A ghastly fissure ripped through Indian cricket as Anil Kumble quit as the national team’s head coach on Tuesday. Kumble’s exit had seemed inevitable once the Board of Control for Cricket in India called for fresh applications for the post of head coach just as the Men in Blue flew to England for the now-concluded ICC Champions Trophy. Until that moment on May 25, skipper Kohli and coach Kumble had seemed to be a perfect match. The duo oversaw five Test series victories against opponents as diverse as the West Indies and Australia, besides winning one-day internationals and Twenty20s. The lone blip was the loss to Pakistan in the Champions Trophy final this Sunday. Speculation that something was amiss got stronger when leaks surfaced about the alleged rift between Kohli and Kumble, a rumour that was initially denied by the captain but has become a fact following the coach’s farewell statement , in which he wrote: “It was apparent that the partnership was untenable.” That Kumble resigned despite the Cricket Advisory Committee comprising Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and V.V.S. Laxman endorsing his extension is a reflection of his inherent dignity. He clearly did not want to be drawn into an unpleasant battle with Kohli. It also followed the pattern of his earlier departures, be it his injury-induced Test retirement in 2008 or his resignation as chairman of the National Cricket Academy in 2011. Those decisions were swift, the reasons were delivered with surgical precision, and he left with grace.
A difference of opinion between two strong individuals causing a discord is not new to Indian cricket. There is a precedent in the spat between Ganguly and Greg Chappell, but there are differences between that tussle and what transpired between Kohli and Kumble. The Ganguly-Chappell feud became obvious during India’s tour of Zimbabwe in September 2005. Subsequently, Ganguly lost his captaincy and place in the team, eventually returned to the team, and Chappell finally resigned in April 2007 following India’s disastrous World Cup in the West Indies. Chappell had a longer stint despite a rebellion in the ranks, and had his say for a large part of that time. For Kumble, the period of uncertainty lasted just four weeks after the BCCI sought applications for the post. The latest development also highlights the superstar culture undermining Indian cricket, a point earlier made by the former member of the Committee of Administrators, Ramachandra Guha. If Kohli can be a prima donna and demand pliable coaches, it will set a wrong example. The BCCI should ensure that a coach with the right credentials is picked and given a contract that lasts till the 2019 World Cup in England. Kumble got a raw one-year deal. It is a position that demands an extended tenure on the strength of results, not one that can be curtailed by bad blood.