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

Dubai: Once best of friends, the rift between the Indian cricket superstars Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma is certainly bigger than expected. And now, with star spouse Anushka Sharma weighing in with her cryptic comments, brace for some Bollywood-style drama to unfold as Team India begins their tour of West Indies. Even the most optimist will admit that cricket has long ceased to be a gentleman’s game – but what’s surprising is the depths it has plumbed, particularly in the Indian dressing room. Gulf News explores the controversy.

Star Wars in Indian cricket team: How deep is the tussle between Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma?

By K.R. Nayar, Chief Cricket Writer & Gautam Bhattacharyya, Sports Editor

Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma
File photo: Virat Kohli (left) embraces Rohit Sharma as he walks back to the pavilion after his dismissal during the World Cup group stage match against Bangladesh.

In one of his rare one-to-one interviews to a leading English daily in India, Indian skipper Virat Kohli said last week that the environment in the change room is ‘very friendly.’ The reality seems to be different as a ‘Star Wars’ of a different kind is threatening to dampen the morale of the Indian cricket team which flies out to the West Indies for a short tour on Monday night.

The rift between the two superstars: Kohli and Rohit Sharma is certainly bigger than expected – something of a magnitude which the Indian cricket has not seen in recent times. All efforts to sweep the differences under the carpet have failed, with a serious of factors that led to the differences between these two once best of friends surfacing at regular intervals.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), which is now run by the Supreme Court-appointed Committee of Administrators and clearly lack an authoritative president like a Jagmohan Dalmiya or N. Srinivasan, are now helpless spectators. While the entire media is discussing the so-called rift, Vinod Rai, the chief of the CoA still preferred to call it a creation of the media. In a last-ditch effort, the BCCI even tried to convince a senior player to post a ‘all is well’ message in the social media to dilute the crisis. However, the senior player – believed to be Rohit Sharma himself - refused to play ball.

Is there a solution to the rift?

The COA, in which Rai and his only co-member Diana Eduljee are in a bigger rift than Kohli and Sharma, is incapable of resolving the issue involving the two larger-than-life stars. Two of the erstwhile four-member committee, Vikram Limaye, a reputed corporate personality and historian Ramachandra Guha had resigned long back due to differences of opinion and the CoA is biding time for an honorable exit. The BCCI Annual General Body meeting is now scheduled to be held on October 22. A strong administrative body that may emerge out of this meeting may be able to stem the differences between the two superstars with a quiet chat. Till then, it is likely to be a free- for-all and whether any collateral damage may happen in the relationship between players due to this group war, one will have to wait and see.

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Captaincy issue

The difference between the Kohli and Sharma had been simmering for a long time, but it did not show up till the recent World Cup. It was in the wake of India’s exit in the semi-finals of the World Cup, discussions began on the need for split captaincy for Indian team. Many suggested that Sharma, who has been the most successful captain in the Indian Premier League (IPL), should be given the captaincy for the for the white ball cricket with Kohli leading the team only in Test matches. Kohli, who had plans to skip the West Indies tour, immediately cancelled his plans and made himself available for the entire tour - ensuring that he stayed the captain for all formats.

Money talks

While nobody can question the commitment of the two individuals to the cause of Indian cricket, the role played by the portfolio managers in the current climate of Indian cricket cannot be denied. Cornerstone Sports & Entertainment, a Mumbai-based sports management company, had signed up a young Kohli, Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Suresh Raina and a number of other cricketers way back in 2008. They played a big role in rolling in the mega bucks for Kohli and Sharma – with the latter’s affairs being managed by Ritika Sajdeh, a cousin sister of Bunty Sajdeh, the livewire of Cornerstone.

190617 rohit sharma
File photo: Rohit Sharma with his wife Ritika Sajdeh and child.

Sharma eventually found the love of his life in Ritika and the two tied the knot in 2015. The very next year, Sharma left Cornerstone to switch his allegiance to Reliance IMG, the sports marketing arm of the Ambani Group. According to industry sources, it was a move waiting to happen for as the successful captain of the Mumbai Indians, Rohit Sharma had by then become the cynosure of all eyes in the Ambani family. A move – that clearly did not go down well with the Cornerstone management (read: Kohli). A throwback to the current history of Indian cricket reveals that the portfolio managers tend to breed a coterie of players from time to time around the captain – which is often detrimental to the interests of the team. It’s an imperative for a player to retain his berth in the national team to keep his salability intact – and this can often cloud a players’ judgement.

