Kumble versus Kohli is a no contest
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New Delhi: In classic management terms, the rumoured clash of wills between Virat Kohli, the captain of the Indian cricket team across all three categories of the game, and Anil Kumble, its chief coach, should have only one resolution.
Whether it is Kumble’s legendary standard of discipline which is the reason for the souring of relations with Kohli, or the latter’s feeling that the spin legend was treading on his toes that created the rift isn’t known. What is clear is that there can be only one boss and in this case it has to be the captain.
Leadership is a solitary business and one that can’t be shared. The best companies value their outgoing chiefs, but once their tenure is over they need to move on and make way for the incumbent.
Thus, companies such as ITC Ltd and the Tata group created the position of a chairman emeritus to ensure the wisdom of a K.L. Chugh or a J.R.D. Tata wasn’t lost to them but their successors, Y.C. Deveshwar and Ratan Tata, were the clear and clearly articulated leaders of the companies.
It is so in countries as well, where democracies such as India and the US, as well as less democratic ones like Russia and China, have one supreme leader. Where that role has been diffused by split leadership—as in India between 2004 and 2014, when Manmohan Singh was the prime minister but equal if not more power was vested in his party’s president Sonia Gandhi—the result was messy and ended up crippling decision-making.
In cricket, of course, the rules of the game have been clearly laid down. A coach’s place is in the dressing room. On the field, the captain is the supremo. When a Greg Chappell as coach of the Indian team led by Sourav Ganguly sought to disturb that equilibrium, it led to demoralization and a definite decline in the team’s performance.
Football is a bit different, and often a coach like Pep Guardiola or José Mourinho or even an Alex Ferguson will make a bigger difference to the team’s performance than the captain, but that’s simply because the pace of the game is such that a captain’s ability to make decisive moves in the course of play are limited. Strategy and tactics discussed and rehearsed before a game become crucial in these circumstances.
But cricket, and in particular Test cricket, is played at a much more gentlemanly pace, allowing for interventions after every single delivery. There have been celebrated instances of a captain moving a fielder to a particular position just before a fateful delivery or persisting with a bowler even when he’s getting the stick from opposing batsmen. These moves have made a difference to the fate of the match and in most cases, it is a case of the captain going with his instinct.
It is possible that in this case, Kumble saw the beginnings of arrogance creeping into the young captain’s lifestyle and behaviour and felt it was his job to tell him so.
After all, Kohli’s performance as batsman has slipped of late, with the Australia series putting paid to his status as the world’s best batsman. Kumble, who made a career playing in the shadows of legends like Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid, was always hard on himself in his playing days. His colleagues would say he was equally hard on them, often punishing a particularly poor effort in the field with a glare and a sharp word of reproach. But there is no questioning his commitment to Indian cricket.
Instead of the ham-handed manner in which the Board of Control for Cricket in India has gone about handling the issue, it would have been much better to have had a quiet word with the old war horse, asking him to go a bit easy on the young man, and at the same time telling Kohli that while the captaincy was his by rights, it would only help his cause if he treated Kumble’s advice as an essential part of his own success formula.
Notwithstanding the hype created by the five successive series wins at home, Kohli still has a long way to go in proving his team has the smarts to take on the best of the world in their lairs. A little bit of humility from the younger man and some empathy from the veteran would do Indian cricket a world of good.
Sundeep Khanna is a consulting editor at Mint and oversees the newsroom’s corporate coverage. The Corporate Outsider will look at current issues and trends in the corporate sector every week.
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