<b>Moneyball:</b> Dada’s messy power play
The appointment of an overseas batting consultant and a bowling coach, aside from the Indian team coach, has moved the cricket battle from the chess board on to a divided ground, where the confused players wouldn’t know which faction they belong to
It has just been six weeks since this column delved on how it wouldn’t take much time for things to go downhill for Indian cricket. But, even at that time, one had not imagined that the stage was being set for a fast-paced five-over shootout, where the current and past stars of the game would all come out slogging at each ball. When the clash between the coach and the captain, Anil Kumble and Virat Kohli respectively, broke out on the eve of the Champions Trophy, the signs were there for all to see. But what has unfolded over the last few days has been a revelation and surprised many.
When Kohli mounted a multi-pronged attack on Kumble and made it abundantly clear that he would settle for none other than Ravi Shastri, many a cricket lover were comfortable with his demand. Why not give a winning captain, who leads from the front, the coach he wants? Especially when it is Shastri, who had a decent outing as the team director before he was shunted out.
That the Big Three — Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, VVS Laxman —comprising the Cricket Advisory Committee (CAC) would endorse the idea was also more or less a given, especially since Shastri, who had not put in his application for the coach’s job, was prompted by Tendulkar to do so. All that remained to be seen was what piece on the game board Ganguly (aptly nicknamed Dada) would move, since it is an open secret that he was responsible for getting in Kumble over Shastri a year ago.

Well, Dada moved not one, but two pieces. He brought in a “Wall” through Rahul Dravid as ‘Overseas Batting Consultant’, and bowled a beamer from the shoulders of Zaheer Khan by appointing him as the bowling coach. A clever ploy to keep the Kohli-Shastri partnership under control. The respect that both Dravid and Zaheer have amongst players and cricketing circles is amongst the highest, and with their appointment, both the captain and coach would have been under considerable stress while deciding on team strategies and structure. There was no way Dada was going to let them get a free run. Dada had to be in control.
But Dada’s action has moved the battle from the chess board, and it has now spilled on to the ground. The Committee of Administrators (CoA), the Supreme Court-appointed panel, which oversees the functioning of the Board for Control of Cricket in India (BCCI), said the CAC had gone beyond their brief by appointing the batting and bowling consultants.
Reports suggest that Shastri will now have his way and decide on his support staff, which will definitely not include stars bigger in stature than him. The CAC, icons of Indian cricket, have written a letter saying they are in anguish, and that both Kohli and Shastri had been apprised on the appointment of consultants. In short, it is the widening of the rift in the cricketing fraternity.
Shastri and Kohli’s rejection of Dravid and Zaheer will not gain them any brownie points. Ganguly had bet on this aspect while appointing them. What reason does one give to reject Dravid as a batting consultant and Zaheer as a bowling coach, especially when they have been appointed by none other than Tendulkar, Ganguly, and Laxman. But the unthinkable is likely to happen and all five, stalwarts of the game, are going to lick their wounds in their respective corners as Shastri and Kohli set out to conquer the world with a bunch of confused players, who don’t know which faction they belong to or should belong to, leave aside the national team.
Into this mix are being thrown in three others — former India captain Kapil Dev, former Test opener Anshuman Gaekwad, and wicket-keeper Bharath Reddy — whose names have been suggested by the CoA as part of the four-member steering committee that will help in the formation of a Players’ Association. This is as per the suggestion made by the Justice RM Lodha Committee, which gave recommendations for better functioning of the BCCI. Why not make it exciting by creating a few more power centres?
While all this seems as plain as a battle between bat and ball, the fact remains that the monetary considerations and benefits that each of these characters, in what is turning to be a multi-act play, stand to gain are no more measly amounts. This ensures that the power play will only get dirtier.

A victim of the new regime could be the only other superstar in the Indian team — former captain MS Dhoni. He has quietly concentrated on the task of retaining a place in the team till the 2019 WC. But with the Shastri-Kohli duo likely to gain total control, this can no longer be a surety. But he is no kachcha khiladi, and has seen and managed worse scenarios. With a new era of the Indian Premier League (IPL) on the anvil, the captain with the Midas touch would be content making his moolah from the cash-rich extravaganza. Reports that his management company, Rhiti Sports, even bid to get the multi-crore event management portfolio for the IPL shows that Dhoni won’t be particularly perturbed by the ongoing happenings. In fact, Kohli has more need for his acumen on the field. Dhoni knows that, and don’t be surprised when on a normal quiet morning he announces his retirement.
Having lost a golden chance to start his ICC trophy collection in the Champions Trophy, Kohli would be hard-pressed to prove to detractors and sceptical fans that he can match Dhoni’s success. Having lost a few points in the perception battle during this coach row, he has only taken on more pressure to perform. Forces within and outside the team will be working towards dragging him and Shastri down. But whoever wins the short-term battle, the lines of control have been drawn for the future and it does not bode well for Indian cricket.
(CP Thomas is a co-founder of SportzPower and The Fan Garage)