A major fire has engulfed Indian cricket even though the acting secretary of the board insists there is no smoke billowing.
The latest to stoke the fire is historian Ramachandra Guha, who, upset over the manner in which fellow-Bengalurean Anil Kumble is sought to be removed as national coach, listed a whole lot of ills dogging Indian cricket in his "resignation" letter to head of the Supreme Court-appointed Committee of Administrators (COA) Vinod Rai.
Guha, who has raised issues of conflict of interest -- implicating Sunil Gavaskar, Rahul Draid and Sourav Ganguly -- and unfairly offering A Grade contract to Mahendra Singh Dhoni, goes on to defend Kumble and recommends the name of another Bengalurean Javagal Srinath as a replacement for him on the COA, saying there is no representation of men cricketers in the committee!
He is right in questioning the timing of calling for applications for the national coach at a critical juncture when the team was preparing for a major International Cricket Council (ICC) tournament -- his letter would only raise more stink, considering the issues he has raised.
Guha is right, the so-called senior players should not be allowed to dictate terms on the appointment of chief coach and support staff, they can only have their views heard, can't have veto power.
"And surely giving senior players the impression that they may have a veto power over the coach is another example of superstar culture gone berserk? Such a veto power is not permitted to any other top level professional team in any other sport in any other country," says Guha in his no-holds-barred seven-page letter.
He takes skipper Virat Kohli to task without naming him in a devastating sentence: "Already, in a dismaying departure from international norms, current Indian players enjoy a veto power on who can be the members of the commentary team. If it is to be coaches next, then perhaps the selectors and even office-bearers will follow?"
Guha should have known that the senior players always had their say in the appointment and sacking of coaches, at least in the last 20 years. Kumble himself was part of these exercises along with the other senior teammates of his. If only former board secretary Jaywant Lele had been around he would have revealed some hilarious stories. He had once said that all top former cricketers should get an opportunity to be India coach since everyone had a right to have a piece of the cake.
Yes, someone in the COA or the board should have doused the fire the moment they noticed it, instead of hoping for it to die down on its own. Efforts are seemingly on, but the damage has already been done with even the media vertically split, some pushing for skipper Kohli's purported line of removing the coach and some others plugging for Kumble.
Whether by design or accident, the controversy could not have been triggered at an inopportune time, even if it is argued that professional cricketers do not allow anything to affect their on-field performance. When everyone should be concentrating on Sunday's India-Pakistan blockbuster in the ongoing Champions Trophy, vested interests have been allowed to hijack the discussion on the coach's continuance. It's nothing but trade union tactics.
Look at the circumstances that led to the present imbroglio. Someone in the COA-board realised that the one-year term of Kumble is coming to an end after the Champions Trophy and so they had to initiate the process of selecting a new coach. Conventional wisdom is that the contract of the incumbent should have been renewed purely on merit, looking at his and team's performance in the last one year, having won all the five series.
It turned out that it is not all that simple. The board, which in the past did not even get a contract signed well into a coach's tenure, suddenly remembers that there is a laid down procedure for the appointment of a coach and that should be followed. COA bafflingly went along with the board. The issue could have been settled soon after the series against Australia as Guha mentions in his letter or waited till after the Champions Trophy. Even if Kumble had to be replaced, he could have gone on one farewell tour just as Shastri did.
Naturally, it will irk anyone -- let alone Kumble who himself got into the saddle replacing Ravi Shastri in a manner that was not exactly straightforward. It was seen as some kind of backdoor entry as he was supposed to have been prompted by members of Cricket Advisory Committee of the board, Sachin Tendulkar, Ganguly and VVS Laxman.
Now Shastri's backers in the board want him back, but the Mumbai stalwart refused to apply after the way he was treated last year, particularly Ganguly who abstained when he was interviewed.
The atmosphere has been so vitiated that Kumble would not like to continue with so much of dirt splashing all over. It is unfortunate that players have ganged up to accuse the coach of acting like a headmaster or one who doesn't give players freedom.
After terming Kumble's attitude as overbearing, it may not be possible for both the coach and captain to reconcile and start afresh, unless the COA/board puts its foot down and tells them that they should work in the interest of Indian cricket, not cater to their respective constituencies and agendas.