Anis Sajan, Neelesh Bhatnagar, Shailendra Rughwani and K.S. Parag are businessmen with a difference. While they successfully conduct their business in the UAE, their heart follows Indian cricket everywhere. And their passion for the game is reflected in their strong views on Virat Kohli’s captaincy, his resignation drama and the future of Indian cricket. They shared the views in a video chat with Gulf News. Here’s an excerpted report.
The ODI loss in South Africa
Virat Kohli has been the most successful Indian cricket captain across all formats. So it was not surprising when Anis Sajan, Neelesh Bhatnagar and Shailendra Rughwani made a passionate case for the return of Kohli as captain for the Tests and One-Day Internationals. But K.S. Parag argued that change is inevitable, and a captain who is not winning should step down.
All of them agreed that the treatment of Kohli at the hands of the Indian cricket board has been shabby. A player and captain of his stature deserved better, they said.
Anis Sajan felt that the absence of Kohli at the helm has started to affect India adversely. He said the national teams without Kohli as captain can only be bad for India. “It’s the beginning of the downfall for India,” the Danube vice-chairman said, pointing to the 3-0 ODI rout in South Africa.
“They [South Africa] probably had only three experienced players. Barring Rohit Sharma, India had everyone in the team but were soundly beaten,” Anis Sajan said, adding that players were going through their motions. “Under Kohli, players gave 100 per cent. Kohli was a player who gets under the skin of the opposition, and he looked out of sorts.”
Shailendra Rughwani agrees. “Right now, there’s a mess. Kohli leaving Test captaincy is a massive loss for Indian cricket. So a lot of problems have come together. Rohit has been announced as captain for one-day cricket, but he’s prone to injury. What happens when he’s not around? Who captains then?” He asks. These are valid questions, but Neelesh Bhatnagar says four or five players captaining teams in the IPL (Indian Premier League are already playing for India.
“Rohit Sharma is older than Kohli, so it’s not a futuristic decision,” said Bhatnagar, founder, managing director and CEO of NB Ventures. ”[India] should get somebody who can be in the job for four to five years. That decision could have been possibly taken with the next World Cup (to be held in India) in mind. Maybe they could bring Rohit [Sharma] for the World Cup and look for somebody younger after that,” he added.
Rughwani insists they [captains of IPL sides] may be capable players, but we don’t know their capabilities [as captain]. Captaining IPL teams or captaining in leagues in India is different from captaining the Indian Test team. BCCI should sit with Kohli and convince him to continue as Test captain, the chairman of Experts Group of companies said.
“Right now, no one was groomed to take over. Like how [Mahendra Singh] Dhoni identified Kohli as his successor and groomed him for years. There is no second in line [for Kohli]. His longtime deputy [Ajinkya] Rahane is not sure of his place in the team. Rohit is 34, and we don’t know how long he will play all three formats. Since Rohit is a white-ball specialist, it’s better he focuses on it. And for Tests, Kohli should come back, groom a future leader, and be allowed to step down in a befitting manner,” Shailendra Rughwani added.
That found favour with Neelesh Bhatnagar, who wanted the BCCI [Board for Control of Cricket in India) to reject Kohli’s resignation. “It was the egos of people at the BCCI that prevented them from persuading Kohli from resigning. There should be procedures for a captain to resign but not through social media posts.”
Was Virat Kohli forced to quit?
But K.S. Parag has a contrasting view. Although the founder and managing director of First Video Communications holds Kohli in high regard, he felt that a captain should step aside when the team start losing. ”Why are we keen on keeping a legacy figure? We [India] went to South Africa saying we are going to win the series 3-0, and we lose the series 2-1. Virat Kohli has to step down as captain, and he steps down.”
Is it too much to ask of a captain to win? That seems to be Parag’s question. BCCI pays one of the highest salaries in the world to Indian cricketers. “Three of them are paid 11 crore rupees [110 million, i.e. Dh5.4 million] a year, that’s almost one crore a month. And the others earn around seven crores a year, which is a good amount of money. When we are paying so much money, why can’t we as a nation ask for results, for wins? I’m not here for Virat Kohli or Rohit Sharma, I’m here for a clear win for India. So if Virat Kohli loses a series, he steps down. And if Rohit Sharma loses a series, he steps down.”
Parag refused to read anything more into it. And he called for fresh blood to rejuvenate Indian cricket.
Here’s how he put it: “We are supposed to have [organised] so many IPLs and [have] so many cricketers. Let’s bring young talent…We need to bring younger cricketers. They will lose. They will learn from experience, but they will come up.”
To illustrate his point, Parag pointed out the Sri Lankan purge after the 1987 World Cup when they lost all the matches. “The Sri Lankan board fired all the players, retained only two and said we would win the 1995 World Cup. They groomed the team for eight years and won the World Cup. That’s what India should look at.
