Virat Kohli
Screengrab from Virat Kohli's press conference in which the star player revealed that there was no communication from the country's cricket board on ODI captaincy call Image Credit: ANI

Uneasy lies the head that doesn’t wear the crown. Virat Kohli though has shown that in the Chinese whispers that is Indian cricket these days, he will play with a straight bat.

In a press conference — a rare event in the country these days — he has cleared the air over recent issues that have highlighted how it is anything but cricket. Virat said that while he isn’t playing musical chairs with Rohit Sharma, BCCI giving him a 90- minutes notice and sacking him is exactly how events unfolded.

The test captain has also put the ball in BCCI’s court by refuting board president Sourav Ganguly’s comments that he was asked to stay on as the T-20 captain. On the contrary Virat says his decision was accepted without any hesitancy, “I was never told not to give up T20 captaincy” he clarified as an Indian board realigned by default or otherwise to the thinking around split captaincy. Dada on his part is replaying a part of history that he was infamously part of when he was himself unceremoniously sacked.

To back up, Virat Kohli was recently removed as the captain of the ODI team in a last line blink and you will miss it, BCCI communique that was released to announce the squad for the South Africa series.

File image of Virat Kohli Image Credit: AFP

The test captain also dismissed reports that he asked to be rested, instead confirming his availability for the one-day internationals, a team that will now be led by Rohit Sharma. The new white ball captain on his part is injured (yet again) and will not be able to play the three tests under captain Kohli but his hamstring injury we are told will be fine by the time the ODI series rolls in.

Is Indian cricket in a crisis? It is unlikely, but all does not seem to be well and Kohli’s contradiction of Ganguly has only compounded the ambiguity the cricket board confidently thinks it can always get away with. It is an open secret that BCCI as an organisation is a closed book.

There is a toss-up on what makes more eyebrows rise — between lack of accountability and BCCI communication — both are like cricket on a rainy day at Lords. Instead over the last many weeks information from ‘sources’ have been periodically leaked as though BCCI just discovered an alternate art of storytelling.

Murmurs of a rift between Virat and Rohit are as new as Prashant Kishor in politics but on the rare occasion that BCCI addresses the issues, it leaves others to clear the ball from around the wicket.

Virat’s press conference though shows, the real rift lies somewhere else. India’s best batsman says he is tired of answering the same question while promising his “full support and cooperation” to Rohit.

Resurrection of an age-old discord

But the media has found its moment and the unfolding events are being likened to another rivalry from the past. Many minutes of prime time are being filled with the resurrection of an age-old discord between the Haryana Hurricane Kapil Dev and the little master, Sunil Gavaskar.

Superstars and egos don’t really need a deep dive into Freud and only those playing gully cricket will presume that everyone in a team is a BFF. Sometimes, what happens in the dressing room should stay in the dressing room.

Kapil and Gavaskar though brought us the 1983 World Cup. For now, an ICC trophy has been a long time coming and the BCCI would do well to address the concerns. For starters, it needs to communicate, especially when the senior most player of the team contradicts.

More on the issue

If nothing else, the one thing cricket teaches is timing and this controversy comes just as the team gets ready to depart for the South Africa tour.

Virat Kohli and Ravi Shastri were a coterie that ruled Indian cricket for a long time but by staying lonely at the top. Over time the team selections and the unstructured manner in which they often unfolded became controversial as the captain forgot the first rule — every player however great will one day take the last walk to the pavilion.

In cricket, the rise is sometimes quick, but the fall is almost always quicker. Under the charmed spotlight of power and popularity, it is easy to forget that what comes around, goes around. If a Kohli can replace MSD, then a Rohit can also take over from a Virat.

But nothing justifies the way Virat Kohli was sacked as the captain. Anyone who has held that post deserves the respect of being asked to leave with dignity. “The chief selector (Chetan Sharma) discussed with me the Test team, to which we both agreed.

And before ending the call, I was told the five selectors have decided I will not be the ODI captain, to which I replied, ‘OK, fine’. In the selection call afterwards, we chatted about it briefly. That’s what happened. There was no communication before that at all.”

A press conference before a tour usually talks business, but Virat Kohli has instead opened a pandora’s box. The eyes will also be on another person, someone who at the best of times prefers to let only his work do the talking. New coach Rahul Dravid may have been left wondering if this was also in his coaching memo.