The cricket establishment in India has an unhealthy respect for reputations.
Sachin Tendulkar and Kapil Dev were allowed to retire when they wanted.
And captains have played beyond the stage of being automatic picks, notes Suhit K Sen.
When push came to shove, the decision to appoint Rohit Sharma as captain of India’s One-Day International squad for the South African tour was the right call.
Despite all the controversy swirling around, what Virat Kohli undeniably needed was the time and energy to concentrate on his batting, especially in Test cricket.
Kohli hasn’t scored a Test hundred in over two years, which has taken in 14 Test matches and 25 innings. He has averaged around 26 in that period.
In fact, since his century against Bangladesh in November 2019, Kohli hasn’t scored any international ton.
His performances in ODIs and T20 matches have been adequate without being spectacular.
In all this while, the three other top-drawer batsmen in international cricket — Australia’s Steve Smith, England’s Joe Root and New Zealand’s Kane Williamson — have been piling on the runs in Test cricket.
We all know Kohli is in that bracket — he just needs to focus on his Test batting.
That concentration is the big problem is evidenced by the fact that he gets the starts more often than not, but fails to convert them into epic knocks.
Having put the decision itself in perspective, we can go on to the manner in which it was communicated — to Kohli in the main, but also to the public at large.
So, to the facts as we know them. On December 8, the selection committee announced that Sharma would replace Kohli as captain of the ODI squad.
The team was slated to, and did, depart for South Africa on December 16, where they will first play three Tests under Kohli’s captaincy and then three ODIs under Sharma.
At the time of the announcement, the public was given to understand that the decision was made in consultation with Kohli and was prompted, at least in part, by his decision in September to relinquish the T20 captaincy.
The underlying logic was that the same person should be captain in both the white-ball formats of the game.
On December 9, Board of Control for Cricket in India (President Sourav Ganguly released a statement saying that Kohli’s reluctance to lead the side in the T20 format had compelled the selectors to relieve him of his ODI captaincy.
He went on to claim that the board and the selectors had asked him to rethink his decision to step down, but Kohli had not been inclined to reconsider it.
Ganguly also said that Chetan Sharma, chairman of the selection committee, and he himself had spoken to Kohli.
‘The picture was made clear to him… we explained the vision to him,’ Ganguly had said.
So far, so all right. The picture, however, changed on December 15, the day before the team left for South Africa.
Kohli addressed a press conference at which he squarely contradicted Ganguly.
He said that when he had informed the BCCI about his decision to quit the T20 captaincy, it had been well received as a ‘progressive step in the right direction’ and he had not been told to retain the T20 captaincy.
He also said that no one had spoken to him about their ‘vision’ with regard to the limited formats of the game and, damningly, that he had been informed about the captaincy decision at a meeting of the selection committee at which the Test squad was being chosen.
He had been asked to join the meeting an hour-and-a-half before its commencement. In other words, the captaincy issue had been decided unilaterally.
Clearing up the issue of his availability for the ODIs, he clarified that he had not asked for a period of rest in January and was available for selection.
As for playing under Sharma, he had said, ‘I am tired of clarifying doubts on my relationship with Rohit.’
After the press conference, there were obviously numerous inquests into the affair in the media.
Someone had to be found to carry the can for the controversy. Well. Kohli’s position is unexceptionable, so Ganguly is the obvious culprit.
First, there was no need for him to release a statement on the issue at all.
If clarifications had to be made, the selection committee could have done the job. Ganguly had been completely gratuitously trying to spin the story.
That having been said, some commentators have accused the Indian selection system as being arbitrary and prone to carrying out hatchet jobs on captains.
That is a pie-in-the-sky allegation. If anything, the cricket establishment in India has an unhealthy respect for reputations.
Thus, Sachin Tendulkar and Kapil Dev were allowed to retire when they wanted. And captains have played beyond the stage of being automatic picks.
The Australian model is more ‘meritocratic’. When a captain stops performing, he should be taken aside and told to step down, or else.
Makes things simpler and less messy.
Feature Presentation: Rajesh Alva/Rediff.com
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