Anil Kumble

The rift that nobody can confirm has made speculation rife

When did you stop beating your wife?

More children died in Iraq because of US bombings than Hiroshima, was it worth it?

Should a slap delivered to a naughty child as part of responsible parenting be considered violent behaviour?

These are only obvious examples of the concept of a loaded question, one which cannot be answered in any satisfactory manner without the respondent either implicating himself or sounding positively evasive.

It’s also the perfect storm, the ideal story for a slow news day. The absence of both protagonists denying the story can be construed as tacit acceptance. If the two had differing views, then that just reaffirmed the hypothesis. If neither said anything, one way or another, that only kept the embers kindled.

In short, there is no more safely convenient story to write, than the rift between two individuals, as neither an MRI nor a blood test, an ultrasound scan or stool sample, a psych evaluation or an X-Ray does a job.

Indian cricket, in its own uniquely twisted way, is putting itself through a similar, predictable and utterly avoidable exercise in masochism. And, unfortunately, there have been attempts to drag Virat Kohli, the captain, and Anil Kumble, the coach, into a political quicksand that the two have spent their lives avoiding.

Is there friction between captain and coach? Of course there is, otherwise what sort of relationship would that be. Endlessly agreeing with the guy sitting across the table may make for smooth sailing, but it does not help build anything useful or lasting. Kumble has achieved enough as a cricketer to be immune to scrutiny of his credentials, and a fellow cricketer such as Kohli is unlikely to go down that path anyway.

Kohli is the most powerful person in Indian cricket today. In the absence of a cricket board worth its name and with successive successes under the belt, India’s triumphant captain, the most marketable one at the end of a list of multi-millionaires, is the one who calls the shots, without having to. If Kohli wanted Kumble out, only to be replaced by X, Y or Z, that would have happened already.

On the record, Kohli says that he has enjoyed working with Kumble and that he respects him a great deal and values his inputs. On the record, Kumble says that he admires the way Kohli approaches the game, praises him for the effort he puts into moving India forward and thinks the best way to progress is to allow the captain to grow even more.

Off the record, it is not clear what Kohli feels about Kumble, but suggestions that he would not want to work with him any longer are Chinese whispers of the worst kind. Even if these two independent, intelligent, strong characters reached the conclusion that they could not work together, the suggestion that they would effect the split through sources close to sources and media reports, is laughable.

For a moment, it’s worth applying logic to a situation that has been created out of extreme speculation, but, unfortunately these are the times we live in. If Kohli was as against Kumble as reports calling their relationship a rift suggest, why would he have Kumble representing the team in a meeting with the Committee of Administrators that was deliberating the issue of increased pay for the players, and coaching staff? If indeed Kumble was overbearing and authoritarian, it is inconceivable that Kohli would have a problem with this, for the captain is far less tolerant of that kind of indiscipline than the coach.

And then there’s the other bit of inconvenient logic. The Board of Control for Cricket in India has announced that its Cricket Advisory Committee, comprising Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman, will have the final say on who the next India coach will be, at the end of the Champions Trophy, when Kumble’s contract runs out. A year ago, this same committee — all of whom have played Test cricket for India under Kumble’s captaincy — came to the conclusion that Kumble was the best man to steer the team.

At the time, Kumble had no formal coaching experience, despite having mentored an Indian Premier League team, and no certificates to show that he had obtained the paper qualifications that some authorities prize over all else. An unknown quantity, in terms of coaching record, Kumble was this committee’s choice over Ravi Shastri, who had done all that was asked of him with a team in transition in his role as Director of Cricket.

A year later, with Kumble being part of an Indian team that has not lost a Test series — something he would have loved when he had the ball in hand — how can the same committee choose to remove him? The fact that Kumble was announced as a “direct entry” into the process of appointing the next coach once his contract came to its natural conclusion suggests that this emaciated and decapitated Indian board wants to appear to be following the most transparent practices possible.

But, to announce this process — as transparent as that story of the emperor having no clothes — while India begin their defence of the Champions Trophy, was an insult to a great cricketer and a successful coach. Was there anyone in the BCCI who believed that they would be right in sacking Kumble, if the team went on to win the Champions Trophy?

If Kohli has a problem with Kumble, he either needs to sort it out in a back room, either with the man in question, or through BCCI back channels. The overwhelming evidence is that the two may never be best buddies, will not always see eye to eye, but are best suited to work together to take Indian cricket forward.

Any source that says otherwise, is either on the sauce, on the way out, or both.

(This article first appeared in the Scroll website on May 31, 2017)