India vs West Indies: Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli have serious work to do
Personality clashes may not necessarily be damaging to the team cause unless matters fester beyond a tipping point.Updated: Aug 02, 2019 08:43 IST
The alleged rift between Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma, dismaying as it may be for fans, is not entirely surprising even if true. That sportspersons live and perform in sublime harmony is a myth, not borne out by sport history. Personality clashes may not necessarily be damaging to the team cause unless matters fester beyond a tipping point. Kapil Dev and Sunil Gavaskar, for instance, were hardly on best terms during the 1983 World Cup when India won the title.
In 2004-05, a misunderstanding between Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid did not prevent India from a historic, first-ever Test series win in Pakistan. Even after their friendship collapsed, Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi chest-thumped their way to several doubles titles, hardly speaking to each other off the court.
On the other hand, Kevin Pietersen’s conflict with Andrew Strauss and other team members, which started as a prank, spiraled out of control. It cost Pietersen his place and England their best batsman. All told, there’s a strong case that such issues are resolved asap.
Players find common focus when they come together as a team. But under that tent pole, they are disparate individuals with differing sensibilities, subject to tugs and pulls as in any other group activity: in fact, even more as they perform under extremely high pressure.
In cricket, the dressing room expresses unity, oneness, selflessness, and mutual interdependence of players. It is all of these and more. Pride, ego, insecurity, ambition, fear, friendship, compassion, greed, magnanimity, altruism et al come into play too.
Generally, players establish a workable emotional equilibrium between themselves for the team to function. This is not defined by constant mutual backslapping, which can be misleading. Things are not always hunky dory. Relationships can grow or flounder.
Common objective and camaraderie—however shaky—generally help sublimate individual ego and keep dressing room dynamics steady, allowing players to live and play together for long periods without being bosom buddies.
Since this is not a treatise on human nature, let me cut to the chase. The West Indies tour is a challenging one for Kohli and Sharma: not for the recent controversy, but where they can take their respective careers from this stage. Or not.
In ODIs, Kohli has to regain the run-making ardour that marks him as the best. In the World Cup, he looked in splendid touch, without quite being the matchwinner he is known to be. In T20s, there’s the 2020 World Championship to build up to.
But Kohli’s stiffer examination will be as captain across formats. West Indies are world champions in T20, and in ODIs, can surprise the best. Tests, however, are particularly important on this tour now that the World Championship in this format has begun.
Earlier this year, West Indies shocked England 2-1. They have now 3-4 bowlers who can clock 150kmph, which won’t make life easy for India’s batsmen. Buzz about whether the captaincy should be divided will gather momentum or be quashed depending on Kohli’s form and match results.
For Sharma, expectations from him are sky high in ODIs after his brilliant form in the World Cup.
Yet his bigger challenge is to find a regular place in the Test side. Disappointingly, he’s played only 27 Tests since his international debut a decade back despite several opportunities. It will take some luck or extraordinary batting in T20s and ODIs for him to break through. And this could well be his last opportunity.
So here’s my unsolicited advice. Now that they are in the Caribbean, away from the glare of the media and fans back home, Kohli and Sharma should sit down for a pow-wow.
If there is a rift, this is a good opportunity to settle matters over a cup of tea. If the story is baseless, have a laugh over it with something headier (tour rules permitting!), and take fresh guard.
There is serious work ahead for both.
((The writer is a senior sports analyst. Views are personal))