Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Sordid Kumble Affair - Player, Coach and the Administration

Anil Kumble has shown his character through his actions and words over the years. He has spoken only as much as needed and whatever he has spoken, he has spoken like a gentleman and a professional. In all his years as a competitive cricketer, administrator and even as a coach, I have not seem him point fingers or speak against any individual. He has conducted himself impeccably as a professional, as a role model and as a senior statesman. Even as he quit his job as Head Coach of the Indian Cricket team due to this sordid affair that is just unfolding, he has not accused anyone directly and shown immense restraint, character. That is something very few, including some of the greatest icons of the game, can claim.

Kumble's appointment as coach raised a few eyebrows then because Ravi Shastri was doing a fairly good job as Director (I don't know what the role of the director is but I can safely assume he also coached the team). Kumble had little coaching experience but at that level it is more about man management and strategy, more  about knowing how to win, that perhaps matters more than anything else. Obviously man management is a big thing because these days the players have more money, are bigger stars and I cannot blame the twenty somethings to keep their heads and egos down. After all they are seen as super stars and millions know them by name and face.

Kumble has been recommended by an elite committee constituted by the BCCI, including Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman. The stature of the committee and the stature of the man in question are enough to say that we have picked the right person for the job. Ravi Shastri was unhappy about being shunted away unceremoniously but well, nothing in life is permanent - not even super stardom. Nor the Director's post.

Kumble's record as coach over the past year has been good. Captain Kohli wants to win and wants to win every game. He is intense. Those are exactly the traits that Kumble brought to the table. In addition to the desire to win, Kumble brought the art of statesmanship and a quiet maturity. He would also have bought his 'style' which is under question now.

What could his style be that could trigger such an immense backlash? Would he be abusive? Would he threaten? Would he impose unfair rules on the team? Would he engage in immoral practices? Would he pick sides? Would he choose favorites? Would he have a bad work ethic? Does he not understand the game? Has he not played as much as some of these greats? Would he rule over with an iron fist? That is something I would like to know - this 'style'. Whatever it is I am inclined to bet my last dollar on the fact that Kumble would do whatever he felt works in the interests of the team. Now if someone can prove otherwise, I'd like to hear their case.

I cannot understand how a player cannot adjust to the coach. Imagine Alexander not adjusting to Aristotle and telling his father to change his coach and tutor. What is there to adjust? What exactly is the player's agenda? To win matches. What is the coach's agenda? To win matches too. He will only be known as a good coach if the team wins games. The results have been good until this issue came up so where does the matter of style come into play? Obviously it is a style that worked.

But once players have a say in the 'style' of coaching they can as well choose the coach themselves. BCCI could well disband the elite committee and ask the team to sit in the interview panel and choose one whose style they might like. They are somehow being allowed to behave like pampered divas and in my experience it could well be the beginning of the ending. Remember - you do not sacrifice good men at the altar without paying a hefty price.

The importance of a good coach can never be undermined. He brings not just knowledge of the game but of life itself. He makes you not just good players but good people. And Anil Kumble, if whatever I have seen of him is an indicator, would have done just that. I am horrified to think that any team would be suicidal enough to throw such an opportunity away to grow as good people. Life goes on beyond cricket and one must be aware of that. It will all end one fine day, all too suddenly, and then you have only you and the mirror with your deeds of commission and omission to reflect upon. One can only say that this is a case of a team not deserving the coach it got.

If Virat Kohli has expressed his reservations against Kumble's style, it is high time he came out and explained what his reservations are and how they are so detrimental to the team. And while at that, also, what he expects the coach's role is. If he has not expressed the reservations, he could well come out and say he has not said it (which he did during the Champions Trophy). But his silence speaks louder now in today's din and it is disappointing to see the kind of an example he has set to the millions of followers he may have. Young cricketers could now well question the style of their coaches, young students could question the style of their teachers.

In the current scenario it is also imperative to know who are the prime movers behind this 'revolt', who in BCCI has handled this affair because it could have been done far more maturely and gracefully than this, what the CoA has done to address this issue. Not just Anil Kumble, which is good enough, but the BCCI, the CoA, the elite committee of Sachin Tendulkar, Ganguly and Laxman are shown in poor light with this poor handling of the Kumble affair. It's time now to find out who is responsible for it, what are the reasons and consequences, and how they will go about hiring the next coach.

BCCI could pretty much disband the committees, officials and give the keys to the team in these circumstances. The more I see of it, the less I am impressed by these 'reservations' about the 'style'. It reeks of rigid and fixed minds that are not adaptable. It is not unknown to most that such minds can only go thus far as they limit themselves with their own likes and dislikes, rules and opinions. That said, the administration seems devoid of any maturity or foresight, taste or decency in the way this issue has been handled.

To me the final blame lies with the BCCI and those in charge. They have let the issue play out to suit themselves instead of doing the right thing, which is backing Kumble to the hilt. And for failing to do that, they must explain their position too. If it is really true that Virat Kohli cannot continue with the Coach, he does not deserve to lead the side because that is clearly not one of his roles - to pick the Coach and his style. It could well be that the rumblings before the Champions Trophy have cost the team the Trophy so whoever had these reservations can also take the blame for that loss against Pakistan. But the BCCI chose to promote that line of thought, backed players who have really no say in the matter really (especially if there is no valid reason than personal and subjective preferences), and left Kumble with no option but to quit. And for just that one piece of mischief, some heads must roll.

While at that, I am still waiting for the details to come out because it is a curious case indeed. If a person like Kumble finds it impossible to continue in such an environment one can only guess that there are bigger forces at play, and not all of them as courageous or graceful as he is.

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