How the BCCI failed Kohli, Kumble and coaching job

Kumble's resignation shows that the BCCI, in having confused marketability with authority and deferring veto powers to the captain Kohli, remains as resistant to oversight and the Lodha panel recommendations as ever

Updated - June 22, 2017 11:59 am IST

Published - June 21, 2017 07:17 pm IST

Anil Kumble and Virat Kohli are two spokes in the wheel of Indian cricket. If the charioteer allows one spoke to jut out further, the whole cart could come crashing down.

Anil Kumble and Virat Kohli are two spokes in the wheel of Indian cricket. If the charioteer allows one spoke to jut out further, the whole cart could come crashing down.

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In a remarkable statement announcing his resignation as the head coach of the Indian senior men’s cricket team run by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), Anil Kumble wrote:

“... 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 Captain and Coach. Though the BCCI attempted to resolve the misunderstandings between the Captain and me, it was apparent that the partnership was untenable, and I therefore believe it is best for me to move on.”

The question of Kumble’s continuation in the job has been in the news for nearly a month now. The first indication that his job might be in jeopardy came when the BCCI  advertised the position  just before the Champions Trophy. Kumble’s current one-year contract ends at the end of June 2017. Given India’s results during the past year, it was expected that Kumble would be asked to continue in the role. This advertisement followed reports that Kohli and a few players were unhappy with Kumble’s methods ( described  as the approach of a ‘headmaster’).

At the time, the BCCI Secretary Amitabh Chaudhary dismissed the difficulty and said that the BCCI was following routine procedures.

“The appointment made last year was after a process had been gone through, and at the end of that process an appointment was made. The appointment was made for a period. That period is coming to an end, so the BCCI is just following the process. If you don't follow a process, it's not supposed to be good. If you follow a process, it's supposed to be good, isn't it?”

Kohli, speaking at his first media briefing upon landing in England, also pointed to procedures.

“The process has been followed every single time the similar way in Indian cricket for the past so many years is what I know. Even the last time the post was up for a change the same procedure was applied. With the term being one year, the procedure is being followed in the same manner. I don't see anything very different from what has happened in the past. That is something the board has recognised. They want to follow the same pattern.”

In this, Kohli is plainly wrong. It is not unusual for successful coaches or captains to be offered extensions to contracts. The BCCI  extended Gary Kirsten’s contract  in early 2010 for a year (until the end of the 2011 World Cup, which India won) without advertising the job. The BCCI also extended  Duncan Fletcher’s contract in 2013 . Kohli was part of the team at the time. At the very least, this recent history suggests that the BCCI advertisement was not part of any “pattern”.

The fact that the BCCI refused to do the same for Kumble despite India’s record during the past year and offered Kumble only ‘ direct entry ’ into the application process indicated that there were difficulties.

 

Had India not been as successful as it has been in the previous year, would Kohli’s word have counted as much as it evidently did? Would the BCCI then have sacked Kohli as captain for complaining about Kumble?

 

Kohli  rubbished reports of a ‘rift’  in the Indian camp at the start of the Champions Trophy. The thing to note, however, in making sense of what Kohli said is that he was not directly asked about the contents of his reports to the BCCI about Kumble’s work as head coach in the press conference, but was asked merely to clarify reports about a ‘rift’.

In his letter of resignation from the supervisory Committee of Administrators (CoA) to the Supreme Court, Ramachandra Guha pointed to oddities in the way the  question of the head coach’s reappointment  was handled. In questioning the way that the BCCI had left such difficulties until the eve of the Champions Trophy, Guha observed:

“... [G]iving senior players the impression that they may have a veto power over the coach is another example of superstar culture gone berserk? Such a veto power is not permitted to any other top level professional team in any other sport in any other country. Already, in a dismaying departure from international norms, current Indian players enjoy a veto power on who can be the members of the commentary team. If it is to be coaches next, then perhaps the selectors and even office-bearers will follow?”

The difficulties between Kohli and some other players and Anil Kumble are not the real issue here. Kohli and Kumble are unlikely to be the first captain and coach to disagree about things. They won’t be the last. The issue here is that the BCCI, by its own accounts, set up a procedure to review these difficulties, and despite contrary indications by the committee set up to select the new head coach, decided not to reappoint Kumble to the job.

This latest episode is yet another case of individual power relations superseding institutional rules and standards. This was  the crux  of Ramachandra Guha’s resignation letter. It is also the basic point of the Supreme Court’s emphasis on the question of ‘governance’.

The BCCI must be run according to rules. This means that the autonomy of individuals within the Board must be limited by rules and conventions.

Despite the fact that nobody other than the Indian captain expressed any reservations about Kumble continuing in the job, and despite the fact that the CAC, which was charged with selecting the new coach after Kumble’s contract was not renewed,  decided  that it wanted Kumble to continue in the job even before it reviewed other applicants, the BCCI effectively granted the current Indian captain a veto. 

If this were a precedent and if it is the case that the BCCI intends, as a rule, to defer to the wishes of the Indian captain when it comes to the position of head coach, then this is understandable. At least it would be a rule. But it is an impossible precedent. For one thing, there is no reason to assume that India will always have the same player captaining in all three formats. Captaincy is a fickle, fragile job which depends on the captain’s form and the team’s success rate. Had India not been as successful as it has been in the previous year, would Kohli’s word have counted as much as it evidently did? If not, why not? Would the BCCI then have sacked Kohli as captain for complaining about Kumble?

Given the way the BCCI has decided this, think of the position of the next head coach. Will the next head coach stay in the job at Kohli’s pleasure? Will the next head coach be seen to be independent? This is doubtful. Institutional conventions protect individuals in the long run even if they limit the discretionary power of these individuals in the short run. The BCCI has done both Kohli and Kumble a disservice.

Even more significantly, they have compromised the position of the head coach of the Indian senior men’s team as well as the CAC. It is difficult to see how the CAC can stay in place after this. They must resign.

By following Kohli’s wishes and ignoring all other views which appear to unanimously contradict Kohli’s wishes, the BCCI may be making a sound short-term business decision. The Indian captain is currently arguably the world’s most marketable player at the cricketing box office. But these things don’t last. The BCCI’s high officials ought to understand this better than anybody else. This episode is yet another indication that the Supreme Court and Lodha Committee’s efforts to strengthen the BCCI as an institution are being met with enormous resistance.

The BCCI appears to have taken Kohli’s current popularity to mean that he is indispensable. No matter what they say about this in the near future, they have irretrievably compromised the position of the head coach by placing it at the Indian captain’s feet. Sadly, they will come to regret this. Even Tendulkar was not immune to bad form and bad team performances. It is the Board’s duty to protect and nurture its elite players not only from malign outside influences, but from themselves. In this the BCCI has failed Kohli.

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