BIRMINGHAM: The hothouse conditions at the indoor nets at Edgbaston on Friday mirrored the stifling atmosphere of intrigue surrounding Team India. The pelting showers outside and conspiratorial overtones inside the camp completed the sombre atmospherics.
Two days ahead of a rare cricketing contest billed as the piece de resistance of the Champions Trophy – an India-Pakistan game – the talk is all about whether the team, and specifically its captain and coach, can keep it together just long enough to add to India’s six-match winning streak in the tournament. And, put it past a storied rival fallen on lean times. But is that even the real picture?
It was interesting being a fly on the wall during the truncated indoor nets, from which six players, including most pace bowlers and even some regular batsmen like Shikhar Dhawan, opted out. In all honesty, the human body is never the best indicator of the human soul. The sheer intensity and focus of those present suggested nothing was amiss with the team’s preparations.
There might be differences between Virat Kohli and Anil Kumble. The captain might even, reportedly, prefer others as coach. On Thursday, though, there were no suggestions their relationship had broken down, or that the two could not work together any more.
Kumble, at the centre of the juiciest captain-coach rift story to hit Indian cricket since the Ganguly-Chappell days, sent throwdowns as normal to Kohli. He was all business, but that’s usual for Kumble. His directed the nets bowlers around, held animated discussions with batting coach Sanjay Bangar and sweated it out as much as the players.
Kohli himself was a picture of poise, his usual unwavering focus on his own batting session being followed by a diligent look at his bats and even some time out to change the sponsors’ logo on them. You could, of course, argue the two didn’t exactly chat up, depending on what you wanted to see. You could argue they didn’t display any bonhomie.
You could even point out that Kohli swatted back some of Kumble’s throwdowns with some force, forcing the coach to sidestep nimbly! The pressure, though, isn’t as much on Kumble as it will be on the captain. One slip-up, one bad shot, one wrong decision on the field or at the toss could cost him the game, and with it a lot of goodwill. Captains are expected to own up to defeats or poor form, and a loss here will definitely stir up talk of a captain-coach rift again.
The team, it is learnt, has been told specifically in meetings on Thursday night to tide over all unsavoury talk and focus on the Pakistan game. Kohli, being the feisty character that he is, should not have a problem with that.
For the moment, it’s back to the cricket. All talk is on hold, at least until the expected meeting with Vinod Rai, head of the Committee of Administrators, who is expected to arrive here on Saturday. Rai will hold talks with all stakeholders and see if he can agree to get everyone to shake hands and move on, or shake hands and stay put.