While the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has not covered itself in glory in handling the change of Indian cricket team’s ODI captaincy—a decision no one questions — Virat Kohli on his part has no right to complain.
For a captain who ran the dressing room his way for many years unchallenged, despite many decisions on and off the pitch being debatable, to come out and throw entire Indian cricket in a disarray just because one decision didn’t go his way or in his manner, speaks not very highly of his maturity.
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He doesn’t come across as a statesman and hasn’t for many years, and that has nothing to do with his aggression. He is a national icon and needs to behave like one. Virat on many occasions has not fit into this parameter. Also, he can’t take what he gets for granted. There was a sense emerging that he did.
Everything doesn’t go your way, or is not handled according to your liking, but the sport is still bigger than you. Virat controlled what he could in his way, much to the chagrin of many. Now in a tough spot himself, he needed to look at the bigger picture and handle matters tactfully.
In his enthusiasm to set the record straight, Virat probably forgot he is still an Indian team captain.
Virat should have seen the writing on the wall that with a new coach and his decision to step down from T20I captaincy, he will have to make way as the ODI captain too.
Yet he declared in his T20I captaincy decision statement that he will continue as captain in ODIs and Tests.
Yet he came out and said that he was informed by selectors but also that he was not spoken to.
Yet he came out and said he told selectors that the call is theirs but still acted disgruntled.
The two can’t go together.
And to top it all, to contradict Sourav Ganguly and the BCCI in public is one of the worst ways to handle the situation. Virat has had his way for many years, with many fearing his influence was getting bigger than the interests of the team, and bigger than the sport itself, yet nobody ever badmouthed him in public.
Everyone accorded him great respect. For Virat, to act out the moment one thing doesn’t go well according to him is myopic and unpardonable, no matter who you are. If he was not treated right, he has done the same to others, but nobody put his reputation at stake.
Unfortunately, speaking out the way he did in the pre-departure press conference, Virat has proved those right who felt he keeps his persona above the game.
As a captain, Virat cannot boast of even half the number of careers that have taken off because of his support as skipper as his predecessors M.S. Dhoni and Sourav Ganguly can. Instead, several careers either came to a stop or were stuck in limbo under him. Number of wins and runs alone don’t make you a good captain.
Virat was hardly in control of his dressing room since his absence from the Australia tour 2020-2021 that the Indian team won in adverse conditions under a makeshift captain. He has also not helped matters with the way he has handled senior players—and there are many who can legitimately say they were not treated well by him. Many players under him played each match like it was their last. No one was allowed to settle down.
So, one, Virat is hardly indispensable. And second, he clearly did not emerge as a leader of men.
Even his Test captaincy is on notice now. What he has done has come back to bite him. What goes around comes around.
But the moment things didn’t go his way, he did not care who he burns through his response. Virat employed a scorched earth policy, that ultimately will not age well.
Politics is not new to the Indian cricket dressing room or the BCCI, but Virat also needs to ponder why this has happened for the first time in such public glare in so many years. Is it also not a result of his own personality?
The way he ran the show with Ravi Shastri had hardly gone down well. He was seen as stubborn and aloof at the same time. Statements made by partner-in-crime Shastri lately can also be called in poor taste. You can’t take credit for all good calls and throw others under the bus for everything that didn’t go right.
BCCI didn’t handle the ODI captaincy handover well no doubt and did not accord Kohli a proper send-off which he deserved. But can it also not be said that Virat was being unfair in insisting that he should continue as ODI captain leaving Rohit Sharma to handle only the T20I team?
He had made his desire of wanting to continue as ODI captain clear to the board, after that if the selectors decided that captaincy should move on and communicated it to him, he should have chosen to end it there.
Virat was clearly irked by selected leaks against him. But was this the best way to handle that? Setting the record straight is not the same as running rough shod over the entire system. Besides, is he the first captain who has faced pressure over his position or abrupt decisions? His own actions have now put him under tremendous pressure—especially with his form not being good.
Virat had also fallen into the trap of making public statements outside the cricket sphere, which divided many and invited criticism over how he handles himself.
There was a sense emerging that he feels that nobody could touch him. Possibly those around him made him feel that he is a superstar and people will hang on to every word he says without question.
The worse is, he failed to realise the country cares for him as a batsman not so much as a captain. But his own position of strength and respect has now been undermined by how he chose to act. This is the second time in the last 12 months he has directly challenged the BCCI, embarrassing them in public. Virat has started a war he can’t win.
Shivani Gupta is a senior journalist and co-author of ‘Ace against Odds’, Sania Mirza’s autobiography.
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