Fluent, on front foot, Kohli blows lid off captaincy saga

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Indian cricket has been in turmoil before: player vs player, player vs captain, captain vs coach, captain vs selector. But it plunged into a dramatic and unlikely crisis on Wednesday when Virat Kohli, the talisman of this generation, and until last month India’s sole captain across all three formats, stepped out of his crease determined to set the record straight.

So what if his comments were in direct contradiction to those made by Sourav Ganguly, the president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).

In a scheduled press interaction that started off in a frustratingly benign manner — as pre-series media briefings often do — Kohli, matter-of-factly but with the fluency usually seen in his batting, indicated that his version of events in the captaincy musical chairs between him and Rohit Sharma were in stark in contrast to those of Ganguly’s. And, perhaps more crucially, that he was treated by the Board in a manner that no one — definitely not a player and captain with a record as impressive as his — ought to be.

Kohli made it clear that he was never persuaded to stay on at T20I skipper by anyone in the Board; that he did not say he was going to opt out of the ODI series in South Africa; and that his sacking as one-day captain was sudden and unceremonious — during the fag end of a phone call with the selectors about 90 minutes before they were to pick the Indian team.

“Whatever is said about the communication that happened when the decision (to quit T20I captainship) was made was inaccurate,” Kohli said, contradicting Ganguly’s claim on Sunday that he had personally reached out to Kohli and asked him to stay.

“I told them that I wanted to continue leading in Tests and ODIs unless the office-bearers and selectors feel that I should not. My communication was clear to the BCCI and the decision was in their hands,” Kohli added.

“I was contacted one-and-a-half hours before the selection meeting for the Test series on (December) 8th and there was no prior communication. The chief selector discussed with me the Test team to which we both agreed. And, before ending the call, I was told that the five selectors had decided that I would not be the ODI captain, to which I replied, ‘Okay fine’,” he then said about his being removed from the ODI captaincy.

“And in the selection call afterwards, we chatted about it briefly. That is all that happened,” Kohli added, with an air of finality.

This was very different from what Ganguly said on Sunday.

“When Virat stepped down from T20I captainship, we had requested him not to step down. We had told him that we still consider him as captain and that he should not step down. But, obviously he was not very keen to continue,” the BCCI chief told several news channels and publications, including HT.

When this was pointed to Kohli, though he did not name Ganguly, his reply was detailed and not devoid of irony: “I first approached the BCCI that these are my reasons why I want to quit T20I captainship and it was very well received,” he said. “There was no hesitation in the response and I was not told that you don’t give up T20 captainship. I was told it was a progressive step and in the right direction.”

Ganguly, himself one of India’s most successful captains, and one who has been at the receiving end of opaqueness and intrigue by administrators, did not respond to queries from HT seeking comment.

Kohli also stressed that he has no problem with Rohit Sharma, and made it a point to say that he values him as a team mate.

“I have addressed this on many occasions that there is no problem between me and Rohit,” he said. “Honestly, I have got tired of clarifying this for the past two, two-and-half years. I can tell you that no action of mine or any of my communication will be to put the team down till I play.”

Terming reports that he wanted to take a break from the ODIs in South Africa, ostensibly so that he would not have to play under Sharma as “lies”, Kohli said that he had never asked the BCCI for one. “My responsibility is to push the team in the right direction. Something that I have looked to do even before I became the captain. That mindset has never changed and will never change,” he said.

The captaincy saga began on September 16, when Kohli announced the decision to step down as India’s T20 captain to manage his workload.

Earlier this month, Rohit Sharma also replaced Kohli as ODI captain. The decision, according to the Indian board, was taken to ensure one captain in both white ball formats.

Kohli said he did not have a problem with the decision. “We haven’t won ICC tournaments. I can understand the reasons. It was never a debate if the call was right or not,” he said.

But it was the manner in which it was done, and the comments made after that to the media that he says were blatantly inaccurate, that had clearly perturbed him.

Kohli has won 39 of 66 Tests as captain and scored 5,703 runs at an average of 55.36. In ODIs, he has racked up 5,449 runs at 72.65 in 95 matches as skipper with as many as 65 wins. In the shortest format, he registered 30 wins as captain from 50 games with a tally of 1,570 runs at 47.57.

“It was handled very badly. We have seen in the past people learning of losing Indian captaincy on a flight. But for the way this issue was handled now, with a cricketer at the helm of affairs, is unfortunate,” Kirti Azad, former India selector and part of the 1983 World Cup-winning squad, said. “Sourav should have remembered his own case; he was treated the same way. He should have made sure that the same should not happen to another captain. There have been icons before and there will be after Virat. But it should have been handled better. To tell Virat as an afterthought during a call that he is not the ODI captain is not done,” Azad added. Going forward, Azad had a word of caution for Kohli. “There was no media at our time. Now there is intense scrutiny. He will have to be careful now. If he doesn’t perform, they will sack him,” Azad said.

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