Indian cricket’s long history is replete with captaincy and selection controversies. When India played its maiden Test match in England in 1932, Maharaja of Patiala was named the captain, but it was Col. C.K. Nayudu who led the team out to the field. In those days, the likes of Maharaja of Patiala and Maharajkumar of Vizianagaram, two of the main funders of the game, had a say in selection of players too.
In 1984, during the home series against David Gower’s England, BCCI president NKP Salve asked the Chandu Borde-headed selection committee to reconsider the axing of Kapil Dev from the third Test, after he had played a “poor shot” to get out. Borde asked him if it was an instruction to include the ace all-rounder. When Salve said ‘no’, the selection committee “unanimously” stuck to its decision and Kapil missed the Kolkata Test.
In the present set-up of the BCCI, four groups that came together to form the Board in October 2019 are in control. Two years ago, they joined hands with the stated objective of getting rid of the Supreme Court-appointed Committee of Administrators, installed after the 2013 IPL betting match-fixing scandal.
The Virat Kohli-Rohit Sharma captaincy conundrum has added another melodramatic but avoidable chapter to Indian cricket. The saga reflects poorly on BCCI mandarins, particularly after they in September had denied a media report that Kohli could quit T20 captaincy after the T20 World Cup.
BCCI treasurer Arun Dhumal had then “rubbished” the report onrecord. But three days later, Kohli did resign, with secretary Jay Shah contradicting the treasurer, again onrecord. Shah claimed Kohli had been in discussion with the BCCI “for the last six months” over the captaincy issue. The two contradictory statements in three days badly undermined the BCCI.
While announcing his decision to quit T20 captaincy on September 16, Kohli had clearly stated he wanted to “give myself space to be fully ready to LEAD the Indian team in Test and ODI cricket”. The BCCI in fact copy-pasted Kohli’s entire 247-word message in its press release with effusive praise for Kohli from Sourav Ganguly and Shah.
But on December 8, while naming the Indian Test squad for the South Africa tour, BCCI curtly announced that Rohit Sharma would be the ODI captain. Following a nationwide outrage, Ganguly sought to explain the decision by saying that the selection committee felt two ‘white ball captains’ would not be desirable. He claimed that chairman of the selection committee, Chetan Sharma, and he himself had spoken to Kohli. Ganguly added that he had tried to dissuade Kohli from relinquishing the T20 captaincy.
However, Kohli typically though unexpectedly has chosen to call the bluff, something that has possibly never happened in the 93 year history of the BCCI. Whatever was said about the communication (between Ganguly and him), he said, was inaccurate. He was called by Sharma on December 8 to discuss the composition of the Test team for South Africa, ‘one and a half hours’ before the meeting. While putting down the phone, he claimed, Sharma informed him that he would no longer lead the side in ODIs.
To put the role of the selection committee in perspective, it is pertinent to note that since 2008 the selectors are being paid quite handsomely, and presently the chairman receives Rs. 1 crore per year while the other four members are paid Rs. 90 lakh each.
While Kohli’s plainspeak has landed Ganguly in a spot and knives are out for him, two questions remain unanswered. One, did the selection committee, independent on paper, seek instructions from the BCCI and if so, why? Two, did Ganguly instruct the selection committee chairman to drop Kohli for Rohit Sharma?
The controversy, ahead of the Indian team’s challenging three Test series beginning December 26 could not have come at a worse time. But surprisingly, or not so surprisingly, nobody is commenting on Jay Shah’s claim in September that BCCI and Kohli were in talks about captaincy for the past six months.
(This article was first published in National Herald on Sunday.)
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