“India cannot afford eight years. We have to look at the 2023 World Cup. A series may be a disaster, but the experience will help the team. They have to learn from failures…We have to make sure that we are sharper, better, smarter and more efficient, Parag said.
“We have to stop living in the legacies of players. Dhoni won us the 2011 World Cup, and I will bow to Dhoni, but 2015 should have been his last World Cup. Dragging on till 2019 was not required. And when players’ careers drag on, it will affect the team.
“We were expected to win the 2019 World Cup. The hype was that Kolhi will run bare-chested across Lords. We didn’t qualify for the final; we didn’t win the semifinal. When something like this happens, why is that a nation of more than a billion people cannot take the right decision? In business, when a leader is unsuccessful, we tell the CEO to step down. The CEO of the team is the captain, and he has to learn to step down and give way to someone who may fail but will learn from it.
The Rahul Dravid debate
“I have the greatest respect for Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma, but today I want an India which wins: a clear outcome-based India — not living in the legacies of Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma. I don’t mind if it’s Rishabh Pant or KL Rahul; they may fail today, but they will be successful tomorrow,” Parag added, saying that he has immense faith in Rahul Dravid.
“I have the greatest respect for Dravid as the coach. That’s the best decision BCCI has taken. He will change the team,” the managing director of First Video Communications said.
But Neelesh Bhatnagar strongly disagreed and said it was a very big mistake to appoint Dravid as the coach of the senior team. Although Dravid was doing a brilliant job of developing the colts (under-19 players), mentoring them and rectifying their technique, the qualities required for the senior team are very different, Bhatnagar said. “The role of the coach is to motivate the team and raise the passion of the players to a level that they hate losing (Like Shahrukh Khan in the movie Chakde India). That’s the job of the coach, which Ravi Shastri was doing brilliantly,” he added.
Elaborating on that, Bhatnagar said: “The combination of Shastri and Kohli took the passions of players to a high, and suddenly we have a combination of Dravid and KL Rahul who are both very sober and quiet. That has taken away the enthusiasm and passion from the dressing room. Dravid is a misfit for the senior team but a brilliant coach for the junior team.”
Neelesh Bhatnagar’s view on Dravid was shared by Anis Sajan, who said he’d been a defensive type of player. “In Test cricket, he might bring value to the team. But the coach of the senior team must be a motivator like Ravi Shastri. You cannot be a headmaster. Shastri and Kohli were aggressive and looked the opposition in the eye. Even MS Dhoni, except for winning the World Cup, has not won a series abroad. Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and Mohammad Azharuddin haven’t won a Test series abroad, except in England,” the Danube vice-chairman said.
A case for two coaches and two captains
So if Dravid makes for a good Test coach, how about different coaches for different formats? “Just like two different captains for white-ball and red-ball cricket, why can’t we have two different coaches?...BCCI should consider the possibility of having different coaches for different formats,” Bhatnagar said.
Parag was quick to back Bhatnagar. So did Anis Sajan.
Although Parag wasn’t disappointed at Kohli stepping down as captain, he said: “We will see a better batsman in Virat Kohli.”
Holding out Steve Waugh performances as a batsman and captain, Parag said we need someone like the Australian and Kohli’s batting was weighed down by his captaincy, especially in the last two years.
What’s the future of Indian cricket?
So what does the future hold for India? Three of the weakest Test teams are coming to India: Sri Lanka, West Indies and Afghanistan. Anis Sajan said: “We will win against them on spinning wickets. But in ODI, we will struggle. Rohit Sharma’s credentials in T20 are good, but not in ODIs. So as Shailendra [Rughwani] said, keep the egos aside and ask Kohli to return so that India can win the 2023 World Cup, which are 50-over games. I don’t see any other captain other than Virat Kohli winning the World Cup for India.”
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- One-day cricket losing its sheen against T20 and Tests
What happens if the BCCI does not recall Kohli? Who will lead India? Neelesh Bhatnagar’s pick was Shreyas Iyer for Tests and Rishabh Pant for white-ball cricket after grooming under Rohit. Shailendra Rughwani chose KL Rahul for Tests. Parag wanted two different captains for different formats. “Ideally, Shreyas could be a potential captain for Tests and Pant for white-ball cricket,” he said, adding that if selectors want one, he would prefer it to be Pant. This is to keep an eye on the future.
Anis Sajan insisted that Kohli is the only way to go. “If you want to win abroad and regain the number one [spot], BCCI has to go back to Kohli. If it has to be someone other than Kohli, it must be someone who will be a regular on the Test side. And I prefer a street smart captain, so I will go with Rishabh Pant.”
The push for Kohli didn’t sit well with Parag. “We lost the World Test championship. We didn’t win the 2019 World Cup and the T20 World Cup. Why are you not looking at that? A captain has to win. As a country, we (India) has to stop living in a legacy world," he said.