Welcome to The Jerky Loudspeaker - an independent sports and culture newsletter, I’m super excited to have you here! Before you dive in, let me quickly break down how the newsletter is structured. Think of it like a mini newspaper, with three sections:
Deep Dive - Each piece/series in this section will be an in-depth analysis of the thoughts and emotions that arise from my interactions and experiences with the arts
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Balls, Bats & Baskets - As always, sports on the back page. In this section I’ll geek out about the happenings in this world of balls, bats and baskets.
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Balls, Bats & Baskets
With less responsibility, comes less power
The pandemic pushed back the transition process in the post MSD era, but the winds of change have swept over Indian Cricket this year and how! To understand how mercurial this transition has been, just take a look at the year Ajinkya Rahane has had. He went from having his place in the Test side questioned to leading the Australian Conquest to again being on the receiving end of a volley of criticism after his recent showings in England. From starting the year as the toast of the nation, it feels as though his career has hit its expiry date.
Stare a little longer at this Rahane parabola and you notice Virat Kohli’s fingerprints on it. Not least for the way in which he allegedly lambasted Rahane and Pujara’s slow approach in the WTC Final. It was a move that allegedly saw the two middle order batsmen raise concerns over Kohli’s captaincy with BCCI secretary Jay Shah (more on that later).
But, Kohli played a decisive role in Rahane's crest as well. With the benefit of hindsight, his decision to fly back from Australia after the first Test was the first domino to fall in the transition process.
The series win was India’s greatest triumph after the 2011 World Cup. The manner of victory elevated its magnitude. But, there was an irony to it. The story of this era defining moment had been written without Indian cricket’s protagonist in the previous decade. There was something confusing about it.
India, as a country, has this innate tendency to hero worship its cricketers. It’s a habit that eases the vagaries of fandom. Put a player on a pedestal so that all your hope and blame can be pinned onto him. There’s a comfort factor to it. It’s why this pedestal is rarely unoccupied. From Pataudi to Gavaskar to Sachin to Kohli, each era has had that one player to take on this mantle.
There’s no ‘I’ in team, but there are a couple in ‘India’.
Triumphs of the collective always require a face. Its absence is what makes the series win in Australia so special. Not having to flash the spotlight onto just one person felt incredibly liberating. Fans and media alike, revelled in Pant’s blitzkrieg. But also in Pujara’s grit. In Rahane’s quiet aggression. In Siraj’s resolve. In Ashwin’s class. The spotlight and pedestal were shared. Indian Cricket found another version of themselves Down Under.
Kohli’s role in this triumph can’t be overlooked. Championing of youth, a flourishing pace attack, supreme fitness, bench strength and guts - the foundations on which this win was built have been key tenets of Kohli’s captaincy. The Miracle of Gabba was the actualisation of his vision. It’s just a shame he couldn’t physically be a part of it, but it was the pinnacle of his reign.
And it’s why I think he should step down from the captaincy. He’s taken the team as far as he can. Letting go off the white-ball captaincy all-together would be the first step.
Sport, and particularly leadership in sport, works in cycles. Acknowledging this is the only way to keep moving forward. Modern Indian cricket is currently in its third cycle and it has been defined by three captains in the past 20 years.
Under Ganguly’s captaincy, India dusted itself off after the turbulence of the late 90s and went about building a spine. There was a shift in mentality - India would play to win and Ganguly championed players who shared this mentality. It was a hungry team. There was a fair bit of bruising but India never backed down under Ganguly.
Ganguly laid the foundations, but it was Dhoni who built it up. He inherited a team that had all the tools for success. His genius lay in moulding them. Dhoni didn’t have to hunt for talent, he had to create an environment for it to thrive in. India learnt how to win under Ganguly, under MS they won. Consistently.
I’d argue that Kohli had the toughest job out of the three. To make a champion side every better.To set a new standard of success. Raising the ceiling is a painful task. For India to become a cricketing superpower like Australia in the 2000s and West Indies in the 70s and 80s, it needed someone to take things by the scruff of the neck and set down a clear vision. There wasn’t anyone better suited than Virat. Forget backing down from the fight, India under Kohli would make the first punch.
Creating a new culture and an ever-increasing bar for success isn’t easy. His approach does polarise, but no one can argue the fact that he’s taken India to a higher performance level. India won under MS, under Kohli they evoked fear.
This single-minded approach was needed to scale but now it’s time for India to establish their monopoly. It can’t be done by one man alone and it can’t just be done with fire. It’ll burn people out. Kohli has been decisive in building the empire, but he doesn’t have the personality to govern it. India can’t risk itself becoming an autocracy at such a pivotal stage.
Kohli’s grip on the team has been loosening in recent months. In the past month, multiple reports of alleged unrest between Kohli and senior players like Pujara, Rahane and Ashwin have been reported in the media. In the past, there have also been reports of a strong rift between Rohit Sharma and Kohli (although both have dismissed this as hearsay). There’s always a certain level of tension within elite level teams. Some would even argue it’s healthy. The problem is when these tensions spill over into the public domain. It shows the captain has lost the dressing room.
Kohli stepping down from the T20 captaincy is the first step in the right direction. Irrespective of what happens in the T20 World Cup, I think he should let go of the ODI captaincy as well. With less responsibility comes less power. In its quest for world domination in all formats, India can’t risk putting all its eggs in one basket.
I’d love to hear what you thought of this week’s edition! To share your thoughts, comments or if just want to chat, hit me up at email@example.com!