Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma
India's captain Virat Kohli (left) and Rohit Sharma. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: It’s not even a couple of weeks since India’s heart-breaking 18-run defeat to New Zealand in the ICC cricket World Cup 2019 semi-finals – but the whispers are growing louder by the day. All is not well in the Indian cricket squad. One section of players are allegedly aghast at captain Virat Kohli, coach Ravi Shastri and bowling coach Bharat Arun. There’s discontent over unilateral decisions and partisanship, over team selection blunders at the World Cup and over benching talents like Mohammad Shami and Ravindra Jadeja during crucial matches. As the Indian cricket board names the squad for India’s series against West Indies, Gulf News dives deep into the storm that’s brewing in the dressing room:

Kohli came back for West Indies tour – and that shows he’s wary of Rohit

By K.R. Nayar, Chief Cricket Writer

The Indian team seems to have been hit by a rift between two super stars – Indian skipper Virat Kohli and opener Rohit Sharma.

Though the team management did their best to keep the news about the conflict between the two stars under wraps during the recent World Cup, soon after the team’s defeat to England as well as New Zealand in the semifinal, it spilled out into the open.

It is now becoming evident that the World Cup was played with Indian team divided into two camps – namely Kohli camp and Sharma camp. There were heavy disagreements on many issues with Kohli and even coach Ravi Shastri having a tough time to sort it out. With Sharma piling up centuries after centuries, the power of Sharma supporters and their views became stronger. Towards the end, especially after the defeat in the semifinal, it had reached a stage of a group mooting the idea that Kohli, who hasn’t won any ICC tournament for India, should step down from captaincy. India’s bowling coach Bharat Arun even admitted that certain players were working as a unit but quickly added that arguments and discussions can happen when taking decisions.

Kohli, who had ensured total control over the team till now, has found himself in a shaky situation after Sharma scored heavily while he did not even hit any century.

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Though Kohli justified his form stating that he could not score a century owing to playing the role of a supporter to others, his view point did not receive the required backing. Meanwhile, a section in the BCCI were also influenced by the demand for split captaincy by suggesting that Sharma should lead India in limited over matches and Kohli’s captaincy be confined to Test matches.

The Sharma group is understood to have been upset at Mohammad Shami being made to sit out for a match, despite being their most successful bowler and Ravindra Jadeja, who proved to be a success through a fighting knock in semifinal, being ignored for many matches.

Soon it has become evident that Kohli does not have the knack to handle super stars in the team, like Sourav Ganguly did with Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Virender Sehwag, VVS Laxman and MS Dhoni in the team. Kohli’s captaincy had thus far gone smoothly as he was the only consistent scorer in the team till the rise of Sharma.

If not for the conflict, Kohli would have taken a break from the West Indies tour.

But now Kohli has ensured that he is available for T20, one-dayers and Test matches – putting the selectors in a dilemma of being unable to give the captaincy to Sharma. The selectors by appointing Kohli for all formats has now bought time because before the series against South Africa in October, Indian team may have new support staff.

However, whether the rift will be sorted out and whether Kohli will be able to keep the captaincy in limited over matches, one will have to wait and watch.

Members of India's 16 member test squad for West Indies tour
Members of India's 16 member test squad for West Indies tour, from left in the top row, skipper Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, KL Rahul and Cheteshwar Pujara; from left in the second row, Rohit Sharma, Hanuma Vihari, Rishabh Pant and Wriddhiman Saha (wk); from left in the third row, Ravindra Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav, Ishant Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah; and from left to right in the bottom row, Umesh Yadav, R Ashwin, Mohd Shami and Mayank Aggarwal, who were picked by the BCCI Selection Committee, on July 21, 2019. Image Credit: PTI

Is Kohli not comfortable with Rohit’s rise?

By Gautam Bhattacharyya, Sports Editor

190716 Virat Kohli
Virat Kohli Image Credit: AFP

Like there is no smoke without fire, it’s quite apparent now that all was not well between the two superstars of the Indian cricket team – captain Virat Kohli and his deputy Rohit Sharma during their World Cup campaign. However, no such episodes of ego clashes in Indian sport – with the exception of tennis icons Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi who came out with their differences in the open – have been dealt with any degree of transparency or efficiency.

While most of their so called differences boiled down to team strategy during the cricket showpiece in England, people in the know feel the recent difference of ideas may have stemmed from Sharma’s tremendous rise in stature in the white ball format in recent years. A much calmer and easy going personality than Kohli, the gifted opening batsman emerged as an alternative power centre due to a number of factors – the weight of runs, a viable option to turn to as captain in shorter formats as well as having three Indian Premier League (IPL) titles at the helm of Mumbai Indians.

