Virat Kohli

Virat Kohli’s strong statements should have been backed up more strongly by the BCCI
© Economic Times

The video that you’ve been waiting to watch has downloaded 99% and just as you get ready to click play, the connection drops. The ATM that hasn’t been refilled in a week is finally working and after waiting patiently in the queue, it runs out of cash just as you reach the door. The European vacation you’ve been planning your whole life is within reach thanks to a bonus, but you can’t get a visa because your passport is about to expire. These are the kind of third-world problems that readers of this column will only be too familiar with.

The current India-Australia series seems to be afflicted by a similar strain of the ‘so near yet so far’ virus.

First , Australia thought India were doctoring pitches to make it impossible for them to have a fair chance of winning. Then, they won the Pune Test by 333 runs. Then a charged-up Virat Kohli all but accused Steven Smith of cheating. The match referee brought no charges against anyone, and the two cricket boards got to together to defuse the situation.

In the meantime, the bad blood spilled over into the pages of newspapers, the Indian media accusing their Australian counterparts of acting as extended support staff, of writing deliberately slanted stories based on mischievous leaks from within the team. The Australian press played their part in stoking the dying embers of the off-field confrontation, provoking Kohli at public appearances and even calling him world sport’s Donald Trump.

Insults are one thing, but does anyone other than the nylonhaired president of the land of the free and home of the brave really deserve that?

On a Ranchi pitch that was declared a new low in doctoring before a ball was bowled, the two teams batted long and deep for a hard-fought draw. And, just when it seemed there was a real chance that the final Test — set up so deliciously in one of the world’s most beautiful venues — would be all about the cricket, came the latest barb.

“Look, I’m not sure he knows how to spell the word,” James Sutherland, chief executive of Cricket Australia told a radio station, when asked whether Virat Kohli would say sorry to the opposition.

Sutherland, who has been in administration long enough to know that he had no business making such a statement, perhaps momentarily returned to his roots as a medium-pacer, sledging the opposition. Perhaps he had a brain fade.

But, as one half of the dialogue that brokered peace, Rahul Johri of the BCCI being the other, what message was he sending? That Cricket Australia will go into a closed-door meeting with the BCCI because they do not want this lucrative series or others disrupted, but they don’t actually believe that all is well? There is a duplicity to this stance that is depressingly familiar to the way many foreigners view Indian cricket and the BCCI. Everybody loves India’s money but very few genuinely respect its cricket or the institution that runs the game.

To be fair, the BCCI went out of its way to antagonise the rest of the world, not long ago.

Then, it was a case of India using its clout and undeniable position of strength to bend everyone else to their will. If India’s threat of pulling out of a tour of Australia during the Monkeygate episode, or refusing to play a Test in South Africa when Mike Denness officiated, was the equivalent of the spoilt brat taking his cricket bat and running back home once he was dismissed, this was the other extreme.

The BCCI put its captain in an untenable position when he made serious allegations of wrongdoing only for the board to broker a truce without him in the room. While previous BCCI officials have been wrong in backing their players even when they were in the wrong, this crop of naive administrators has pulled the rug under the man who goes out to do battle for them each day. And the opposition has gleefully exploited this. The BCCI has all but silenced an eloquent and extroverted leader in the name of keeping a peace that the opposition clearly does not respect.

(This column first appeared in the Economic Times on March 24, 2017)