Virat Kohli calling out Sourav Ganguly and the clashing storylines
No matter what, an even deeper disappointment is that our cricket’s rare player-president has let a fellow Indian captain be treated in a manner he himself fought against
Well before Virat Kohli addressed what has ended up as an 11-minute ‘answers only’ recording on the BCCI website, the Zoom link had hit its maximum of 100 participants with many journos still locked out. Twenty-four hours later, Kohli is in South Africa with the Indian team, those on the Zoom call remain as well informed as those who were not and BCCI old hands are too embarrassed to go on TV to try and explain what transpired.
Indian cricket has, as Sunil Gavaskar delicately described it, a ‘discrepancy’ on its hands. Discrepancy of the kind between China and Taiwan, it must be said. The India captain has called out the BCCI president, and while you may or may not use the word ‘bluff’, we’re now left with clashing storylines.
Cricket folk of a particular age are not surprised that Sourav Ganguly is at the heart of this too. We are not yet decided whether such drama finds him or he finds it. Fifteen years ago, his bust-up with coach Greg Chappell became the stuff of legend, containing multi-layered narratives passed on through phone calls, emails and careless whispers to journalists of my generation. At the time it had resulted in Ganguly being dropped with Chappell exiting the scene after two years.
Now, many lifetimes later, Ganguly finds himself being directly contradicted by India’s most successful Test captain (with the rankling subtext of being more successful than him). This time, unlike his triumphal return in 2006-07, he won’t be the one holding the bat. It leaves him in a position of considerable discomfiture, Kohli ending his media conference with what was meant to be the conclusive word on the subject.
We now have two versions of a single truth: one is Ganguly on Dec 9, “We had requested Virat not to step down as T20 captain. There was no plan to change captaincy.” Kohli’s counter on December 15 said, “Mujhe yeh nahin kaha gaya tha ki aap T20 captaincy na chodiye. (I was not told to not give up the T20 captaincy.)”
That is fundamentally one man’s word against the other, and while they are both honourable if highly competitive men, the fact remains that only one of those statements can be true. Do remember before entering this maze that all halos must be abandoned at the door.
During l’affaire Ganguly-Chappell, it is exactly what happened on both sides, and as journalists we were helpfully supplied with Rashomon realities. Whichever side of the face-off we were—and we did take sides—we realised later that both Ganguly and Chappell were economical with the truth whenever it helped their cause. Here too, Ganguly and Kohli’s divergent statements meant to assist their case have now run up against each other. On live video. Without the help of unsubstantiated versions, the fig leaves of “I was misquoted”, sources “reveal” or even “my nephew hacked my Twitter account.”
The balance—and Ganguly knows it—is now heavily tilted in Kohli’s favour, as the game’s contemporary superstar and the man who has thrown the last punch. Or in Virat-ian framework, as the guy who seized control of the narrative like it were a 50-over chase. What he also did was reveal to us that in reality Indian cricket’s big fight is not Virat vs Rohit but Virat vs Dada.
Following the first shockwave after Kohli went nuclear, Ganguly’s corner has turned up in force. Exhibit 1: the story in a Bengali paper this morning of the possibility of a show cause notice to Kohli. Exhibit 2, 3 and 4—social media murmurings and posts that Ganguly was only trying to give Kohli an honourable exit, Kohli was a useless ODI captain anyway and that Ganguly’s integrity is unimpeachable.
No one is denying the common sense of clearly splitting captaincy into white and red ball or the need for succession planning or that under Kohli’s captaincy India haven’t won any ICC Trophy (Kohli himself accepts that fact). Those ships however have sailed out of sight. Now Indian cricket has dived into the many circling sub-plots of this soap opera. The Anil Kumble exit with whisperings of ‘headmasterly’ behaviour which was to aid Kohli’s cause has been turned around into the recent steady bubble of news about Kohli’s ‘arrogance’ and ‘distance’ from his teammates. What goes around and other such things.
In an ostensible, steady clipping of Kohli’s wings, what was not accounted for by Ganguly was the dramatic change in public perception since the time he went head-to-head with Chappell. Social media has changed the rules of the player vs Board game. Kohli and his managers know the power of his gazillion followers on Insta and Twitter. His statement on Wednesday left Ganguly, his colleagues and the selectors metaphorically red-faced.
Another safety strand being adopted following such organisational ineptitude is to collectivise the faults of individuals under the giant, un-nameable umbrella of ‘BCCI/ Board.’ The “Board” responsible for this is the Group of Three, informally referred to as the OBs (office-bearers) these days and the responsibility of what has happened around Kohli and the captaincy rests on them—president Ganguly, secretary Jay Shah and treasurer Arun Dhumal.
Here too the sands keep shifting conveniently: one version of truth states that Jay Shah is running the Board. Nothing goes past him, Ganguly is powerless. Surely then, the general shoddiness and the shocker of a press release is to be placed on Shah’s door. The counter comes quickly. No, no, that was Ganguly’s doing, he’s controlling the cricket. This constant tango ensures that there is no apportioning of responsibility anyway. It works perfectly for an OB trio of whom two (Ganguly and Shah who I affectionately call Team Shanguly) under the new court-mandated BCCI constitution should be disqualified from holding their positions.
No matter who said what and at what time, an even deeper disappointment lies under this. That our cricket’s rare player-president has let a fellow Indian captain be treated in a manner that he himself fought against.