There was an air of inevitability about it. Once India lost the Cape Town Test, Virat Kohli’s continuation as captain of the Test side became highly untenable. In fact, this columnist apprehended the announcement that came from the captain the next day as soon as the match was lost – though I must confess I did not expect it to come so soon.
After the ugly spat with the BCCI in the lead up to the South Africa tour, Virat obviously knew anything less than a victory in the Test series would make his continuation as captain extremely difficult. Proud man that he is, Virat chose to pre-empt the BCCI rather than suffer the ignominy of being sacked as captain in the only format he led Team India in. I dare say he would have waited at least till the unfinished Test in England next summer, if not longer, in his desire to go out on a high had India won the Newlands Test – and with it, the first series in the Rainbow Nation. After all, England was another ‘unfinished business’ for the most successful Indian captain and he knew he had the personnel to win the series that his team already led 2-1.
How does one assess his seven-year long captaincy? The stats tell their own story. He is the most successful Indian captain, winning 40 of the 68 Tests he captained India in – 16 of them overseas. He was the first Indian captain to beat the mighty Australia in Australia, a feat not many teams have managed to do in the last two decades. A series win in South Africa would have been fitting finale to a glorious reign during which India reached dizzying heights. It was Sourav Ganguly under whom India, long used to throwing in the towel from the very beginning while visiting the SENA (South Africa, England, New Zealand and Australia) countries, started fighting on foreign soil - and occasionally winning too. But not until Virat took over the captaincy did India win consistently in these countries. The fact that India were seen as firm favourites before the South Africa tour, even by the Proteas themselves, was testimony to the heights to which Kohli had taken Team India as captain. His captaincy record across all formats is no less impressive: 213 matches, 135 wins, 60 losses, 11 draws, 3 ties and 4 no-results – giving him a win record of 2.250.
The transformation of Team India under Kohli was total. Team India under Kohli exuded, at all times and in all situations, the kind of self-belief that had been in evidence only occasionally earlier. They believed they could win from any situation – and actually did, quite regularly at that. Kohli, in fact, set the ‘go for win’ template in the very first Test he captained, going for a win unwaveringly with his second century of the match in pursuit of a highly improbable 365 in 98 overs on the last day in the Adelaide Test in 2014. India lost the Test alright. But it gave an early signal of shape of things to come. Most captains in his place would have strived for a draw – and would have, in all likelihood, lost anyway, as has happened on numerous occasions in the past. But Virat’s philosophy was; “If we must lose, we may as well go down fighting.”
Over time, that philosophy became the team philosophy. India refused to go down without a fight as it had done in the past. For decades, Indian batters were terrorized with a generous serving of ‘chin music’ by fast bowlers abroad. Under Kohli, for the first time, batters of other countries started dreading Indian fast bowlers. On the receiving end of sledging for decades, Indians themselves became notorious for sledging under his watch. Old timers baulked at this transformation. But the new age cricket fan loved every bit of it. [I have a sneaking suspicion his decision to resign as captain was hastened because the ‘prim and propah’ Rahul Dravid would not be on the same page as him in the way his predecessor Ravi Shastri was!]
But Virat’s captaincy was much more about bluster and sledging. He always led from the front on the field. Like his two innings in his first Test as captain, his last two innings in his last Test epitomized this – though in totally contrasting styles. The best part about Virat’s batting is that unlike many of the other greats, including the maestro Sachin Tendulkar, some of his finest innings came in the second innings of Test matches – or in chases in one day internationals. As captain, he set the template and the others were inspired to follow it. Virat’s most significant – and lasting – contribution as captain, however, was his unwavering – even fanatical – commitment to fitness. The result was a fitter, more athletic team where there was no room for slouches in the field.
But like others before him, Kohli had its flaws, follies and frailties. He was arrogant in the extreme, always ready for a dogfight – qualities that made him a fantastic captain on the field, but did not win him many friends outside. At the height of his powers, he demanded – and got – complete obsequiousness from everyone, including mandarins of the BCCI. He also played favourites. Those he liked kept getting chances even after failing repeatedly while those he didn’t did not get selected or, even if they were selected, kept warming the benches. Hardik Pandya at the T20 World Cup and R Ashwin in England last summer were only the latest.
As long as Virat was at the peak of his powers and India was winning, no one dared touch him with a bargepole. He had his way in everything, including team selection. But the daggers were unsheathed once the runs started drying up. Two years without a century in any format weakened his bargaining power vis-à-vis the Board, which put him on notice when it took away the captaincy of the ODI team. As I have said, he would, in all likelihood, have been sacked as captain had he not announced his resignation from the top job. Nothing signified this loss of power than the appointment of Rahul Dravid, completely different in temperament and outlook from Virat, as the head coach of Team India. Four years ago, he could have his way, force Kumble to resign and roped his favourite – ‘Ravi Bhai’ – in as coach. This time round, one doubts if he was consulted before Rahul was appointed. Even if he was, he had perhaps read the writing on the wall, and hence chose to take in his stride.
For all the ugly public wrangling that preceded his resignation, however, there may be a silver lining in the way things have panned out. Now that he is free from the burden of captaincy, with all its attendant trials and tribulations, Virat can focus entirely on his batting and the elusive centuries may start flowing from his bat once again. And whether one likes his demeanor on the field or not, there is no doubt that there are very few better sights for a cricket fan than Virat batting at his sublime best.
Loss of captain Kohli could well prove to be the best thing for batsman Kohli!
(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)
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