Weak BCCI, weak Press, powerful Kohli, misjudged Kumble

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Amid the messaging battles taking place post Anil Kumble's resignation — in a series of questions put to the Indian captain in Trinidad, in the perversion of serious confabulations between Kumble, players, and board — there is increasing need for sincere fact-finding. Not submitting to Kohli's powerful status.

Virat Kohli doesn't need to come clean about the inner workings of the Indian cricket team dressing room. But he would, if reporters asked him some pointed questions. | Reuters

Since Anil Kumble announced his resignation as the head coach of the senior Indian men’s cricket team, none of the high officials of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, which found itself in a position to effectively choose between Kumble as head coach and Kohli as captain, have explained this momentous news.

Instead, we have learnt through anonymous commentary from the BCCI and/or team sources that Kumble gave a ‘dressing down’ to a player after the Champions Trophy Final, and that he “wanted to be part of the IPL” or wanted the coach to receive “60% of the captain’s earnings”. We have also learnt that the players were “shocked” when they learnt that Kumble wouldn't join them in the Caribbean and disappointed that unlike Kohli, Kumble had decided to say as much as he did in his resignation statement on Twitter.

The implication is clear isn't it? Kumble wanted more money, frightened the players and finally betrayed them with his public resignation statement. The implication is also wildly misleading.

Kumble, along with Sourav Ganguly, Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid pioneered the current system of annual contracts for players in the early 2000s. After two-and-a-half years of advocacy starting in 2001, the BCCI finally implemented the system of annual player contracts starting October 2003. What’s more, the question of pay rises was reported differently back in April. Then, BCCI officials (unnamed as usual) were briefing the press that Virat Kohli demanded a retainer of Rs. 5 crore per year for a Grade A contract (as reported by First Post, Deccan Chronicle), after the BCCI announced annual contracts in late March 2017. It was the players and the team management who were pushing for better contracts.

This has been a trend across the cricketing world in recent months and year as the size of broadcasting and endorsement deals has increased. These contracts are usually designed in the form of a certain percentage of the total income of the Board. Kumble's point was that in making this calculation to determine international and domestic contracts, the Board had excluded some income (such as that from the IPL, and much of the revenue from the ICC (which, under the ICC’s new revenue-sharing deal, brings the BCCI a cool $120-odd million in extra revenue for the period of 2015-23). The concept of the annual contract, which predates the IPL, also needs to be revised now that nearly all the top India players and coaches have the opportunity to work not only for the national team but also IPL franchises.

The players (including Kohli) and coaches are right to advocate for a better deal for themselves and their colleagues. They are also right to seek revisions in contracts to reflect new realities. But the emphasis in these latest statements from anonymous, unnamed BCCI officials is on what Kumble stood to gain personally, rather than on the substantial arguments and details of Kumble's presentation to the CoA which ran into 19 pages. This is surely a perversion of a serious, substantial argument between the players and coaches and their employers.

But that's not all

The BCCI has circulated a media advisory to journalists through its media & communications office. This advisory consists of a media interaction by the Indian captain Virat Kohli at the team's hotel in Port of Spain, Trinidad on June 22, 2017. The audio clip is 10 minutes and 26 seconds long. Here is a complete, verbatim list of the things journalists said to Kohli during this interaction:

1. [unclear]... [In] laid-back atmosphere of the West Indies, to be away from controversies, less of a pressure, less media channels….

2. Virat, obviously I can’t take it as easy on you as he did, but, now that the rift is out there, and everybody is talking about it, do you think the situation, overall, could have been handled better?

3. Do you think, in the wake of that, did he approach in any way affect the team’s performance or the way it approach a cricket game?

4. The nucleus of the team looking at 2019, you've had a long look during the Champions Trophy, any changes expected? Is this the exactly nucleus or core of the team for the 2019 World Cup?

5. Virat, if you consider the Champions Trophy final as an aberration, as one of those those days, you've often spoken (in fact, spoken a lot) about how this team plays boring cricket and you need to play boring cricket to be a successful team. How do you develop a culture like that, of playing percentage cricket, of doing the boring things over and over again? How do you do it as a team?

6. On the opener’s slot, obviously Shikhar Dhawan is going to open. Any thoughts on who is going to open with him?

7. Any learnings that you've taken away from the Champions Trophy? Obviously there were a couple of games where you were found to be slightly short. What have you done to build on this?

