Virat Kohli’s no longer the India cricket captain. During his seven-year stint at the helm, Kohli took India from the seventh spot to the top of the Test rankings. Here’s a look at how he ushered in the best epoch in Indian cricket. We also discuss the possible replacements for the Test captaincy and the road ahead for Indian cricket.
Virat Kohli’s legacy will live on in Indian cricket
Shyam A. Krishna, Senior Associate Editor
Is Virat Kohli Captain Courageous or Captain Arrogant? That depends on your point of view. But it sums up the extreme emotions the former Indian captain evokes among cricket enthusiasts.
Emotions aside, statistics tell us that Kohli is India’s most successful captain with 40 wins from 68 Tests. It also makes him one of the most successful international captains: he’s only behind Graeme Smith, Ricky Ponting and Steve Waugh. That record prompted the International Cricket Conference to choose Kohli as captain of the Team of the Decade in 2020. Under Kohli, India became the dominant force in cricket, losing only five of the 24 Test series, including the World Test Championship final.
Stats often don’t tell the whole story. The flattering figures can never capture the depth of Kohli’s contribution to India. His influence goes beyond the wins, and beyond the runs. His captaincy reshaped Indian cricket and its landscape. It changed the way India is perceived in the cricketing world. That perhaps is Kohli’s enduring legacy.
World-beaters without a world cup
That legacy was borne out of his single-minded pursuit of glory. Nothing was a hindrance, and nothing was allowed to be a hindrance. But India never won a world cup under Kohli and lost the Test championship in the final. The absence of silverware is often pointed out to belittle Kohli’s leadership, but that argument is misplaced. His vision and drive played a massive role in catapulting India from the seventh spot to the pinnacle of Test rankings.
A world leader in Tests and a firm favourite in ICC tournaments, India became a feared side in all formats of the game. During Kohli’s reign, the transformation from a meek, genteel side into a bold, talented bunch with a no-holds-barred approach was complete. It started with Sourav Ganguly at the helm, and Kohli elevated it to such ferocity that all teams treated India with grudging respect. What followed was the most successful era in Indian cricket.
Kohli received plenty of support from coach Ravi Shastri and many others. A vital cog in the support system was the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore, helmed by former Indian captain Rahul Dravid. The academy provided a steady stream of talents that honed their skills with the India A team before replenishing the senior squad. And it in turn helped Kolhi realise his dream.
Kohli dreamt big. Bigger than the Indian captains before him. He wanted to win every game. And to win, he was prepared to go to any lengths. No sacrifice was too big for him. In that furious attempt, he cast aside rigid practices and gambled hard. Sometimes he failed miserably, and it paid off handsomely on other occasions.
The 2014 Adelaide Test showcased his vigorous attempts to win despite the odds. As stand-in captain, he dropped off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin to accommodate leg-spinner Karn Sharma in a bid to buy wickets. The gamble failed, but that didn’t stop him from chasing an improbable target in the fourth innings to fall short by 48 runs.
At 34, Kohli may no longer be captain, but there’s plenty of cricket left in him. He may not have scored a century in the last two years, but runs have been coming at a steady pace.
That match gave a peek into what a Kohli reign would look like. Some of the early exuberance and penchant for risks were tempered in the later years. But the positive approach remained unchanged. He continued to be ultra-aggressive right till his last match as captain. He never held back his emotions even at the risk of censure, like yelling into the stump mic in Cape Town this month — an act that incurred the wrath of former cricketers.
That was just the latest outburst in a long list of explosive behaviour. With smouldering eyes and animated gestures, Kohli turned up the heat on the field. He never flinched from chest-out confrontations and was often accused of seeking out conflicts. Kohli never reeled in the hostility; Australians Steven Smith and Mitchell Johnson would attest that. The captain’s belligerence seeped into the team, and relentless aggression became the hallmark of the national squad during Kohli’s seven-year stint as captain.
Throughout his career, critics had their knives out for Kohli. They mocked his aggression; said it was unnecessary, pointing out the calm demeanours of his predecessor Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his deputy Ajinkya Rahane. Kohli refused to change his style, refused to bridle his aggression. It’s the competitive nature that drives him to excellence.