Wives makes it worse

The BCCI committed the blunder of allowing wives to be with the players during this World Cup for 15 days. Sharma requested for an extension of stay for his wife and child, which was ignored. Since there was no apparent response about denial or clearance of the stay, Sharma stayed on with his wife for the entire duration of the tournament. However, a complaint reached the BCCI stating that Sharma and his wife had stayed without the permission of the captain and coach.

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The BCCI has now asked Sunil Subramaniam, the Administrative manager of the Indian team to file a report on this matter. All this led to the by-now famous Instagram war with Sharma’s wife Ritika Sajdeh ‘unfollowing’ Kohli on Instagram while Kohli’s wife and actor Anushka Sharma deciding to stop following both Sharma and Ritika. Anushka has also posted a cryptic message on instagram saying: “A wise man once said nothing. Only truth can shake hands with silence in a mess of false appearances.” Sharma had already unfollowed his captain Kohli.

Rohit Sharma and Anushka Sharma
Rohit Sharma and Anushka Sharma Image Credit: AP and IANS

Two camps during World Cup

It was after India’s defeat to England that it became evident to the media that there were two groups. The bowling unit was humiliated during the team meeting. Sharma, who captains Mumbai in IPL with Jasprit Bumrah and Hardik Pandya as his strike bowlers, is understood to have reacted strongly to the manner the bowlers were being pulled up. Sharma’s group also seemed to have taken strong objection to the dropping of Mohammad Shami, who was among the most successful bowlers in the World Cup, for the semi-final and also for not including all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja in earlier matches of the World Cup.

What’s star spouse Anushka’s role in the cold war of Indian cricket?

By Chiranjib Sengupta, Assistant Editor

Virat Kolhi and his wife Anushka Sharma
File photo: Virat Kolhi and his wife Anushka Sharma walk on the field as they celebrate India's series win on the fifth day of the fourth and final cricket Test against Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground in Sydney on January 7, 2019.

The aftermath of being ousted from the cricket World Cup 2019 has not exactly been very pleasant for Team India.

From calls for replacing the one-day captain to the coach to intense speculation about the retirement of MS Dhoni, it’s been a wild ride in the past weeks.

But now reports of fights over the travel plans of wives and girlfriends (WAGs) and the spouses of the captain and vice-captain being involved in a reported social media war have indeed taken things too far. The bizarre reports of interference from family members of the players comes at a time when reports are swirling of a rift between Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma – splitting Team India into the Kohli and Sharma camps.

So how exactly are the WAGs fighting?

First, Anushka Sharma.

The Bollywood actress posted the following cryptic message on Instagram: “A wise man once said nothing. Only truth can shake hands with silence in a mess of false appearances.”

On the face of it, it’s one of those innocuous maxims we are flooded with on social media every day.

But then truth, silence and false appearances are strong words in the context of what’s reported to be happening within Team India.

And her message came soon after Rohit Sharma unfollowed her on Twitter.

So what’s the equation among the team leadership and spouses when it comes to Instagram?

Here’s my attempt to make it simple:

■ Virat Kohli = Follows Rohit but not Ritika
■ Anushka Sharma = Doesn’t follow either Rohit or Ritika
■ Rohit Sharma = Doesn’t follow Anushka anymore
■ Ritika Sajdeh = Doesn’t follow either Virat or Anushka

With such a complicated equation, it’s quite evident that Anushka has fed the rumour mills plenty more fodder with her post – even though she is certainly not a stakeholder even if there’s an ongoing battle between the Kohli and Sharma camps.

But this is not the first time that Anushka Sharma has found herself involved in the controversies of the Indian cricket team.

In 2018, when Team India visited the Indian High Commission in London and posed for a picture, Anushka was the only spouse found standing in the group photo. Twitter erupted in fury and confusion soon after, questioning what the actress was doing in a photo op meant only for cricketers – when no other spouse of any player was present.

