Column | BCCI should explain the shortcomings in Kohli’s leadership

Virat Kohli
Virat Kohli was sacked as ODI captain. File photo: IANS

“Chappelli”, the autobiography of Ian Chappell, was one of the first books of this genre read by me. The elder Chappell was a favourite cricketer of mine and his style of writing, wherein he expressed himself firmly using minimum words, impressed me no end. One of the aspects that he had described in detail in this book was the manner in which he took over the captaincy of Australia. During the Ashes series of 1971, with Australia trailing 0-1 and only one Test remaining, the Aussie selectors dumped skipper Bill Lawry and appointed Chappell in his place. The way in which the national captain was sacked and thrown out of the side shocked Chappell and he swore that he would never allow selectors to do him what they did to Lawry. Hence he announced his retirement from captaincy while at his peak - after the tour of England in 1975 - where his side won the series 1-0 and retained the Ashes.


The quiet removal of Virat Kohli from the ODI captaincy showed that despite the many changes that have taken place in the game during the last five decades, the selectors continue to retain the power to sack a captain, irrespective of his place in the popularity polls. Kohli had announced before the recently concluded International Cricket Council (ICC) T20 World Cup that he was stepping down from leading the side in this shortest version of the game. But he also indicated that he wished to continue as skipper in the other two formats of the game. There were no surprises when he took over the captaincy from Ajinkya Rahane on his return to the side for the second Test of the series against New Zealand. However, when the squad to tour South Africa for a series involving three Tests and as many ODIs was announced last week, Kohli found that he was replaced by Rohit Sharma ODI skipper.


If one goes through the history of Indian cricket, it will be seen that only very few captains have escaped the axe and gone out on their own terms. Most of the others had to face the situation of being removed from captaincy and required to play under a cricketer who was a member of the side he had led. This malaise started right from the years when India made its bow in international cricket. Col C K Nayudu led the side in the inaugural Test at Lord’s in 1932 and during the home series against England in 1933-34. However, for the tour of England in 1936 Maharajkumar of Vizianagaram (Vizzy) was made skipper, which was not unusual during those times when royals were entrusted with responsibility of leading the touring party. But Vizzy, who had an exalted impression about his very limited cricketing abilities, insisted on leading the side in Test matches as well, with disastrous consequences.


The decade and a half since resumption of cricket after World War II and the 1950s saw the Indian authorities play a game of musical chairs with regard to captain of national side. This period saw India being led by 10 captains, while playing 60 Tests. Amongst these, other than Ifthikar Ali Khan Pataudi, who made himself unavailable for international cricket after the tour of England in 1946 and Polly Umrigar, who resigned from captaincy in a huff when the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) oficials blatantly interfered with the selection of the playing eleven, all others were either sacked or changed at the whims and fancies of selectors. Thus we had Lala Amarnath, who was replaced by Vijay Hazare only for the latter to hand over the baton back to the former later on. They were followed by Vinoo Mankad and Ghulam Ahmed for short spells before Umrigar took over the mantle.


In the series against the mighty West Indies in 1958-59, we had four captains for a five-Test series! Umrigar led the side in the first Test as Ghulam Ahmed, chosen for this task, was unavailable. Ahmed was sacked from the post following defeats in the next two Tests and Umrigar returned as captain. But he stepped down before the start of fourth Test as the then BCCI president insisted on filling up a batsman’s slot in the playing eleven with an off spinner from his state! Mankad was asked to lead the side in this match at the last moment and Hemu Adhikari was appointed as captain for the last game of the series. As if this round of musical chairs was not enough, D K Gaekwad led the side during the tour of England in 1959 that we lost 0-5, following which G S Ramchand was made skipper against the touring Australians in the winter of 1959-60. One can see that it was not without reason that the 1950s were called as the “dark ages” of Indian cricket!


