Even as India was coming to terms with the shocking untimely demise of the first appointed Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Gen. Bipin Rawat, in a helicopter crash, the BCCI released a cryptic statement in rather clandestine fashion, announcing the change of guard in what many considered could have waited a day or two.

Suffice it to say, irrespective of differences, while the move might have been imminent and even necessary perhaps, there was certainly a better way to treat the third best one day internationals captain in cricket’s history.

The BCCI statement could not be more bland as it was insidious and disdainful: “The All-India Senior Selection Committee decided to name Mr. Rohit Sharma as the Captain of the ODI and T20I teams going forward.”

In one swift, undramatic move, the Indian cricket board swiped left for the current captain, Virat Kohli, and announced Rohit Sharma as the captain of white ball cricket. While sound logic did suggest the impracticality of having two different captains in the shorter formats of the game, that Indian cricket is going through a low in terms of man management and communication, not to mention self-image preservation, would be an understatement.

No “thank you for your service”. No explanation. No reason for the captain being sacked or for his continuing work as batsman. No encouragement for the incoming leader. No statement drier than the one released with such befuddlement.

Talk about conceit and contempt. Some might say, it was tit for tat for an opportunity to avenge cricket’s insult, bringing to mind another embarrassing chapter in India’s cricket history. Conspiracy theories are afloat that Sourav Ganguly might be doing to Virat Kohli what he felt was his being slighted a decade and a half ago by the BCCI when he suffered a similar humiliation, being stripped of the captaincy of the Indian cricket team.

“Understanding workload is a very important thing and considering my immense workload over the last 8-9 years playing all 3 formats and captaining regularly for the last 5-6 years, I feel I need to give myself space to be fully ready to lead the Indian team in Test and ODI cricket.”

Those were Virat Kohli’s words before the ICC Twenty20 World Cup 2021 in the UAE, while announcing his decision to step down as the captain of the India’s Twenty20 cricket team at the end of the tournament. If ever there was a clear intent that Kohli was not going to give up the one day internationals captaincy, this was it.

At the time, the decision not only sent shockwaves in terms of the timing but confirmed practically what had been an ill kept secret in Indian cricket. Kohli had fallen out with some of his team mates in the Indian cricket dressing room. He was not the favourite poster boy within the halls of the BCCI – no halos for him unlike Mahendra Singh Dhoni. And, Rohit Sharma’s star was on the rise.

The decision, albeit attributed to him, had come through a series of events, dramatically played out gradually behind closed doors, meeting an opportunistic moment with the imminent exit of the outgoing coach, Ravi Shastri, whose tenure was not renewed beyond the World Cup.

While the brouhaha started much earlier, the seeds were sown even more prominently during India’s tour of England which, like Ravi Shastri’s tenure as the Indian coach, ended with something of a whimper. The writing on the wall, the dissensions between players and captain, between the captain-coach duo and the selection panel, and between dressing room and the cricket board getting louder, it was becoming apparent that Indian cricket was approaching an overhaul.

It seemed to come with the announcement of unlikely candidate in India’s next coach, Rahul Dravid, who would not only be not drawn into controversy and kerfuffle but also, was incidentally the man who took over from Ganguly when the latter fell out as captain with the then coach, Greg Chappell, who labelled the prolific scoring Bengal southpaw “not fit to lead” and also, “damaging to Indian cricket.” Despite then serving president Ranbir Singh Mahendra, Ganguly’s time as a captain was up though he would make a comeback as batsman.

Call this a payback. Or arrogance. But it seems to run through the rank and file whether it is cricket board officials who think they are bigger than the players who are the key asset of the game, or the players who think they are bigger than the game or their captain, or the captain who thinks he is bigger than the selectors and enjoys a board president’s influence or the custodian of the game that is the cricket board who thinks the money reeling cash-for-pay tournaments like the Indian Premier League are more important that the World Cups for which there is barely, if ever, any time to prepare, particularly in the last decade. The lines have been so blurred for a time, it is hard to separate any of the above or pinpoint a moment that created these notable fissures.

It is in this environment that Dravid takes over what might still be HIS most arduous job assignment in the field of cricket. And that is saying something for the man dubbed “the Wall” and vastly underrated amongst his own contemporaries when it comes to contributions to the game.

It is easy to understand the need to delineate the roles of the various members of the team and the seeming practicality of having one captain for red ball cricket and one for the white ball cricket. Even then, it begs whether Indian cricket needed to go through this controversy and at such prolonged length, adding a soap opera-like feeling to the game while it goes through the rigours of the pandemic.

Numbers don’t lie.