8. Personally for you, how has captaincy changed you, aside from the slight grey in your hair?

9. The home season was supposed to be this hectic home season — 7 or 8 months long — it was extended for you guys with the IPL and the Champions Trophy, and then a tour against a team like this which struggled to beat Afghanistan. How do you approach a tour like this? Especially with your spinners, like Jadeja for instance did not look like himself in that Champions Trophy. He's done a lot of bowling. Looking at the fact that they’re still here, playing a series like this, how do you look at this?

This was the first interaction between the press and the Indian captain after Kumble announced his resignation. It requires a greater generosity of spirit than I am able to demonstrate to describe these things said by these journalists to the Indian captain as strong questions. The reports which came out of this interaction focussed on Kohli's response to question 2 and the follow-up question 3, in which Kohli basically refused to say anything and cited the “sanctity of the dressing room”. This begs the obvious follow up — did he tell the high officials of the BCCI (such as the Secretary or the CEO) or the CoA, who are clearly not part of the dressing room, about his reservations about Anil Kumble? If so, what did he tell them, and when?

Instead, all we got was a series of softballs, including the ironical admission by the author of the second question about how he couldn't take it as easy on Kohli as the previous questioner did! The softball is designed to skirt the issue and make it ridiculously easy for the interviewee to avoid having to answer a matter of fact.

Nobody seems to be less keen to learn the facts of the dispute between Kohli and Kumble, and the way in which this dispute was addressed within the BCCI as an institution, than these reporters who interviewed Kohli. Learning these facts requires asking direct, if elementary, questions. Here are some questions which ought to be put to Kohli, Kumble and the BCCI:

1. When did Kohli first realize there was trouble?

2. How many players came to him with their problems?

3. When did he decide that it was necessary to inform BCCI officials about the problem.

4. Did he discuss the problem with the national selectors?

5. Did he discuss the problem with Kumble?

6. When did Kumble first become aware of the problem in the team?

7. When did BCCI officials first inform Kumble that there might be a problem?

8. What steps did BCCI officials take when they first heard from Kohli that there was a problem?

9. When did Kohli first tell the CAC (Sourav Ganguly, Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman) that there was problem?

10. Did BCCI officials speak to Kumble about difficulties?

11. Did Kumble discuss these difficulties with the national selectors? 12. On June 1, the BCCI Secretary Amitabh Chaudhary said he couldn’t see any evidence of a rift between Kohli and Kumble. In his resignation letter, Kumble said the BCCI first informed him of these difficulties on June 19. When did Amitabh Chaudhary first learn of difficulties?

These are answerable questions. That is to say, the response to these questions will provide actual information which will help reporters piece together the full story based on facts. This is clearly a complex story. For instance, it would be entirely reasonable for the players to be unhappy and, at the same time, for Kumble to reasonably see this unhappiness as a routine thing. In such an event, it would be a judgment call for the CAC or the BCCI to determine whether or not Kumble should continue.

But instead of clarity, all we have is an aggravating charade made up of leaks and whispers. The fact that journalists — reporters and their editors — have continued to publish anonymous commentary by BCCI officials about this matter even after Kumble resigned and the dispute was effectively resolved is especially galling. It is one thing to grant anonymity to a source while revealing details about an ongoing story. But it is quite another to continue to publish anonymous leaks after the fact.

 

The implication is clear isn't it? Kumble wanted more money, frightened the players and finally betrayed them with his public resignation statement. The implication is also wildly misleading.

Instead of basic clarity and elementary fact-finding, what we get from the BCCI, aided and abetted by the cricket press in India, is a series of leaks and anonymous accounts. All this reveals a fundamental weakness in the BCCI as an institution. When Kohli loses form, these same BCCI officials will undertake similar leaks and whispers about him. The next coach, whoever it might be, will face the same difficulties.

This episode also reveals the weakness of the press. So powerful is Kohli’s position, that reporters dare not ask him direct questions of fact, let alone question him plainly about the obvious contradictions in his positions. That the BCCI feels the need — and is able — to engage in an underground messaging war after Kumble's resignation reveals just how insecure its current status as an institution is.

Between a weak BCCI and a weak press, the sad reality is, that nobody really cares about cricket. Instead of a strong, trusted institution which has standards and rules and well-established procedures to deal with a situation which ought to be expected by a sporting body that runs a representative team (it's not unusual for there to be disagreements between high-performing athletes and their equally high-performing coaches), the BCCI resembles the court of a weak, pathetic king whose jesters fight perpetual, desperate messaging battles.

The Supreme Court and Lodha Committee recommendations have never looked more necessary. Nor have they ever seemed more farfetched.

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