It was in Dubai last year where soon after winning the Asia Cup with a team sans Kohli, Sharma had no qualms about admitting to a media query that he was ready to step in captain if the situation presented itself. As the authoritative personality Kohli is, it’s obvious that the master batsman was in no mood to take a step back and allow the Mumbai man to take charge even if for an inconsequential series like the trip to the West Indies. This, despite all the indication earlier that Kohli may join the tour only as captain for the two Tests.

The problem also lies in Indian cricket establishment’s historic apathy towards the theory of a split captaincy – largely for the problems that it may entail. Kohli is the only Indian cricketer to feature in Forbes’ top-100 richest sports personalities – and he clearly benefits in the endorsement sector from the perception of being the leader and top batsman in any form of cricket India may be playing. It will, hence, be quite a different story if there is any other stakeholder – that too on a permanent basis – given the overwhelming number of ODIs and T20s that the Men in Blue play in a calendar year.

The only redeeming feature, however, is that neither of two professionals will ever allow any personal interests to get the better of team considerations.

When Hitman’s batting showed Kohli who’s the boss

By Chiranjib Sengupta, Assistant Editor

India's Rohit Sharma
File photo: Rohit Sharma celebrates after scoring a century during the World Cup match against Sri Lanka at Headingley in Leeds.

When the International Cricket Council (ICC) named their dream team at the end of the cricket World Cup 2019, it had only two players from India – Rohit Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah.

But the absence of Indian cricket captain Virat Kohli from the list of luminaries – which incidentally was led by Kane Williamson – was no accident.

If you look at the record of Rohit (Hitman) Sharma throughout the Cricket World Cup 2019, it will immediately trigger a panic attack for statisticians: a total of 648 runs at an average of 81; five centuries and one half-century; the first batsman in World Cup history to score five centuries in a single edition; just shy of Sachin Tendulkar’s all-time record with 673 runs scored in a World Cup.

Was this the Indian vice-captain’s purple patch?

The way Rohit Sharma batted and helped others bat throughout the tournament – despite his self-professed modesty about his centuries – looked more about proving a point than highlighting the sublime beauty of his lofted straight drive.

That destructive 140 against Pakistan? Check.

The willpower to hang around against South Africa? Check.

Helping KL Rahul get into the groove as Shikhar Dhawan’s replacement? Check.

The 189-run opening partnership with Rahul to make a mockery of Sri Lanka? Check.

Dealing with the new ball, old ball, swing, seam, spin and all under tricky English conditions? Check.

This was the tournament of redemption for Sharma – redemption perhaps for the Indian team management’s decision under MS Dhoni to drop him from the 2011 World Cup squad. Redemption perhaps for the questions that perpetually swirl around his fitness – this is the same cricketer who had rebelled with a “burn it to earn it” tag on social media.

But above all it was a masterclass to the world, showing who was the boss of one-day batting when it comes to playing the big league.

And no, the Universe Boss doesn’t count!

Meanwhile, captain Kohli became the delight of emergency teams in US with his number of 911 – that’s 9, 1 and 1 runs scored in the three successive World Cup semi-finals that he has played against Pakistan, Australia and New Zealand respectively since 2011.

The chemistry or the lack of it between the Indian captain and his deputy was subtly evident, as was the disharmony over the team selection.

Remember the Sharma quip on Rishabh Pant!

Or the Ambati Rayadu saga, the Vijay Shankar or Ravindra Jadeja dilemma.

When you look at the above, it’s hardly a surprise to read reports of discord among the captain and the vice-captain. Indian bowling coach Bharat Arun’s vigorous defence of the team harmony is as telling as this revelation about the Indian cricket dressing room: “It’s not that we agree on everything. We have our arguments and discussions on various aspects like the composition of the team and the strategy.”

Why has Indian cricket board been so kind to captain Kohli?

By A.K.S. Satish, Senior Pages Editor

Team India
File photo: ndian cricketers celebrate their victory in the World Cup match against Bangladesh at Edgbaston in Birmingham.

Indian cricket is a funny beast and it’s anybody’s guess when it will turn around to bite you. Even the captains are not spared. On the contrary it is they who have to keep their feet firmly on the ground as otherwise they will be stumped and will have to vacate the space for the next one to fill in.

The captaincy has never been a bed of roses in Indian cricket’s history and even some of the best in the business have not been able to maintain their position in the hot seat. So in this context, what is happening currently is nothing new and history has repeated many times in the past and, of course, many times it has been a farce.

