Kohli Rahane collage
Image Credit: Agencies

Virat Kohli is back at the helm of a buoyant India which opens a four-Test cricket series against England in the south Indian city of Chennai on Friday (February 5). Was there any doubt it? No, not really. Everyone was sure of it. Not surprising, given his immense success in leading India.

A couple of months back, no one even dared think of an alternative to Kohli. His captaincy record too warranted a continued reign. All that changed after the Australian tour, when Ajinkya Rahane hauled India out of the dumps in Adelaide and set them on the path to victory in Brisbane.

Rahane’s feat is the stuff of legends. A comeback right out of a movie script. Rahane played it down, saying that the result stemmed from a collective effort. True, that may be. What was repeatedly pointed out by former players was Rahane’s tactical acumen. His willingness to attack when some would have chosen to be defensive. Aggressive captaincy from the quiet man was the cornerstone of the win.

That blew the question out of the water: Why can’t Rahane continue to be the captain? Fair question. But how can Kohli be displaced? He’s Indian cricket’s reigning deity. So the question is unthinkable for most. And Kohli has led India well.

Kohli’s fiery. He needs the fire to motivate himself. He’s a fierce competitor, who thrives on the heat of competition and high adrenaline levels. That also makes him unapproachable. He’s revered too. After all, he’s arguably the best batsman in the game today. Which makes it all the more difficult to catch his attention. His burning eyes, flaring nostrils, flapping hands and yelling can scare his younger teammates. Until you know, that’s the norm.

India could do well with a bit of calmness. Rahane’s approachable. That’s helped his captaincy. That helped a bunch of greenhorns to stage a cricket coup in Australia. That gave rise to the question, why can’t Rahane continue to be the captain?

But Rahane is very clear about his role. “See, my job is to take a back seat and help Virat,” Rahane said during a virtual media conference ahead of the England series.

Kohli too was very keen clear the air ahead of the first Test in Chennai, saying their relationship (with Rahane) is based on mutual respect. He said: ‘‘Things are very different in our change room from whatever the impression is outside. He (Rahane) fulfilled his responsibility with flying colours. There is a great deal of mutual respect, we enjoy batting with each other. On the field, he always had that capability to lead and the partnership and sense of camaraderie will remain.’’

COMMENT: Team benefits from Kohli work ethic

Gautam Bhattacharyya, Senior Associate Editor

We are barely a day away from the first match of India versus England Test series, but the debate on the ideal leader for India — Virat Kohli or Ajinkya Rahane — continues. Such had been the impact of Rahane’s calm, inclusive style of captaincy which saw India bounce back after the Adelaide disaster to win back-to-back Test series against Australia.

It’s a good academic debate that can raise a storm in a teacup, but it should not be anything beyond that. I have been a great admirer of Rahane’s batsmanship and his captaincy — and always believed that he could have been the answer to India’s No.4 woes in the last ICC World Cup. His unbeaten captaincy record, which now boasts of a flattering four wins out of five matches (three of them being against Australia) can influence you for a while.

However, if you are trying to build a case against Kohli’s captaincy, it simply doesn’t work. It’s being argued in some quarters that Rahane has shown that one does not have to be as in-your-face as Kohli to look your opposition in the eye, but then, each captain brings his personality into play. The latter believes in wearing his heart on his sleeve much like Sourav Ganguly, while Rahane is even more deadpan than a Mahendra Singh Dhoni — as his face does not even betray the slightest emotion if a bowler errs in line or a fielder lets a catch slip through.

The fact remains that this is ‘Kohli’s team’ which has been reaping the rewards of the new work ethic that he has instilled in the last four years. He has been through a process of internship under Dhoni — one of India’s most successful captains ever — and underlined his credentials beyond doubt when India won a Test series Down Under for the first time in over 70 years during the 2018-19 tour.

A win record of 33 Tests out of 58 matches, with the best win percentage abroad among India’s most successful captains, tells its own story. Indeed, there have been bloomers along the way — and the most valid criticism about the Kohli-Ravi Shastri regime is how they have not allowed the playing XI to settle down.

During a chat some time back, Ganguly had once said that it becomes more challenging to lead a team as time passes. The sheen starts wearing off with time as no team can claim to be the ‘Invincibles’ and suddenly, people start picking holes in your style. This is where Kohli has been able to hold his own — and the process of continuity is extremely important for the growth of any cricket team.

During almost six years of his Test captaincy, Kohli has hardly let his batting form dip — hence any thoughts of Kohli being kept aside to focus on his batting do not wash.

It may be worth thinking if India wants to decide on a split captaincy — leaving the Tests for Kohli and the white ball cricket to Rohit Sharma. But then, that’s another debate!

Ajinkya Rahane
Ajinkya Rahane Image Credit: AFP

COMMENT: Why Rahane makes a compelling case

Shyam A. Krishna, Senior Associate Editor

Ajinkya Rahane cuts a brooding figure, always. He’s so shy and withdrawn that you wonder whether he’s captaincy material. Rahane’s demeanour can be deceiving; that’s what showed us in India’s Test series against Australia last month. His inscrutable face belies a steely determination and inspirational leadership that lifted India to victory.

