After he went public about player fatigue, it shouldn’t surprise anybody that Virat Kohli has been rested from the One Day Internationals (ODIs) against Sri Lanka. As batsman and captain—and hugely successful at both—he is today a formidable power centre whose voice can’t be ignored easily.
This is not the first time the issue of player fatigue has cropped up in India. Intermittently from the 1980s, most captains have talked about the work burden imposed on players by ill-thought-out itineraries.
In 1980, there was high drama when Sunil Gavaskar—then India’s leading player and captain—refused to go to the West Indies, complaining of excessive cricket. The tour was to start immediately after a taxing home series against Pakistan.
The International Cricket Council (ICC) was structured differently then. There was no FTP (future tours programme). Tours were decided mutually between cricket boards, with the host country bearing the expenses. Gavaskar refused to relent, and the West Indies were unwilling to host without the star attraction.
Sometimes, such protests are misconstrued as star tantrums, but this ignores the fact that the best professional sportspersons are happiest when playing, not idling. This is what gives them not just fame and livelihood, but self-actualization.
In the present context, for instance, Kohli is not a shirker by any stretch of the imagination. He works hard and prides himself on his fitness. His enthusiasm for playing is boundless and ambition to succeed undisguised.
He’s at the top of his game currently. Runs have fairly exploded from his bat this year. A century and a double century in successive Tests in the current series have given his career further fillip and his stature in the game greater heft.
The Sri Lankans have looked hapless and have thrown in not just the towel, but all the laundry. Of course, India have been simply too good; particularly Kohli, who has been ruthlessly overwhelming as batsman and captain.
It’s not runs in Tests alone that have made 2017 special for him. If anything, he has been even more dominant in limited-overs cricket, especially ODIs. In a purple patch, the last thing a batsman thinks of is rest. If Kohli still feels the threat of burnout, it demands attention.
His plaint got support from former captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni too. You can’t find two players with stronger credentials in the cricket world perhaps, and with most others taking a similar line informally, the simmering discontent was palpable.
But it’s not just the work schedule alone that Kohli has faulted. It’s also the flow of assignments. The Test series in South Africa is India’s most challenging assignment on the horizon, and he has questioned if the team has got the best possible preparations for this.
His request for pacy pitches for the Tests against Sri Lanka (though it didn’t quite work out that way in Nagpur) was premised on the need for players to tune up for the Tests ahead if they wouldn’t be getting sufficient time to acclimatize in South Africa.
This is an absolutely legitimate demand. Captains in the past too have tried to influence the “character" of pitches at home, but covertly. By being vocal about it, Kohli has asserted that players see themselves as active stakeholders in how Indian cricket shapes up.
This is an important development going ahead. It suggests that inputs from players on issues like tours and itineraries—apart from money—will become more frequent. They are no longer content to be passive participants. The Indian cricket establishment has got the message.
Vinod Rai, head of the committee of administrators, is scheduled to meet Kohli, Dhoni and coach Ravi Shastri in Delhi during the third Test, starting 2 December, to discuss how and what the FTP should be in the future, apart, of course, from enhanced monetary benefits to players. This marks a major inflection point in Indian cricket.
Ayaz Memon is a senior columnist who writes on sports and other matters.