What should have been a simple handing over of the baton has made such headlines and caused such divisions amongst the sports’ fans. Virat Kohli’s tenure might have been missing the silverware of the World Cups – the closest India have come to winning an ICC event was during the ICC Champions Trophy when they lost to Pakistan in the final, the fact of the matter is that even with India’s poor showing in the UAE when they lost to Pakistan for the first time in cricket’s World Cup history and then lost to New Zealand to exit in the group stage itself, the BCCI themselves chose the IPL over the preparations for something of the stature of the World Cup and even called India’s performance a case of “one bad tournament.”

If that was the case, Kohli’s numbers during his tenure as captain certainly back why he refused to climb down and accede to the pressure to relinquish the one day captaincy as well.

Although Kohli is the fourth successful Indian captain behind Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Mohammad Azharuddin and Sourav Ganguly in terms of one day international wins, Kohli’s win percentage of 70.43 is the third highest the world over behind Australia’s Ricky Ponting at 76.14 and South Africa’s Hansie Cronje’s at 73.70 with 65 wins from 95 matches.

For the record, his numbers in Twenty20 are nothing to be disappointed with either, with a win percentage of 64.58 with 30 wins from 50 matches.

To add further credence, not only has India won 15 of the 19 bilateral one day international series including those in Australia and South Africa but also, Kohli has scored 5,449 runs during his tenure with 21 centuries which is not only the most by an Indian captain but also, one shy of Ricky Ponting who leads the pack with 22 one day international centuries to his name. He has the best batting average of 72.65 as ODI captain in cricket history, the second being AB de Villiers at 63.94.

Virat Kohli will look at 2021 with mixed feelings. Having scored a high of back-to-back Test series win down under, unprecedented in India’s history, although he chose to leave the Australian tour to be present for the birth of his first child, a daughter, back home, Kohli has had to look at the latter half of the year as one of the most privately turbulent times since taking over the Test captaincy after 2014 and the limited overs captaincy in 2017.

Having relinquished the Royal Challengers Bangaluru captaincy and thereafter the Twenty20 captaincy which many consider was made under duress to force it upon him, the fact that he has remained defiant to be so unceremoniously sacked ahead of an important overseas tour makes this only more telling on the part of the BCCI and the way the issue has been handled overall.

Ganguly claimed to a news media house that it did not seem the right thing to do to field two captains for the white ball format. He further claimed that Kohli has been dissuaded from giving up the Twenty20 captaincy. However, the contrary has been circling the rounds with his own board officials such as Jay Shah and Kumar Dhumal speaking openly about the captaincy change been in the works and in talks over the past six months.

With a single, simple, innocuous statement of “thank you for your contributions as captain”, the BCCI could have culled the speculation that has painted neither the cricket board nor the captain in a better light.

That there are issues in the underbelly is a rarity even in the most dominant of teams. Arguably Rohit Sharma’s tenure as apprenticeship under Adam Gilchrist at the Deccan Chargers might have served as a catalyst to his developing his man management skills by the time he took over the Mumbai Indians which have seen a sea change of fortune with five IPL champions trophies. With the growing insecurity over positions, it is not hard to imagine two factions within the dressing room and Rohit Sharma enjoying that drift as well in terms of additional backing.

That said, Rohit Sharma is a marked man. Having arrived as a prodigious youngster who took a while to settle himself into the longest format of the sport, despite his 2008 heroics down under, all of his accomplishments will mean nothing amongst impatient fans if there is not a drastic improvement in India’s performance in the fifty overs format World Cup next year on home turf.

Still, Kohli has been one of the most prolific contemporaries among cricket captains in cricket history alongside the likes of England’s Joe Root and New Zealand’s Kane Williamson, uniquely fluent across all three formats while shouldering the captaincy with a decent record as the statistics reveal.

Kohli is not the first person for whom captaincy had been a boon and bane. Kapil Dev was stripped after the 1983 heroics. Sunil Gavaskar had a tough time as did Sachin Tendulkar and Ganguly in the latter stages of his career. History is replete with stories, from across the cricket world.

Optics matter. Kohli’s aggressive on-field, take-no-prisoners demeanour and the lack of trophies in the cupboard might have told the story. Rumours and the BCCI’s appointment of Dhoni as mentor at the eleventh hour for the ICC Twenty20 World Cup set the stage. In the long run, the unburdening of Kohli might have an ironically ferocious effect on his batting, unleashing his prowess once more with an even greater vengeance.

Rahul Dravid might be in the most unenviable position at present, navigating the tricky corridor of egos between transition and also, two teams that have not operated as harmonious if the speculation over the past three months is anything to go by.

The BCCI could have made this easy on themselves, on Kohli and on Rohit Sharma. If anything, it only sets the stage for the greater expectations on Rohit Sharma, coming off as the favoured man in the powerful corridors of cricket. Not the way either man would have wanted for this transition to have played out in the public eye.

If it was one bad tournament, why make Virat Kohli the fall guy? Why, if Kohli was asked not to give up the captaincy, was the outgoing captain not accorded the basic civil respect of acknowledging his tenure when handing over the baton?