Opinion: Virat Kohli drawing power from administrative vacuum in BCCI
India skipper is enjoying a free run like Imran Khan did in Pakistan due to dysfunctional cricket system, and has become an independent power centre
Viv Richards is considered the top batsman in the world over the last 50 years and there is widespread agreement that during the same period Imran Khan was cricket’s most powerful captain. Inspirational, charismatic and autocratic, such was Imran’s control over Pakistan cricket that nobody dared to mess with him.
Now, Virat Kohli (no less inspirational, charismatic or autocratic) is fast emerging as a worthy successor to Imran. Captain Kohli wields enormous power and people have learnt not to cross his path. He appoints/sacks the team coach, selects players, lays down fitness standards, negotiates player fees and has strong views on a range of policy matters.
Imran and Kohli assumed unlimited power because of a general breakdown of cricket administration. Pakistan’s cricket system was always dysfunctional and whatever existed was blown away by the forceful Pathan. The transfer of power in Gaddafi Stadium was quite seamless.
Like Imran, Kohli enjoys a free run because there is no resistance in sight. The BCCI is in a state of collapse, run by administrative tailenders incapable of telling the difference between short leg and square leg. The CoA are no better than tenants on a short lease and in no position or mood to disagree with the Indian skipper. The national selectors are powerless — with collective experience of 13 Tests, and as Kirmani pointed out, they can’t stand up to Kohli.
It can be argued every Indian captain is strong and Kohli’s predecessors were no less powerful. Ganguly and MSD were leaders, not just captains, but there was a difference: both drew their power, in part, because they had the BCCI president on speed dial. Kohli, however, is an independent power centre, his authority a result of an aggressive personality and astonishing batting success. When Ramchandra Guha wrote about the influence of the ‘superstar culture’ he had Kohli in mind.
Focusing power in a single person, it is argued, can be detrimental to the team. Mike Brearley said that an overpowering personality in the dressing room can intimidate others and inhibit free discussion. The reality is Kohli is a giant, the only 100% certainty in the India’s starting XI now that seniors Pujara/ Rahane/Ashwin have shrunk in stature.
Imran and Kohli have both made judgement calls and some turned out horribly wrong. In the famous 1987 Bangalore Test, Salim Jaffer was picked ahead of Qadir on a raging turner -- but didn’t bowl a single ball in the game! In England, critics jumped on Kohli for selection mistakes. Yet both captains command respect because there is no doubt about their integrity, the passion to succeed and firm commitment to put team interest ahead of everything else.
In their dissimilar ways, Imran and Kohli have taken cricket forward. Imran taught Pakistan to win and was the first captain to ask for neutral umpires. Kohli is completely driven by the desire to push Indian cricket ahead and his is a different Indian team, one which plays off the front foot and talks tough.
When Imran stepped on to the field you noticed the Pakistan flag fluttering in the background. Kohli, on his way to cricket greatness as a batting tiger, wears the tricolour proudly on his helmet. When India wins overseas he will join the select group of powerful and great captains.
(The writer is a senior sports administrator and views are personal)
First Published: Oct 17, 2018 14:42:46