Kohli, Djokovic and fitness regime
In his incessant drive for victory, Kohli turned into a fitness freak. He abstained from some of his favourite foods and worked tirelessly at the gym to turn himself into a lean and lithe athlete. His body fat level is said to be comparable to tennis world number one Novak Djokovic. Kohli believed that a finely tuned body is essential to produce his best on the cricket field.
He sold the idea to the Indian team. Soon fitness became the mantra. Talent was not enough; fitness levels too mattered. Varun Chakravarthy would know. The mystery spinner couldn’t make the Indian team until his fitness improved. Under Kohli, the team became the fittest in Indian history. There was no longer a need to hide a slow-moving player on the fine-leg fence. Fitter players are quick, and it helped save runs and take catches. Kohli can claim full credit for inculcating the fitness culture into the national squad.
Central to Kohli’s efforts to win was a five-man attack. Previous skippers have attempted it, but Kohli fielded five genuine bowlers to capture 20 wickets, so integral to winning a Test. Although it placed enormous pressure on the batsmen, Kohli persisted and reaped the rewards in the form of wins in Australia and England.HO
How Kohli forged a five-man attack
Kohli’s five-man bowling pack would have four fast bowlers in Tests abroad. That may be a tactic borrowed from Clive Lloyd, and although the pacemen were not as quick as the West Indians, it worked. They were not mediumpacers, but bowlers who could consistently bowl at speeds of over 140kmph.
Ishant Sharma, Mohammad Shami, Umesh Yadav had matured into wicket-takers when Kohli took over the reins. Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammad Siraj joined later as the Indian pace pack became one of the best in the world. That allowed Kohli to fight fire with fire. And he didn’t hold back. He showed that Indians could win Tests overseas. South Africa continues to be the final frontier, although India came very close to winning the series this month.
Significantly, Kohli’s batting never suffered under the strain of captaincy. Ever since he took over the leadership from Dhoni in the fourth Test against Australia in 2015, the challenge spurred him to produce his best with the bat. Three centuries in the first three innings as skipper was evidence that he relished the additional responsibility. Twenty of his 27 Test centuries were struck while scoring 5,864 runs at an average of 54.80 while captaining India in 68 games.
His success in white-ball cricket is no less impressive, leading India to 65 wins in 95 One-Day Internationals. This meant India swept 15 of the 19 ODI series during Kohli’s tenure when he scored 5449 runs at an astonishing average of 72.65 with 21 centuries. Kohli replicated the success in Twenty20 Internationals too, winning 15 of the 17 T20I series.
At 34, Kohli may no longer be captain, but there’s plenty of cricket left in him. He may not have scored a century in the last two years, but runs have been coming at a steady pace. He’s been scoring fifties regularly but hasn’t been able to convert them into hundreds.
The decision to hand over the T20I captaincy in September 2021 may have been borne out of his desire to focus on batting. But the Indian cricket board’s move to strip him of ODI captaincy and the furore that followed must have pushed him to give up the Test captaincy. He must have figured that the Board of Control for Cricket India would be keen to replace him.
A fiercely proud cricketer, Kohli wouldn’t want to be pushed out. Especially by the Indian cricket board. That must have prompted him to relinquish the Test captaincy.
Kohli may longer be the captain, but his fiery glances and wild celebrations will continue. He may no longer shout into stump mics, but the fire and ferocity will still be there. And runs will flow from his flashing blade. Even centuries too.
The rise and fall of Virat Kohli
Anis Sajan, Special to Gulf News
Virat Kohli had made an incredible start as batsman and captain of Team India in Australia in the 2014-15 series at Adelaide when Mahendra Singh Dhoni pulled out of the first Test due to an injury. He hit hundreds in both the innings and when Australia set a target of 364 in the last innings to chase on a fifth-day pitch, Kohli took on the challenge on a turning track where Nathan Lyon had the final laugh when he got the prize wicket of Kohli to tilt the match in Australia’s favour. But the message to the world was clear, here’s a player who was up for the challenge in any conditions and was there to win and not put the shutters down.
After Dhoni retired from Tests, he scored another hundred in the final Test to save the game. At home, Kohli and India were unbeatable. The Men in Blue trounced South Africa 3-0 in 2015, beat England 4-0 in 2016 and Australia 2/1. He led from the front with the bat scoring double hundreds against New Zealand, England, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Away from home, he scored a double hundred against West Indies and won the series 2-0. He was scoring hundreds for fun and had a century in every third Test and winning matches for India with his aggressive style of captaincy.
