Anil Kumble’s decision to step down as the Indian cricket team’s coach after a rift with captain Virat Kohli has raised a tricky situation about the superstar culture in Indian cricket. It’s easy to pin the blame on Kohli’s ego, for rejecting a candidate approved by the legends of the game — Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and V.V.S. Laxman were the men who picked Kumble and renewed his contract, but the situation isn’t quite as simple as that. What does one do when the relationship between two strong personalities turns prickly and untenable? A coach can afford to not get along with a few players in the team as it is his job to show them the mirror, but the trust factor between him and the captain is non-negotiable. When that breaks, one must step down, and barring extraordinary circumstances, it is the coach who has to go.
The Indian cricket board has to take a large share of the blame for the mess. When it was decided by the cricket committee to replace Ravi Shastri, much-liked in the team, with Kumble, the potential for such a conflict had already come into play. They might not have anticipated the extent of conflict, but they shouldn’t have been caught so unawares. There are systems in place — the team-manager files a report after every series, and they are supposed to be in constant communication with the captain and the coach. Yet, the board has let the situation fester to the extent that an amicable solution wasn’t possible anymore.
Though it has been seen as a Kohli vs Kumble issue, and to a large extent it is, it’s not as if all the other players were happy with Kumble’s style of functioning. Murmurs of dissent and dissatisfaction have been doing the rounds, but Kohli must know that he will find himself under greater scrutiny now. He cannot afford to get himself into another prickly situation with the new coach. One such episode can be understood but a repeat would suggest a pattern. More importantly, it isn’t good for the team. When the players see their captain disregarding authority, it can set a dangerous example. The Kumble saga also places immense pressure on the new coach: Can he stray from the lines drawn by the captain? In the circumstances, the Indian board should resist the temptation to appoint a yes-man to appease the captain. That would be a wrong move that could potentially derail the success story of Indian cricket.