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The Art of Diversion as Seen in Virat Kohli-Rohit Sharma Rift Drama

Leslie Xavier |
In the aftermath of an underwhelming ICC World Cup, the Indian cricket team has refrained from discussing and reviewing its cricketing faults. Instead, what we have witnessed is a game of smoke and mirrors, from rumours of retirement, to rifts and the coup de grace, an ‘internship’ in the Army.
Indian cricket team skipper Virat Kohli and vice captain Rohit Sharma

Rohit Sharma may have scored a record five centuries in the ICC World Cup while the batters around him fluctuated in form, but him not following Virat Kohli’s wife Anushka Sharma on Instagram seems to be a more pertinent cricket topic at the moment.

India cricket captain, Virat Kohli, is “baffled” by all the chatter about a rift in the dressing room. Kohli, who has emerged as the last word in cricketing matters in India at the moment, rubbished reports and rumours between him and deputy, Rohit Sharma. Well, skipper, if you are baffled, what hope is there for the rest of us? The situation is perplexing, to say the least. 

The Indian cricket team, and its main cast of players, had a little over two weeks after their exit from the ICC World Cup, before leaving for the West Indies on July 29. This period should have been used for an old-fashioned inquest by the cricketing brains of the country, under the aegis of the ever-dependable Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and its current administrators. This could, if consensus emerged, have been followed by the implementation of measures for course correction. Instead, the time was used to talk about subjects as far removed from cricket as MS Dhoni’s upcoming deployment with the Territorial Army and who follows whom on Instagram! 

With coach Ravi Shastri’s future in the side undecided, and Dhoni’s imminent retirement, there are many cricketing matters that merit conversation. Instead, the focus was on Dhoni’s apparent Rambo complex and the Indian Army’s even more baffling decision to pander to it, going as far as to deploy the 38-year-old to the Kashmir Valley as part of Victor Force. 

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For those who do not know, Counter Insurgency Force V, or Victor Force, is the Rashtriya Rifles’ formation responsible CI Ops in some of the Valley’s most discordant parts — Anantnag, Pulwama and Shopian districts among them. What Dhoni, and the Army, seek to achieve through this elaborate public relations exercise is for higher minds to decipher. To us mere mortals, none of it makes any sense.  

What could be more important, or celebratory, than the unabashed patriotism of one of the nation’s most-loved sons, you might ask. From a cricketing point of view, let me try to answer that question. 

Shastri and Kohli could have initiated some form of introspection in the dressing room, trying to figure out what could have been. There were several questionable decisions during the course of the World Cup — starting with the playing XI selected for the semifinal against New Zealand. Then, there is batting order issue in One Day Internationals and, last but not least, the way India ended up with an unnaturally high number of wicketkeeper-batsmen in the roster for the middle order in England. All while in-form, specialised batsmen were cooling their heels back home or deciding to retire from international cricket. 

Instead, Shastri, in a joint press conference with skipper Kohli before the team headed out to the Caribbean, decided to make jokes on the lines of the wives of players padding up to play for the side. They found humour in Shastri’s misogynistic-sounding analogy while explaining the rumours doing the rounds about the rift in the dressing room, a rumour that started with the absurd news that Rohit had unfollowed Kohli’s wife, Anushka Sharma, on Instagram. 

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Kohli was, of course, spot on in brushing aside this bit of melodrama as a non-issue. But, the grey areas in the whole episode remain. In the closely curated, controlled, media bubble that the Indian cricket team inhabits, these sorts of stories don't get pushed out to the wider world unless the powers that be deem it necessary. 

The whole episode reeks or a major plant, and one is not sure of the exact nature or the purpose it was meant to serve. It did end, at least for now, the talk about Shastri’s tenure, MSD’s retirement, Kohli’s leadership style, compliance with the anti-doping rules, and the team composition for long-term moulding of a world-beating side among other things. A perfect diversion, a la Surgical Strikes under cloud cover.

Sunil Gavaskar, vocal as ever, called the selection committee “lame ducks” serving a higher power (any guesses?). Meanwhile Kohli, quite slyly, slid in a line or two backing Shastri to continue as coach in between his long explanation denying a rift in the dressing room. 

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One has to hand it to Shastri. For a coach just back from after a disappointing World Cup (anything short of victory is underachievement these days), he is pretty confident in his ways. And he seems to have the complete support of Indian cricket’s leading man. So, while the questions that need answering remain ignored, Ravi bhai is taking his wards to the West Indies. 

And, with relatively easy fixtures on the anvil, the team will have the opportunity to heal the wounds from the World Cup. Perhaps, they will even silence some of the critics baying for blood. Onwards and upwards, until the next big bit of breaking news. Maybe it will have a little to do with the cricket this time. 

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