How India started winning abroad and created history
More importantly, India started winning overseas and it all began in 2018 in South Africa where after losing the first two Tests, India won on a difficult pitch at Johannesburg. In England, India might have lost the series 4-1 but the series was much closer than the scoreline showed and Kohli once again led with the bat, scoring 640 runs in that series against James Anderson, his nemesis in the previous series in 2014. But he finally achieved his first big success as captain in Australia winning the Test series 2-1 and creating history as India had never won a series Down Under.
He took India to No 1 in Tests from the seventh position and the stars were shining on him both as captain and as a batter. He could not win the Champions Trophy in 2017 after losing to Pakistan and then the World Cup in 2019 when 45 minutes of madness cost India the semi-finals against New Zealand. His trophy cabinet was still empty after India lost the World Test Championship final to the Kiwis again and that’s when the selectors went after him. He decided to step down from T20 to lessen his burden, but the selectors decided to axe him as captain in ODI too where he has won 16 bilateral series out of 19, which no Indian captain had done.
War of words with Sourav Ganguly
This decision by the selectors hurt him so much that he took on not only the selectors but Sourav Ganguly with a war of words contradicting their statements that he was asked to continue as T20 captain, which he denied at a virtual press conference before the South Africa series. India won the first Test easily, but he missed the second Test in mysterious circumstances complaining of back spasms. So desperate he was to win the last Test to win the series that he took on the host broadcasters when Dean Elgar reviewed a decision, which was given out by the umpires and it got overturned.
He wanted to go on a high as Test captain but could not after having made up his mind to step down from his job. He had won everything and had made India the No 1 Test team and was one captain who made India’s fast bowlers the best in the world. But he lost out to the might of the BCCI in the end. When I saw him playing the first ODI against South Africa at Paarl on Wednesday, the runs were flowing from his bat but the aggressiveness of Kohli on the field was missing, not just from him, but from the entire team. It might not only be the end of Virat captaincy, but I dare say the end of India’s dominance in world cricket.
— Cricket enthusiast Anis Sajan is Vice-Chairman of Danube Group
Rishabh Pant will make a good India captain
A.K.S. Satish, Sports Editor
Captaining the cricket team is said to be the second toughest job in India after the prime minster’s. The pressures are enormous as every decision is scrutinised minutely by everyone. So the captain’s batting tends to suffer, and that’s true for Mohammad Azharuddin, Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid.
The last two captains were exceptions. Mahendra Singh Dhoni bucked the trend and became a ‘deadly finisher’ during his captaincy. His successor Virat Kohli too thrived under the pressure of leading the side.
When Kohli gave up the Test captaincy, there’s no successor. No one was groomed to takeover. That’s not Kohli’s fault. Ajinkya Rahane was the deputy for the most part, and his miserable form casts a question mark over his place in the team.
That leaves only a few choices: Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Rishabh Pant and Ravichandran Ashwin. Jasprit Bumrah too has thrown his hat in the ring. To me, Pant is the best bet.
Sharma’s prone to injury. His fitness issues will worsen if he plays Test cricket regularly, and that will affect India’s white-ball prospects since Sharma is a key performer. The chances of injury rise with the more Tests he plays.
Ashwin is a smart thinker, but will he play all matches, especially overseas? His fitness will be an additional worry as he plays all three formats.
The tactical shortcomings of Rahul and Bumrah were exposed in the second Test against South Africa. While Rahul’s batting could improve — the opener plays a lot more freely when assured of a spot in the playing XI — he has been found wanting in taking calculated risks. So is Bumrah. The two allowed the Proteas to chase a record score. It was also the case in the first One Day International in Paarl.
He [Rishabh Pant] ticks all the boxes and will allow Team India to continue in the same [aggressive] vein. He is also not averse to taking risks and handles pressure well...
Agreed, it’s early days, and Rahul could get better with experience. But India have been playing aggressive cricket under Dhoni and Kohli. Rahul won’t be able to keep up the aggression.
Here’s where Pant scores. He ticks all the boxes and will allow Team India to continue in the same vein. He is also not averse to taking risks and handles pressure well, as evident by the crucial knocks in Australia and South Africa. As a wicketkeeper he could analyse the game better, giving him an additional advantage.
But the Indian cricket board is unlikely to make Pant the captain. They don’t generally take bold decisions. So Rahane could come back into the team as captain.