S Venkataraghavan, Sunil Gavaskar, Bishan Singh Bedi, Kapil Dev, Ravi Shastri, Sachin
Tendulkar, Virat Kohli.
Sadly, these aren’t just the names of some of the greatest Indian cricketers of all time. They
are also some of the Indian Cricket Captains who’ve had run-ins with the administrators,
“probably” resulting in their subsequent removal from captaincy.
Ask an Indian cricket fan (there’s a billion of us) who the most important man in India is, and
the answer most likely will be “the captain of the Indian Men’s Cricket Team”. The fact that
cricket is a religion in our country automatically propels the captain into supernatural levels
of fame and stardom. Perhaps, the BCCI and its administration beg to differ.
Right from 1979 and possibly even before, it has always seemed like our captains have walked on thin ice. The news of Gavaskar replacing Venkat as captain came as a shock to the both of them as the flight Captain ironically broke the news via an in-flight announcement on their way back home from the 1979 tour of England. The Gavaskar-Kapil “replacing each other as captain multiple times” saga turned out to be equally ugly. Ravi Shastri, despite his vast experience and all-round prowess was never officially named captain and was a vice captain to 5 different skippers, captaining in a solitary test match as a stand-in. Bishan Bedi, during and post his playing days has had many public and (in)famous rifts with the board. Srikanth captained only a handful of matches before he too was done away with.One could conclude that something is clearly amiss about the group of decision makers, when the GOD of Indian cricket, Sachin Tendulkar got stripped off captaincy and heard about it first from the media and not the BCCI. He even went to the extent of publicly stating - “I told myself
that the BCCI mandarins might be able to take the captaincy away from me, but no one could do the same as far as my own cricket was concerned”.
Dravid and Ganguly had their fair share of turbulence at the helm as well. MS Dhoni’s run as
skipper, perhaps was and will most probably remain the smoothest captaincy tenure in Indian cricket and that probably speaks more about the man’s extreme and almost unnatural sense of diplomacy than anything else. Coming to the man of the hour, Virat Kohli. As captain, he has always divided opinions among fans, pundits, and administrators alike. But does that make it acceptable for him to be removed from captaincy unceremoniously without his consultation, as has been claimed in a recent press conference? Absolutely not! It may make logical sense to have the same captain for both limited-overs formats and Kohli’s failure to win a major ICC trophy hasn’t helped his case either. That being said, most public opinion on this saga is focussed on how he was removed as skipper rather than why, and rightly so. The average Indian cricket fan is quite an intelligent entity and cannot be taken for a ride, either by the players or the board. Fans are the most important stakeholders of the game and that fact cannot be stressed upon enough.
Communication and transparency are clearly not the BCCI’s strong suit as is very evident from their cryptic press releases and official statements over the years. You just know there is more to it than meets the eye, every time a piece of communication is released from the board.
Playing devil’s advocate, the same can also be said about Virat Kohli. Though he is a stylish
orator and knows the exact things to say at pre/post-match conferences, the lack of internal
communication between the players and the captain has been reported and noticed on
several occasions. Any keen follower of Indian cricket can easily point out multiple instances
of players being dropped for no particular rhyme or reason. Most recently, roping in Prithvi
Shaw from Sri Lanka to England in the middle of a raging pandemic as a back-up opener while Abhimanyu Easwaran was very much a part of the squad in England and yet got side-lined for no particular fault of his, is one example among many. Another shameful example of a break in communication is the Rohit Sharma fiasco before the Australia tour - “Will he play? Won’t he?”. The BCCI spokesperson, Captain Kohli and all other stakeholders were equally clueless until the plane actually took off and Sharma wasn’t on it!
The biggest question is, where does the buck stop? If only one or two captains have had an
issue with the board, it can be written off on a case-to-case basis. When almost every other
captain has been at loggerheads with the BCCI, the system is very clearly flawed. The BCCI has seen multiple Presidents, Secretaries and other office-bearers over the years, some of whom can be considered the best cricketing/administrative minds in world cricket. Yet, this
communication aspect has always been a thorn in the flesh of the administrators and in fact,
it seems to be getting worse by the day. Accountability is being passed around like a hot
potato and anytime the fans are officially addressed; it feels like an “out of the frying pan into the fire” situation.
The biggest losers from this whole situation are us fans and our pleas are falling on seemingly deaf ears. Kohli has cemented his legendary status and is going from strength to strength in tests, the administrators are further strengthening BCCI’s stranglehold over world cricket and continue to mint their money in the process. Just the thought of one of the most legendary limited overs batsmen of all time, possibly not playing the format till the end of his career is enough to make a grown person shed a tear. Though Virat has constantly emphasised his solidarity to the team and the new captain Rohit Sharma, reports emerging of him not being available for the limited overs leg of the upcoming South Africa tour tell a different tale.
Unsurprisingly, the BCCI hasn’t offered any clarity on that front as well. Call it speculation but
in most cases, there is no smoke without fire and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure
out all is not well in the Indian camp. Spare a thought for one the biggest gentlemen, Rahul
Dravid who has taken over as head coach in these torrid times. The constant back and forth
between Sourav Ganguly, Virat Kohli and “Inside Sources” of the BCCI, regarding this
captaincy issue has helped no one. Turns out, Indian cricket is adept at airing its dirty laundry
in public without a care in the world.
The captaincy issue doesn’t end with just Virat Kohli or Rohit Sharma. Both of them aren’t
getting any younger! When Virat took over from MSD, he was in his late twenties and not
mid-thirties. Are we grooming a younger captain for the future? Will it be a split captaincy
model henceforth? To make matters worse, India has already had 4 different captains in the
year 2021 and if things go a certain way in South Africa due to Rohit’s injury, we could end up
with a 5th captain by the end of the December 2021. The vice-captaincy conundrum is no
small issue either. Ajinkya Rahane has been replaced as the test vice-captain by Rohit Sharma who has subsequently been ruled out of the SA tour. Who will take over as deputy in tests and as Captain in ODIs if Rohit isn’t fit in time? The questions are plenty but the answers, unsurprisingly almost non-existent.
Sadly, this whole narrative and controversy is possibly pushing the two best batsmen of this
era farther apart from each other, regardless of whether there already exists an underlying
rift between the pair. Indian cricket needs to find a way around its petty politics, the board
needs to be more communicative with the captains and vice-versa, the fans’ best interests
must be given due cognizance and the system must be cleaned up at all costs.
Having been an ardent fan of the Indian cricket team from 2003, it pains me that internal
politics always overpowers the sport. Cricket in India is sadly not a gentleman’s game anymore and hasn’t been for decades now. Disappointed Indian fans like myself, can take solace in the quote from Warren Buffett, “What we learn from history is that people don’t learn from history.”
We should not be left scratching our heads at every decision, appalled at every juncture.
THE INDIAN CRICKET FAN DESERVES BETTER.
About the author:
Abhishek is a former national-level table tennis player and a massive(ly) (disappointed) fan of
the Indian Cricket Team since 2003. He also likes delving into the history of Indian cricket.
About Simply Sport
Simply Sport is a sports policy research & development organization based out of India. Simply Sport’s vision is to promote sports as an effective tool for the development of the nation. It focuses on policy research, grassroots development and the use of technology in sports. To subscribe to Simply Sports Newsletters, Research & Articles, please write to email@example.com. You can follow Simply Sport on the Twitter handle @_SimplySport for more sports-related content.