chase out Yuvraj.

  • Jon on June 24, 2017, 15:09 GMT

    How can Kumble fall out with a man of such integrity and honesty respected by other cricketers not just as a cricketer but as a man. Kohli is the Justin Bieber of cricket and he deserves the respect that is due.

  • Heramb on June 24, 2017, 14:54 GMT

    @HARROWXI Completely agree.Lost respect for Kohli and feel deep inside that I cannot forgive him for completing the hat trick of follies by Indian captains in ICC events.@GAURAV Umesh in place of an out of form Ashwin would have been a better choice for the final against Pakistan but the same Umesh did not cover himself with glory during SL's successful highest run chase by any team in the CT. Kohli does not seem to prefer Shami much whom I regard to be the best among current Indian pacers though with suspect fitness-a critical factor that goes against Shami. So the premise of Kohli supporting Shami does not really hold water.Have mentioned earlier as well how Kohli's penchant for pace in the Ranchi Test against Australia converted a near certain Indian win that would have given India the series, into a honorable fighting draw for Australia but also kept the series alive. Kohli's absence in the decider in Dharamsala contributed to India regaining the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.

  • Gaurav Sethi on June 24, 2017, 8:42 GMT

    Why was kumble forcing kohli to play certain players in 11? Clearly the was Kohli has supported Umesh and Shami even on Indian dust bowls suggest that he wanted to have Umesh and Shami in 11 of champions trophy. But Kumbles love for a spinner Ashwin was just uncalled for.

  • Heramb on June 24, 2017, 8:14 GMT

    @ALEXK400 Having seen Kumble & Kohli as players,as a fan, felt that the fault lies with Kohli and not the other way around. Kohli may be a world class player(Nobody denies that) but not all world class players may turn out to be equally good captains. Sachin Tendulkar is one such example though tough tours of SA & WI in 1996-97 in his 1st year as captain were certainly a trial by fire as captain for one of the greatest players the game of cricket as seen.A lot of current Indian players prefer to play the IPL and miss international matches for India to 'rest' as was chosen by MSD on the 2008 tour of SL after the maiden IPL. Kumble rightly showing the 'mirror' to a number of senior players must have irked them indicating a distinct lack of interest to improve among the current lot of players-a factor that led to Kumble's exit as head coach. Kohli's poor captaincy was clearly evident in India's Ranchi Test against Australia that ended in a draw from a winning position for India on Day 4.

  • Alex on June 24, 2017, 6:07 GMT

    Its more like Whole team side of story not just kohli. if only kohli is against it , BCCI would easily replace kohli with rahane or rohit. it is just that simple. Kohli win all those games in india not kumble. without kohli big inning india would have lost the series and aussie series as well. So people who try to say kumble is a success have flawed thinking, CAC already made one mistake and they try to double down by extending a guy who is unfit to be coach. A coach must give some thing. Kumble never helped another soul in his whole life.

  • james on June 24, 2017, 5:19 GMT

    I can only wonder if the tenure of Ravi Shastri as "Director/Manager/PR rep" had cultivated an ego pandering team culture. Great to have a bombastically confident team culture if it produces results on field. However even seasoned pros can use some sober analysis and straight talking. Doubtless Kumble was still developing his skills in the role as a coach. Seems to me he hurt someones ego in the process. Going to be a hard role for any coach now.

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