In the last few decades two things have been consistent. A new captain slowly but surely gets rid of the senior members of the team and fill it up with his loyalists, while secondly a captain becomes the scapegoat for the failures in a big tournament.

It happened to Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid in the last decade along with players like Krishnamachari Srikkanth, Dilip Vengsarkar, Ravi Shastri have all been a victim of circumstances.

Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Mohammad Azharuddin, Sourav Ganguly and Mahendra Singh Dhoni have been an exception to it, for having a longer run. However, a World Cup is seen as an important benchmark for the captains to pass and it’s here Virat Kohli has failed not once, but twice (Twenty20 and 50-over World Cups). If you add the Champions Trophy exit to his list of failures, then Indian board has been too kind to him. The prime reason for them not to upset the cart must be based on the imperious form of Kohli in the last couple of years.

Still his below-par performance in the knockouts of big tournaments have put a big question mark over the batsman proclaimed as GOAT (Greatest OF All Time). To give a twist to the whole episode, vice-captain Rohit Sharma scoring five centuries in the World Cup has shifted the spotlight on the Indian opener and put more pressure on Kohli to hold on to his seat. The four Indian Premier League titles Mumbai Indians have won under Rohit’s captaincy, in comparison to none by Kohli for Royal Challengers Bangalore and finishing in the bottom half of the standings, are the points that are tilting the scales in favour of the stylish Mumbai batsman.

Historically, it is an open secret that there has been an undercurrent between North and West over the supremacy of Indian cricket and captain becomes the power centre of the contest. So I feel the ugly face of Indian cricket has reared its head again.

It’s here Dhoni has and will play an important role. Whoever might be the captain, the former Indian skipper still is held on a high pedestal and calls the shots on the field, holding the team together. For the benefit of Indian cricket, he should be allowed to continue to play AS LONG AS HE IS FIT, though many might disagree with my view. Let me remind his detractors, Dhoni is a smart student of the game and when he saw that the end to his Test captaincy is approaching, he relinquished the post and he did the same in limited-overs cricket. So if he thinks that he cannot cope with the pressures, he will walk away on his own.

If one gets the feeling that the Indian board is in disarray, in my opinion they have functioned far better that what is expected of them at this point of time. The Indian cricket is run by a Committee of Administrators appointed by the Supreme Court, who are not the best in running a sports body of this magnitude. It was supposed to be a stopgap arrangement before the elections are held and the new officials function under an elected president, but is continued for too long and now lot of issues are cropping up, contrary to the Lodha Committee report.

So it’s time to get the act-together and run the board in a professional manner, otherwise soon one could see cricket treading the same path as many other sports to hit the nadir.

I don’t believe it

By Shyam A. Krishna, Opinion Editor

India's captain Virat Kohli, left, interviews teammate Rohit Sharma
File photo: Kohli, left, interviews Rohit after their win in the World Cup match against Sri Lanka at Headingley in Leeds.

Rift, what rift? A Virat Kohli-Rohit Sharma rift? I didn’t know. I didn’t see any signs of strain in the relationship between the Indian cricket captain and the vice-captain. Maybe, I’m naïve. Or I was blindsided by India’s performance (No. Not in the semi-final).

Reports of a rift have been floating around. But how true is that? I refuse to believe these reports unless there’s concrete evidence. So far, only an unnamed player has been quoted. That’s not good enough. That’s not good journalism. It requires corroboration from at least another player.

Kohli and Sharma can’t be more dissimilar. Kohli is very intense and in your face. Sharma is very private and even given to humour at press conferences. Both are opinionated. That’s the best part. Sharma’s unafraid to air his opinions even when they aren’t in sync with the general feeling. To me, that’s the mark of an upright person.

Sharma’s talent is undeniable. It’s just that he’s never been able to adapt to the demands of Test cricket. As a strokeplayer, he’s superior to Kohli. And the Indian skipper is one of Sharma’s biggest fans. Times without number, I’ve heard Kohli on television gushing about Sharma’s knocks. I even think that Kohli was instrumental in Sharma’s inclusion in the Test squad to Australia. Which is why I find it difficult to believe that there’s a rift.

But then cricket rivalries are seldom known outside the dressing rooms. For years, there were rumours of a rift between Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev. It was never confirmed during their playing days. Now we know there’s more than a grain of truth to it, although they won’t admit it.

India can’t afford a Kohli-Sharma rift. It would wreck the team. I hope it’s not true.