When the 1960s dawned a new captain, Nari Contractor, took over and when he led the side to a series win against England at home in 1961-62, one expected that he would have a longer tenure at the top. However, fate willed otherwise as he was seriously injured by a bouncer from Charlie Griffith while playing a first-class match during the tour of West Indies in 1962. This set the stage for Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, then a raw 21 year old, to take charge and he did this in style, thus bringing a semblance of stability in captaincy stakes. He led the side through the remaining years of 1960s and moulded the side into a fighting unit, even winning an away series against New Zealand in 1968. However, he was deposed from this pedestal when the team to tour West Indies in 1971 was selected as Vijay Merchant, then heading the committee of selectors, chose to cast his vote in favour of Ajit Wadekar.


Wadekar & Chandra
Ajit Wadekar and B S Chandrasekhar wave to the fans after India's win over England at the Oval in 1971. File photo: IANS

Wadekar had a dream run initially winning three back to back series but the dismal show in England in 1974 , where we lost 0-3, brought an end to his career as he found himself dropped even from the West Zone side! He announced his retirement from the game paving the way for Pataudi to come back as skipper. When Pataudi stepped down after the series against the West Indies in 1974-75, Bishan Singh Bedi took over the mantle. Both Bedi and his successor Sunil Gavaskar were removed from this post following defeats in Test series in Pakistan; the former in 1978 and the latter in 1983. Kapil Dev, who succeeded Gavaskar, was sacked after a poor series against the West Indies in 1983-84 and Gavaskar returned. However, Gavaskar was smarter in his second innings at the helm and announced his stepping down from this mantle after the World Championship Cup in Australia, where India emerged victorious.


Kapil’s second outing as skipper ended when India were defeated by England in the semifinals of 1987 ICC World Cup. Dilip Vengsarkar and Krishnamachari Srikkanth, who followed Kapil, too faced the axe, but this was more on account of issues other than cricket. Mohamed Azharuddin led the national team for most part of 1990s, with a short interregnum from 1996 to 1998 when Sachin Tendulkar held this post. Both of them were removed - Azharuddin twice and Tendulkar once - with the latter opting out during his second stint after a couple of bad series in 1999-2000.


The modern age of captaincy began with the ascent of Sourav Ganguly to the top post in 2000. Though he led the side with elan and imagination that saw the team climb up the rungs in international cricket, his departure from the post was messy. He had a fallout with coach Greg Chappell and was bogged down by injury problems, which combined to his exit from the side. Though he made his way back to the team, he was not considered for leading the side again. Rahul Dravid, who succeeded Ganguly, stepped down from pedestal on a winning note, after winning the series against England. Anil Kumble was captain only for a short period and timed his exit from the game and captaincy to perfection.


Mahendra Singh Dhoni had a long tenure at the helm in all formats of the game and his sharp cricketing brain was in evidence even in the manner in which he stepped down from the post and exited international cricket. He first quit leading the side in Test cricket and a couple of years later handed over the mantle in limited overs version as well. Kohli took over from him, first in Tests in December, 2014, followed by the white-ball version of the game in January, 2017.


Virat Kohli
Virat Kohli failed to win a global white-ball tile. File photo

Kohli’s removal from the captaincy in 50 overs a side games is sought to be justified on the ground that team should have only one leader on white-ball cricket. All observers of the game will agree that each format of the game needs separate skillsets and strategies. Some cricketers who are superbly talented develop the expertise to equip themselves in all versions while others remain confined to one format or other. While it is a good policy to have a single leader cutting across all formats, there would be times, especially during periods of transition, when different captains will be needed for the various formats. However, it should not be decided by the colour of the ball used but must be based on sound cricketing reasons.


The reasoning given by the BCCI that Rohit Sharma was appointed as captain in order to have one leader for white- ball cricket is a specious one, which will not convince anyone. The BCCI should come out and explain the shortcomings in Kohli’s leadership or the circumstances involved which warranted the change of hand at the helm. If they fail to do so, this action will end up being considered as an attempt by the administrators to seize the initiative from the players and prevent captains from becoming too powerful in the scheme of things.

(The author is a former international umpire and a senior bureaucrat)

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