The conflict between Anil Kumble and Virat Kohli has had public opinion on the issue divided down the middle. But in the absence of complete knowledge of what transpired only fanboys/girls will find victim or villain in this unsavoury development. From what is in the public domain I believe both are equally responsible for this messy episode. Kumble and Kohli are not just players of exemplary standing but also the true custodians of Indian cricket.
More than BCCI, COA, judiciary, fans and what have you, it is Kumble and Kohli who contribute to the legacy of Indian cricket: its past, present and future. They should have been severely protective about this. An early heart-to-heart chat could have nipped the problem in the bud. By the time peacemakers were called, the matter had spun out of control. However well meaning, extraneous elements could get them on the same table, not the same wavelength.
An engineered truce engineered can't guarantee a changed dynamic, which is only possible if the disputing parties are convinced from within. If that doesn't happen, status quo gets meaningless — or worse. Imagine if Kumble had to retain his job and the players don't acknowledge even his presence, forget inputs? Or, if the coach decides that there is nothing he can offer in the vitiated atmosphere and becomes a non-performing asset?
That the conflict had reached a point of no return is evident from the fact that Kumble and Kohli hadn't been on speaking terms for almost six months (as reported) but also what they said and did after the matter boiled over. Kohli failed to even mention Kumble’s contribution over the team's performance in the past year. That showed lack of grace. He also later deleted the tweet from his timeline welcoming Kumble a year ago, which is petty.
Even great careers play themselves out, but similar situations have an uncanny knack of arising in the future — and with the shoe on the other foot. Even if he has seemingly come out on top in this controversy, there is a lesson for Kohli to remember. But Kumble's post on Facebook signing off from his assignment wasn't edifying either. To highlight his commitment, discipline and that his job was holding up a mirror to players etc was sanctimonious and tinged with uncharacteristic defensiveness.
If the implication was that the Kohli & Co were bereft of these values, how did the team perform so well in his tenure, and despite the soured relationship? How much better if he had signed off saying he did his best, things didn't work out and wished the team best of luck. In hindsight, neither showed great sense of timing in finding common ground. Kohli's disenchantment came early, not giving opportunity for the relationship to settle; Kumble on the other hand allowed the conflict to fester, waiting for those beyond the dressing room to step in.
But who, with so many power centres at play currently in Indian cricket, though all were in the know?
The COA fretted and did little. Where the BCCI is concerned, Kumble, who has spent almost 30 years interacting as player, administrator, and coach, should have known how fickle Board politics can be. The process that made him coach — excellent credentials notwithstanding — was a charade by one faction within the BCCI ranged against another. When this faction lost clout, Kumble was left at the mercy of the other which left him out to dry.
The cricket advisory committee (Tendulkar, Ganguly, Laxman) was the last recourse but only stepped in when the crisis was full blown. In any case, with captain and players adamant, a reminder of their own role in the Greg Chappell controversy would have left them red-faced. The sad part is that the pitfalls of such association should have been known to both Kumble and Kohli —from recent Indian cricket history and their own experiences as players — and easily avoided if they were open to each other's compunctions. What really went wrong between is difficult to fathom. From the outside, it seems like could be a generational gap, ‘territorial’ insecurity or just plain personality misfit. Clearly, though, the rapport which makes for a healthy symbiotic relationship was missing.
Why this should happen in a partnership that seemed perfect — even allowing for starkly contrasting personalities — is inexplicable. But as mentioned in my previous column, human nature is fascinatingly unpredictable and extremely fragile. That is the only solace one can gather from this unhappy saga....