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Gaurav Kalra

We need to hear Kohli's side of the story

Now that we've had Kumble's perspective on why he left, we need to know why the captain felt the coach wasn't right for India

Gaurav Kalra
Gaurav Kalra
Sometimes, just for fun, it is worthwhile going back to things people have said. Especially famous ones.
On June 3, not long after the first reports of a rift with coach Anil Kumble emerged, Virat Kohli was in hack-slaying mode.
"There are no issues whatsoever," he insisted ahead of his team's first clash against Pakistan. And then he offered some advice.
"All I can say is, if you do not have the knowledge about something, do not spread rumours, do not speculate, and focus on the cricket."
Once warmed up, he took a borderline below-the-belt swipe: "In a tournament which is so much in focus, lot of people like to find rumours before the tournament. They are trying to do their job and get their livelihood. We will focus on our livelihood."
A shrug was all that was needed, instead Kohli chose to let it rip. Three weeks on from that bombast in Birmingham, it turns out it all wasn't just rumour after all. Understandably, with a big-ticket tournament to play, Kohli wasn't going to fan the fires of a simmering rift with his coach. But now that assignment is complete and the captain and coach have boarded flights heading in opposite directions, setting off a rampaging storm in their wake.
Since news of Kumble's resignation broke on Tuesday evening, the narrative on mainstream as well as on social media has been overwhelmingly supportive of the deposed coach. Sunil Gavaskar laid into the players for expecting a "softie" for the role, someone who would "let them go shopping". Irate tweeters have demanded Kohli be sacked too. TV pundits have hollered about the limits that must be placed on the powers of a captain. And speculation has been rife about cliques and vested interests that have forced a legendary figure out. Kohli has essentially been accused of staging a palace coup.
Quite clearly, the obvious fallout is in terms of precedent. If Kohli - and several players in his team, as we are now hearing - have successfully evicted a man of Kumble's eminence, how must his successor operate? Will he be in any position to confront the captain on issues such as tactics, playing XIs, fitness, player management and so on, if he happens to disagree? Will he be reduced to being a mere rubber stamp to the whims of a captain riding a surge of success and firmly established as the leader of the pack? If so, then why will any self-respecting individual want the job? As a former cricketer texted me: "What is it that you are seeking - loyalty or quality?"
It isn't rocket science to deduce that Kohli was angered by Kumble's methods. But was he also convinced those methods were detrimental to the team's progress?
Kumble's own statement after he stepped down is revealing. While gracefully conceding that once the "misunderstandings" became impossible to resolve, it made his and Kohli's partnership "untenable", he reiterated his formula as coach unapologetically. Some of it may come off as glib corporate talk, but like most things Kumble, these are considered words, based on a firm belief system.
"Professionalism, discipline, commitment, honesty, complementary skills and diverse views are the key traits I bring to the table," he said. "These need to be valued for the partnership to be effective. I see the Coach's role akin to 'holding a mirror' to drive self-improvement in the team's interest."
Read between the lines and it is an indictment of the captain. Kumble saw himself as a disruptor; his job was to challenge and drive players to improve and make the most of all their talents and skills. He wasn't in the dressing room to win a popularity contest. In essence Kumble is saying that once he started to "hold up the mirror", it enraged some of the men who looked into it. Hence, what Kumble considered discipline was regarded as "headmasterly". What he called commitment was viewed as "intimidation". The rupture was inevitable.
It isn't rocket science to deduce from this sequence of events, and the dribbles of information trickling out, that Kohli was angered by Kumble's methods. But was he also convinced those methods were detrimental to the team's progress? Were they impeding the players' development as professional athletes? The results over the last year would suggest otherwise but it would be simplistic to view the contribution of a coach merely through the prism of results. As Abhinav Bindra, the Indian Olympic shooter, pointed out on Twitter, he stuck with his coach for 20 years though he "hated" him. Why? Because he told Bindra things he did not want to hear.
Look at Bindra's CV for evidence that there is merit in an elite athlete having someone around who pushes his buttons. It can be enraging and frustrating but the reward is in the outcome you seek.
The proverbial ball is now firmly in the court of those who run Indian cricket. Their first move must be to unshackle Kohli and let him communicate his point of view with the cricket public. While Kumble has spoken through a fairly detailed statement, the reasons for Kohli's discomfort with Kumble have only emerged via sources and assumption.
There can be no doubt that the stakes are enormously high for Kohli. He will know that from where he sits, this is a public-relations disaster. Kumble is a widely admired figure, and as has become clear, enjoys the goodwill of a large section of the cricket community. Kohli, on the other hand, has now added greater heft to the narrative that portrays him as arrogant and brattish. If his team starts to flounder - and on overseas tours the challenges will be sterner - the conversation will return to his high-handed manner in ensuring Kumble's exit. The cricket media now has a reference point to turn to, and Kohli will understand that he will inevitably be portrayed as a villainous figure who waylaid a great man while seeking a yes-man.
As an unabashedly ambitious captain and batsman, it is certain Kohli has targeted overseas series wins in South Africa and England next season, and in the 2019 World Cup. How did he come to be convinced Kumble wouldn't be an ideal ally in accomplishing those goals? We often hear that a winning team is a happy team, then why is it that after their combination delivered so much success in these last 12 months, there were rumblings of discontent? In what ways was Kumble "overbearing"? Why was the dressing room "intimidated" by his presence? In every interview he did after being appointed coach, Kumble insisted the captain was the boss of a cricket team. Did he not actually operate by that dictum?
Details of specific events will, of course, remain private, as episodes in change rooms must, but an overview of the concerns that led to this breakdown must be provided. After all, to the outsider, Kumble appears to have done nothing wrong. Unlike some coaches in the past, he did not seek the limelight, he wasn't given to leaking team secrets to friendly journalists, and his cricketing acumen is not in doubt.
When he was appointed, Kumble was considered the perfect match for Kohli. Both driven, passionate men, eager to achieve lofty goals. Why, then, has Kumble been cast aside in a year?
To keep Kohli's side of the story under wraps is no longer an option. On June 3 in Birmingham, he produced a combative performance that we know now wasn't entirely reflective of the realities of his team's backroom. It is now time to let the convictions he stood by be shared with the world at large. At stake is the reputation of the eminence of Indian captaincy.

Gaurav Kalra is a senior editor at ESPNcricinfo. @gauravkalra75