“MR CHOUDHARY, what do you have to say about India’s training facilities here…” The Indian journalist couldn’t quite complete his question. He was snubbed by a senior fellow journalist who reminded him, rather rudely too, that it could wait for later. That the important issue at hand, and one that had prompted this hastily organised press conference with BCCI acting secretary Amitabh Choudhary on the foyer of the Edgbaston cricket ground, had still not been dealt with.
But you couldn’t have blamed the journalist, who in the first place wanted to move on to other things. For, Choudhary at least had made it sound like he had dealt with it with his very first answer, where he neither denied nor dismissed it; he simply refused to even acknowledge it.
The issue, the alleged rift between Indian captain Virat Kohli and head coach Anil Kumble, has dominated sports headlines over the last few days. A number of reports, meanwhile, have revealed a number of points of discontent between the two most influential figures in the Indian dressing-room, and it seems likely that Kumble’s days as Indian coach are numbered, beyond his contracted period that is. Earlier in the day, Ramchandra Guha a member of the Supreme Court-appointed committee of administrators had announced his shock resignation. And all this while India prepare to take on Pakistan in their opening match of the 2017 Champions Trophy.
But Choudhary seemed unfazed by it all. He walked calmly towards the eager group of media personnel, who had been asked to gather around, flashing a confident smile. The smile never left his face. He scoffed at the first question which was about his visit, which according to the reporter hadn’t been “scheduled”.
“Kamaal ki baat karte hain. It’s my schedule and you’re saying I don’t know it! Who says I was not scheduled to come? It was planned from long back,” he said. The second one was a lot more direct, mentioning the “reported stand-off” between Kohli and Kumble. Choudhary’s smile only grew wider as he said, “I’m not aware of any. It’s purely in the realm of imagining.” To another question, about whether he had come to “make peace” within the team, the veteran administrator reiterated his earlier point and went on to refer to the “rift” as mere speculation. As the press conference continued, Choudhary’s voice was often drowned by the crescendo of voices directed towards him. But he wasn’t budging. When asked how there could be “smoke without a fire”, he denied there was any smoke visible to him. He then also insisted that he didn’t see “any problem at all” in the existing relationship between the captain and coach and referred to the mood of the team as “upbeat as usual”. Finally, the questioning moved to the resignation of Guha, but here again Choudhary preferred to play it safe saying, “How can I comment on Honourable Supreme Court’s appointments?”
That the BCCI were trying to diffuse a potentially volatile situation would be understandable in the build-up to a major tournament. It would have even sounded prudent if Choudhary had tried playing it down. But it was the brazenness in Choudhary’s repudiation that made it sound odd while hardly managing to quell what he dismissed as “speculation”, which seemed to be his main prerogative to talk to the media all of a sudden.
While Choudhary addressed the media, the Indian team went about their practice session rather routinely. That they were on the outside ground at Edgbaston meant only it was more a sound-only than vision-only session as far as the media were concerned with only a narrow slit on the side allowing brief glimpses of the goings on at the session. All eyes were obviously glued on the two major protagonists of the alleged feud and the interaction, or lack of it, between them. It would be “speculative” to suggest much on that front based on how little was visible. For the record, Kumble was spotted bowling at a few batsmen including Yuvraj Singh and Shikhar Dhawan. Kohli on the other hand was his busy self and spent a major part of the session’s latter half providing slip-catching practice to his colleagues. The most noteworthy event during practice was when Dhawan was struck on the ribs and seemed to be in some distress. But the opener seemed to recover soon enough, and was put through what looked like an impromptu fitness test — made to run a few short, rapid laps.
It was a worrying moment for the Indian camp. With all the talk regarding a rift at the top in their dressing-room — which despite Choudhary’s best efforts don’t look like disappearing soon — they can least afford to have a key batsman injured.