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Deflection Virus: Virat Kohli vs Sourav Ganguly is the Perfect Distraction For BCCI Before an Ill Advised Tour

Just before the Indian cricket team boarded their flights to South Africa, a Sourav Ganguly vs Virat Kohli tussle raged on to our screens. As much as this powerplay is real, it is also a neat segue for a cricket tour to a country where the Omicron variant of Covid-19 looms.
Sourav Ganguly vs Virat Kohli captaincy tussle

BCCI president Sourav Ganguly and Indian Test skipper Virat Kohli (file pic).

Virat Kohli is hurt. Sourav Ganguly is bewildered. Indian cricket fans are a divided lot. The BCCI, and the official statement releasing mechanism of the world’s richest cricket body, remains mute, seemingly oblivious to the drama unfolding within. Sources are anonymous, but vocal. Thank god! What more do you want? You have the perfect script playing out at will (that of Kohli vs Ganguly), and the episode has been thrust on to our television screens for consumption. If you gulp it down you will get indigestion (the game's politics is hard to digest), if you spit it out, you will feel left out. After all, how can you not comment on the biggest thing to happen in Indian cricket since MS Dhoni lifted the World Cup in 2011. 

The unceremonious ending of the Kohli leadership is perhaps bigger than Dhoni’s Kapil Dev act. Or so it seems with the reactions flooding in on all forms of media, social as well as asocial. And in between these two moments of post-millennial Indian cricket history, Kohli managed to win zero global trophies with a set of players that had the potential to establish a monopoly akin to the Aussies of the 2000s or the West Indians of the 1970s. 

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Yes, statistically, he is still the best Test skipper the country has had, but it seems that it is a matter of time!

Time, or rather timing, is a priceless attribute in cricket. Kohli has that gift as a batsman. Ganguly, it seems, possesses it a notch more, in all the possible areas we could imagine timing to have a bearing. His ascension to the BCCI throne, after all, is no sheer coincidence. It is just him making his presence felt at the right place, at the right time. A big match player, you see. 

And, this Kohli-Ganguly soap opera is also about timing. India on the cusp of a tour in the Omicron-ravaged South Africa, playing a Test at the Wanderers in Johannesburg — the capital of Gauteng province, the epicentre of Omicron infections in the country. The country’s cricket aficionados and pundits should be talking about the risk the BCCI is taking to send its players to South Africa. They are, however, busy with what seems to be a perfect diversion. 

This is not an attempt to suggest the BCCI is creating some kinda smoke screen. The Kohli vs Ganguly tussle is very real. The fault here truly lies with us all, the people. We fail to ask the right questions again and again and let those at the helm get away with gimmicks, pyrotechnics, demonetisation and unfulfilled election manifestos. Cricket is nothing in front of those larger, nastier and dangerous devices. But we divert ourselves from those realities, opting to focus our energies on an Indian cricket team victory, or in trolling the only Muslim in the team after a loss. And, in turn, cricket diverts itself with an untimely, unwanted, and largely avoidable captaincy tussle. Even if it's unavoidable, the fight, why give it play, ignoring many other pertinent issues?

There is more to Omicron than what meets the eye, say experts in the field, with some averring that we should not be assuming the variant is less severe just because it has had a very small number of serious hospitalizations in South Africa. That’s just because of the nature of the patients in that country, hint the WHO as well as scientists working on the variant in SA. With vaccinations and lingering immunity from devastating previous waves, South Africa may be spared of a spike in mortality or serious cases. Having said that, the numbers are rising too.

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Of course, regardless of how dangerous the virus is, isolating South Africa isn't the option. Currently, with or without Omicron, there are many countries with higher infection rates of Covid-19 than SA. So being discriminative toward South Africa is not the answer. The world needs better approaches now, having learnt to live with the virus for two years.  

However, we need to also ask whether not playing with a willow and a red cherry amounts to imposing isolation. Also, with our naturally partisan interest in Indian cricket, we should ask the BCCI if the tour is worth the risk, weighing in the gains (the revenue what else), losses and potential dangers. 

There is no clear cut “right” action that could be taken here for sure. Such is the uncertainty, and amidst it all, the Indian cricket board decided to go ahead with the tour, trusting the South African cricket board’s bio-bubble, and also the Indian players’ immunity, perhaps. The BCCI seems to not realise that the new variant, which has triggered a peak of cases in the UK as well, has the ability to bypass vaccine-induced immunity. Also, let us not forget that the England cricket team’s tour of SA last year (ominously it was in December too) was jeopardised because of a bubble breach. Nothing, in that sense, is fail safe. On its side, the BCCI seems to not have learnt from the Indian Premier League (IPL) experience earlier this year. When the country was being ravaged by the second wave of Covid-19, the BCCI was staging the 2021 edition of the league. Till the bubble was breached that is, and a spate of injections forced them to shut shop.

Now, by sending the players to a country that’s grappling with the latest, and largely unknown, avatar of the pandemic, the Board has again shown that it can’t look beyond its own vested interests.

Then again, who has the time, mindspace and diligence to talk about all these things. We have a West Delhi macho man who feels he was wronged, and a nonplussed Royal Bengal tomcat playing cloak and dagger with words. Great timing, sirs! 

The bait is too enticing. We have to indulge in this chatter. 

How can you sack Kohli? Well, how can you sack yourself, Mr. Kohli? For it was the supreme skipper who left us with the impression that he, and only he decides his fate. He had stepped down on his own accord as the T20I skipper, and Ganguly had said that he had asked Kohli not to go. 

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Kohli left, and Ganguly decided to not give Kohli a chance to instil more heartburn through another resignation. The skipper was sacked. Press statements have been thrown about now. Let us forget everything — from the pandemic to BCCI’s own little closet secrets. Instead, let us just debate whether the BCCI has breached some kinda unwritten protocol in replacing its captain without giving him a two-month notice period — the norm in most private companies in India. Kohli was just told his fate a couple of hours before the announcement of the squads for the South Africa tour. That timeframe is perfectly fine, Sunil Gavaskar was quoted as saying a day or so back. Et tu, Sunny!

More revelations are expected. This piece will not be updated when they crawl out of the Board’s crevices. Instead, leaving you with another important update: weekly excess deaths  in South Africa, a measure of morality compared with a historic average. It rose both in the country and in the province of Gauteng.There were 1,887 deaths in the week ended December 5 in South Africa (around the time the BCCI decided to go ahead with the tour). A week earlier, the value was 1,726, according to a report issued by the South African Medical Research Council on December 15. Deaths in Gauteng rose to 280 from 173 in the two periods. And the numbers are still rising. Health experts fear a spike though they are hopeful the variant is a little more kinder than the previous iterations including the Delta.

Now, let us all get back to cricket!  Oh, what cricket….

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