December 17, 2021: The most detrimental issue at present destabilising Indian cricket is captaincy. The second-most important position after the Prime Minister’s post in India is considered to be captaining the Indian side, a position that is discussed and debated at every corner of the country.
The Indian captaincy has been a controversial subject ever since India’s first official International cricket series. The Indian side to England in 1932 had a battle for leadership between two of their patrons, the Maharajas of Patiala and Vizianagram. Both finally opted out and the Maharaja of Porbandar was given the honours. Fortunately, the Maharaja had the good sense of realising his limitations and let CK Nayudu lead the side in the very first Test match that India played at Lord’s against England.
The next major leadership issue came about in 1946 between Nawab Iftikhar Ali Khan of Pataudi and Vijay Merchant when India was touring England, wherein the former was appointed the captain. Merchant, one of the foremost batters, was bitterly disappointed on losing out on the captaincy which he felt he richly deserved.
Thereafter, Indian cricket juggled between many captains, most of whom played under each and others’ captaincy, just glad to be playing for their country.
The power that administered the BCCI then controlled the fate of an Indian captain. It was only after Nawab Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi was put at the helm in 1961 that the shuffling of that position came to a halt.
It was for the West Indies tour in 1971, 50 years ago, when Vijay Merchant as Chairman of the selection committee, cast his deciding vote in favour of Ajit Wadekar who finally replaced Pataudi. This, thereafter, brought many of the Indian cricket legends vying against each other for the prestigious captaincy position.
The increase in the media press coverage, television and finally the digital world, has made the topic of captaincy become scandalous stories that make headlines. The present one between Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma is no different from the earlier stories of Ajit Wadekar, Bishan Singh Bedi, Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Mohammad Azharuddin and many more.
The pressure of captaining India is enormous and so, quite understandably, after over seven years in the seat, Kohli, due to excessive workload, stepped down from leading India in the T20 format. His deputy and serious contender for that position, Rohit Sharma, replaced him and did well to beat the visiting New Zealand side comprehensively in the T20 series. This performance made Rohit a front-runner for leading the side in both the white-ball formats. Virat, in his honesty, opened the gates for his detractors to make a move.
The most prestigious ICC tournament is the One-Day International World Cup and the next one is being held in 2023 in India. Kohli naturally had his eyes on captaining the side in it and he quite clearly spelt his intentions to do so. The Indian team has been one of the top ODI performers under his captaincy and at home they would be a formidable side to beat. Leading India to a World Cup win would be just the glory on his cricket career that he would aspire to achieve.
The Indian selectors, under the chairmanship of Chetan Sharma, by appointing Rohit Sharma as captain for both the limited-overs versions of the game has diffused Virat Kohli’s hopes.
One could pinpoint to various reasons for Kohli being displaced but for the Indian team to do well, he needs to be firing on all cylinders. One could gather a bit of disappointment in the way he responded to the questions in the press conference held before the Indian team’s departure for South Africa.
The third Test match of the series in Cape Town, will have Virat Kohli playing his 100th Test match. The Indian side looks like a far better unit than South Africa, who are on the road to building their side since many of their stalwarts retired. This is an ideal situation for India to finally win a series there. A Test series win would put Kohli in the right frame of mind.
Both Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli are thorough professionals who would not let the captaincy issue creep in when playing for the country. Along with Rahul Dravid, they need to put it finally to rest.
The problem is whether the instigative media and the gossip mongers will continue to sensationalise it. In the present competitive world, disagreements and divisiveness are a part and parcel of ones’ existence. This is what happens when politics and influencers play their part and things go awry.
Indian cricket is on the rise at present. History has shown that internal bickering has been India’s downfall in the past. One hopes that the future of Indian cricket does not fall foul to it.
(Yajurvindra Singh is a former Test cricketer. Views expressed are personal.)