With Team India ready to embark on a tour of West Indies soon, will the battle in the dressing room devolve into a turf war between the spouses?

Brace for a lot of Bollywood drama ahead!

Why is Anushka meddling in Indian cricket’s affairs?

By Manjusha Radhakrishnan, Chief Reporter

Anushka Sharma Image Credit: AFP

Don’t want to seem overtly petty, but still want to make your displeasure known?

Post a cryptic tweet that says everything, without saying much.

In other words, take a cue from Bollywood actress and Virat Kohli’s wife Anushka Sharma’s recent social media behavior.

The lithe former model, who grew up in Bengaluru, threw her weight behind her hunky cricketer-captain husband embroiled in a bitter spat with his vice-captain with a mother of all passive-aggressive post. "A wise man once said nothing. Only truth can shake hands with silence in a mess of false appearances,” posted Sharma on her Instagram account.

The trigger was Rohit’s move to unfollow her on Instagram.

So was she calling her husband’s alleged foe fake (the timing of the post was damningly suspicious) or was she just wondering aloud on her Insta the nature of Karan Johar’s catty show?

While her unshakeable loyalty and allegiance to her better half is commendable, it makes you wonder if she deserves to be a part of this narrative about a growing rift between two cricketers who are on top of their game individually.

Shouldn’t she ideally exercising restraint, considering that Bollywood stars have incredible sway in shaping public opinion? Aren’t our men in blue mature enough to sort their work problems, without any meddling from players from their personal lives?

It’s surprising that Sharma -- who made her acting debut with Shah Rukh Khan in Rab Ne Bana De Jodi in 2008 and followed it up with hits including the snappy romantic comedy Band Baaja Baraat and the visceral thriller NH10 -- would choose to dip her manicured fingers in a tussle where she isn’t playing the starring role.

It’s also surprising that this famously private actress, who never talks about her personal life in any of her interviews during film press junkets, would put herself out there. It makes her uncharacteristically vulnerable to barbs and her carefully sculpted position as a ‘wholesome entertainer’ inherently reductive. She isn’t this quintessential WAG (Wives And Girlfriend) of a sports superstar, but an actor with incredible heft and charisma. So why cross that carefully sculpted boundary, we wonder.

Personality clashes in Indian cricket have never plunged so low

By Shyam A. Krishna, Opinion Editor

ICC 2019
File photo: Rohit Sharma, left, watches captain Virat Kohli react after being dismissed during the World Cup match against South Africa at the Hampshire Bowl in Southampton, on June 5, 2019.

Cricket’s long ceased to be a gentleman’s game. No surprises there. But what’s surprising is the depths it has plumbed, particularly in India.

Take the case of India’s national team. Rumours of fissures in the side surfaced soon after they crashed out of the Cricket World Cup 2019. Those rumours remained rumours until some perplexing social media activity blew the lid off the growing rift in the team.

A captain and vice-captain at loggerheads is not an ideal situation. That’s what’s happening in Indian cricket right now. And it doesn’t augur well.

Virat Kohli is a passionate player. As captain, he has to rein in his enthusiasm and has to be careful when chiding players. He says, as skipper, he doesn’t step in unless required. But leaked reports of a post-mortem after the loss to England tell a different story. Of discontent and discord in the team.

There have been personality clashes in the past too. Reports of a frosty relationship between Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev are only too well known. But that never spilled out of the dressing room. That’s where it should remain.

The Kohli-Rohit Sharma spat has a rather unsavoury twist. While the captain and vice-captain remain silent, their wives have taken to Instagram to reflect the deteriorating relationship between the players. The “unfollow” moves were totally out of place. Why should their wives exacerbate what is essentially a disagreement between two professionals? That certainly is a new low.

How will this episode affect the team? That’s a pertinent question with the West Indies tour round the corner. Ideally, we would expect players to be mature enough to bury their disputes and perform as professionals. But the bitter undercurrent of animosity will surely undermine the team spirit. And that will not make for good cricket.

The Indian cricket board should cease to sweep the row under the carpet. It should be proactive in bringing the players to the table and settle their differences. Or else, the team’s performance will suffer. After all, cricket is a team game.