So much has changed in the world of cricket since India last toured the Caribbean, a little under 12 months back.
For starters, India will be playing Windies, not West Indies – do changes in nomenclature translate automatically to changes in performances? For another, the number of Test-playing nations has gone up 20%, from 10 until Thursday (June 22) evening to 12 by night. Oh, and Anil Kumble is no longer the head coach of the Indian team.
It was in the Caribbean that a match seemingly for the ages took its first steps towards targeted cricketing hegemony. The relaxed environs, the wonderful beaches and the arrestingly multi-hued waters provided the perfect backdrop for the honeymoon as the young captain and his excited charges welcomed the senior statesman into their fold.
The honeymoon, we are told through ‘reliable sources’ and faceless, nameless officials, didn’t last as long as the world was given to understand. Rumblings of serious discontent allegedly took shape very early into Kumble’s tenure, discontent that instead of being nipped in the bud was allowed to take deep root and snowball into open dissent that has left the Indian team without a steadying hand and a captain still in his early days in a very tight spot largely, it is believed, of his own making.
All the blame for this unseemly standoff has been laid at the doorstep of the passionate, tempestuous Kohli, but there are other actors in the background whose roles have been less highlighted, their intentions less scrutinised. In time to come, it can be safely said, more skeletons will tumble out of the cupboard, and the deafening sound of silence of the last few days will be shattered stridently.
Virat Kohli has emerged as the face of the movement that led to Kumble stepping down as the head coach, but surely, Kohli could not have been acting alone. All the blame for this unseemly standoff has been laid at the doorstep of the passionate, tempestuous skipper, but there are other actors in the background whose roles have been less highlighted, their intentions less scrutinised. In time to come, it can be safely said, more skeletons will tumble out of the cupboard, and the deafening sound of silence of the last few days will be shattered stridently.
This deafening sound has emanated from various quarters – Kumble’s peers and erstwhile team-mates, for starters. The interim administrative set-up that wants to be seen to be doing something, though it doesn’t want what it actually is doing to be seen. And from within the Indian team itself, which, no matter the misgivings of some of the players towards the coach, has had a terrific run in the last year.
India’s young guns are adept at holding their own not just on the field of play, but are also both active and genuinely engaging when it comes to social media. Yet, for the last 10 days or so, it is as if they have returned to the pre-internet era. Twitter is non-existent as far as they are concerned, it would seem. The last activities on the timelines of several regulars date back to at least more than a week; perhaps, in these somewhat volatile times, that is not necessarily the worst option to embrace, whether that is by unlikely accident or by common design.
Indeed, if anything, the only activity of note, picked out by keener eyes than ours, is Kohli deleting his tweet of a year back – of June 23, 2016, to be precise – welcoming Kumble into the team upon his appointment as the head coach. That is entirely his choice, of course, but if many people feel – as they seem to – that it was uncalled for, they are entitled to their opinion as well. Clearly, to have gone that far back in time to delete what by all accounts was then a heartfelt message sends out some kind of a signal. What that signal is, no prizes for guessing.
There hasn’t been a murmur from a current, active player, about Kumble’s exit. It is possible that one or two of them might have communicated with him on a private platform in the days since he stepped down. Perhaps, the ramifications of stirring the pot have prevented a few from expressing their thanks and gratitude on a more public forum, because there is no denying the fact that so many have benefitted so much from the former Indian skipper’s expertise and wisdom, even if all of them may not necessarily have been fans of his ‘style’ of functioning.
Kohli had the first opportunity to clear the air in relaxed Port of Spain on Thursday night when he fronted the media ahead of the one-dayers against Windies. In many ways, it was fortunate for so many people that so few members of the Indian media are in the Caribbean to report on what is a reasonably low-profile series whose matches end at an unreasonably late hour back here in India. The potential for numerous tricky questions had automatically dropped immediately; Kohli quickly ensured that there would be no continuation of a similar theme by making it clear at the outset that he wasn’t going to discuss what happened in the sanctity of the dressing room in front of the entire world.
“What’s most important is to maintain the sanctity of the change room and what happens in the change room is something very sacred and private to all of us. It’s something that I would not express in details in a public scenario.”
Perhaps, the ramifications of stirring the pot have prevented a few current players from expressing their thanks and gratitude to Kumble on a more public forum, because there is no denying the fact that so many have benefitted so much from the former Indian skipper’s expertise and wisdom, even if all of them may not necessarily have been fans of his ‘style’ of functioning.
Those are powerful words that leave no scope for debate or discussion, but they are also suggestive that some things did happen in the dressing room. The sagacious Kumble hasn’t revealed any dressing-room developments, and Kohli has followed his former coach’s lead and refrained, publicly, from adding further fuel to a raging fire that might take some time putting out.
Dressing rooms, of course, are extremely private places whose occupants have the right to let off steam from time to time. Generally, successful teams inhabit a happy dressing room, but there are known exceptions to the rule. There have instances where players haven’t seen eye to eye, and have yet come together to script victories. There have also been occasions where a player or a group of players hasn’t necessarily got on with a coach, but have still found ways to forge a working relationship. As would seem the case now.
For now, with the limited-overs games as the precursor to another packed season, the focus must return to what happens out in the middle. There are plenty of wise heads within the playing group – one is curious to know if Mahendra Singh Dhoni and/or Yuvraj Singh made any attempt at all to broker peace – to carry the younger guns in their wake. They will all be aware that, no matter the late hours in India, they will all be watched carefully, none more so than the captain. They might even occasionally miss the ‘well done’ from the erstwhile coach, who will no longer be on the balcony, camera on the ready to capture seminal moments for posterity. Perhaps, happy families only exist on celluloid and in fairy tales; damn me as cynical if you wish.