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Kohli is not the villain in the Kumble controversy

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Virat_Kohli_Anil_Kumble_coach_India_CricketThese aren’t very good times for Indian cricket. The Indian team hadn’t even recovered from their humiliating loss to the much lower-ranked Pakistan in the recently concluded Champions Trophy in England, before news came in a few days back that Anil Kumble, the team’s Head Coach, had resigned from his post.

From the past few weeks there had been reports in the media that all was not well between Kumble and captain Virat Kohli. These rumors were finally confirmed as Kumble tendered his resignation from the coach’s post. And what did even more damage was what he wrote in his resignation letter: “... I was informed for the first time yesterday by the BCCI that the captain had reservations with my style and about my continuing as the head coach. I was surprised since I had always respected the role boundaries between the captain and coach.”

These comments did serious harm to the image of Kohli the captain. People, who were already seething with India’s embarrassing loss in the Champions Trophy final, have found a new reason to bash the Indian captain. Kohli, who has always been seen as this brash and outspoken person, is now being blamed for behaving immaturely and forcing a venerable person like Kumble to quit from the coach’s role.

From ex-cricketers and other sportspersons to the social media evangelists, Kohli is currently being thoroughly vilified for bringing Indian cricket to this unfortunate situation.

But is this wholesale criticism justified? Without even listening to Virat’s side of the story and without knowing exactly why the Indian captain might have been uncomfortable with the coach, it is really unfair to judge and denounce Kohli and make him the villain in this issue.

Two sides of a story

Rifts between the coach and the captain are not new in Indian cricket. Perhaps the most infamous one was the Greg Chappell-Sourav Ganguly saga. Back then, the entire nation had unified in supporting Sourav Ganguly, who was seen as the victim of Chappell’s nefarious plans for Indian cricket.

Today, however, it is the captain who is being perceived as the villain. Why, though? Had India won that final game against Pakistan to clinch the Champions Trophy, and had Kumble resigned after that, would the reactions still be the same? And instead of Kumble, had Virat Kohli offered his resignation today, citing how uncomfortable he was with the coach, what would have the reactions been then?

The thing is, the general public will never know the truth. What happened inside the dressing room to cause this rift between two of India’s biggest legends will never come out. So it is unwise to blame only one party for it.

Anil Kumble is undoubtedly one of the finest servants of the game in the country and has an excellent demeanor. But does that automatically qualify him as the perfect coach as well? Handling Indian cricket and its players is not an easy job. So how can we be so sure that the players in the dressing room were not comfortable with Kumble’s style of work?

There have been reports, after all, saying that Kumble adopted an authoritarian approach and was quite rigid. Two senior cricketers, who have worked with Kumble in the IPL, have stated that he can be ‘difficult’ at times. Then there have also been claims that Kumble did not like to be told he was in the wrong.

These claims are, of course, unsubstantiated, and cannot be taken as the truth. The same applies to the perception that it was Kohli who was being arrogant and churlish and forced Kumble to resign. For all we know, he may well have been backing some of the other players of the team who might have had an issue with the coach.

And even if Kohli did have some problems with the coach, doesn’t he have the right to feel so? He is, after all, the captain of the team across all formats and the captain is the most consequential member of a team in cricket. So, if the captain is not bonding well with the coach and has his players backing him for the same, why should that be seen as insolence?

Looking ahead

One does not mean to imply that Virat Kohli is beyond any criticism and should not be condemned for any wrongdoing. But in this particular case, where we are still unaware of the details from his end, we should not jump to conclusions and chastise him for the split with the coach.

There have been numerous instances in sports where even the best of minds have come together and failed to work it out. Kumble and Kohli, while having the best interests for the team, might not have been able to achieve common ground for the way ahead. And since Kohli is likely to be the leader of the team for some time to come, it was only logical that Kumble step back and allow someone else to take things forward who can have a better bonding with the captain.

And one must not forget that much like Kumble, Kohli too is an extremely passionate cricketer and wears his heart on his sleeve for the country. It is silly, hence, to assume that Kohli would put his own interests above the team just to force Kumble out.

In his resignation letter, Kumble has said, "Though the BCCI attempted to resolve the misunderstandings between the captain and me, it was apparent that the partnership was untenable and therefore I believe it is best for me to move on.”

So while Kumble has already moved on, it is time the armchair critics in India, too, do the same. For the sake of Indian cricket, which is going through some tough times at present, it is imperative to not find conspiracy theories and not enforce blame without any sound evidence. Accepting the reality without so much bitterness and allowing time to take its course is the only way ahead in this case.

 

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