When the mercurial Virat Kohli went on paternity leave after the first Test, there were serious worries about Rahane’s ability to lead the side from the wreckage of the first Test. In Adelaide, after India collapsed to their lowest score of 36, every cricket pundit predicted a whitewash. More so in the absence of Kohli.

Leadership matters most when the chips are down. The humiliation in the first Test and injuries to key players thrust Indian cricket into one of its worst crises. It required a captain of extraordinary skills to turn around the team’s fortunes. Rahane was the man tasked with the job. And look, how well he responded.


He led from the front in Melbourne, notching a century that helped India win and level the series. Sydney witnessed another gutsy performance from the Indians who staved off defeat. And the decider in Brisbane’s Gabba provided a fitting finale to a fairytale script. Rahane’s steady hand kept the team on target, and his unflappable temperament rode out the distractions of racist taunts from the stands and the vicious sledging on the pitch.

How well he marshalled his thin resources, keeping afloat a side that continued to lose experienced players to injury. Rahane’s leadership was almost invisible. No aggression, not overt intent or posturing. Yet, the players responded brilliantly to produce the most magical moments of their fledgling careers.

A captain’s record speaks for itself. Rahane’s has an impeccable record, although he’s led Indian only five times (4 wins). With the Indian cricket board naming Kohli as captain for the England series, it looks as if Rahane is destined to be the eternal vice-captain. That would be unjust as it completely overlooks his accomplishment of masterminding one of the greatest series wins in Indian cricket history.

True, Kohli has steered India well. His win record too is impressive. He has instilled aggression into the team, but that streak can be counterproductive too. Wonder how such tactics would have worked after the mindnumbing loss at Adelaide? We can only speculate. But Rahane has shown that a quiet approach works very well in lifting the team from the depths of despair. And tactics can be executed silently. The efficacy of strategies are reflected in the results.

Results, Rahane has provided in Australia. Now he needs a chance to burnish his reputation as captain. He’s indeed Captain Courageous.

Kohli leads from the front, says Brad Hogg

Gautam Bhattacharyya, Senior Associate Editor

While the Virat Kohli-Ajinkya Rahane debate was stirred up in the social media following the latter’s role in the resurgence of the Indian team in Australia, cricketers had refrained from calling for a change.

While a cross-section of Indian cricketers’ community felt that it’s just sensationalism to talk about it, former Australian leg-spinner Brad Hogg felt changing Kohli will destroy the team culture in the Indian dressing room.

‘’Yes, Ajinkya Rahane has done a fantastic job in the last three Test matches in Australia. He is cool, calm, collective. He is quite decisive, and he doesn’t get agitated. He is a fantastic leader. But I will leave him as vice-captain because I think Virat Kohli leads from the front,’’ the two-time World Cup winner added.

Krishnamachari Srikkanth, former Indian opener and a member of India’s 1983 World Cup-winning team, told Gulf News: ‘’I will not answer this one. Let us talk about positive things.’’

Fans say: This is Kohli’s team, he should stay on

Gautam Bhattacharyya, Senior Associate Editor

The common refrain from the cricket fans — be it a cricket enthusiast like Anis Sajan in Dubai or the new age cricket fans — there is simply no good reason to make any changes in the Test captaincy.

Anis Sajan

‘‘I think it’s only a debate for debate’s sake. One just has to take a look at his record to understand what (Virat) Kohli has achieved ever since he took over from M.S. Dhoni,’’ said Sajan, a noted industrialist in Dubai and a former owner of a T-10 team.

‘‘Personally speaking, I feel there could be a small window of opportunity in the T20 format for a change. Rohit Sharma has worked wonders in the Indian Premier League (IPL) and deserves a chance,’’ he told Gulf News during a Zoom conversation.

Sonali Samtani

Sonali Samtani, a Dubai-based student, studying in Carleton University of Canada, said: ‘‘While Rahane makes an excellent vice-captain and was able to whip up the heat and passion immediately after the Adelaide debacle, he was able to do it because of the team members, whose fight and motivation were inspired to high levels by Kohli’s intensity and mentoring.’’

Ayush Bhattacharya

Ayush Bhattacharya, a Class XI student from Jamnabai Narsee School, Mumbai, was equally passionate. ‘‘This is Kohli’s team, and there is no need to disturb the continuity. If India are winning matches outside, a lot of credit should go to the fast bowlers for taking those 20 wickets. They have all benefitted from the new fitness culture in the Indian team introduced by Kohli.’’

Virat Kohli
Virat Kohli Image Credit: AFP

PROFILE: Virat Kohli is aggression personified

Shyam A. Krishna, Senior Associate Editor

Virat Kohli exudes aggression. No doubt about it. He’s very business-like at the crease: unfurling classy cover drives and punching the ball elegantly down the field. And he brooks no-nonsense. Banter or sledging, he pays it back. He prances around on the field: celebrating a wicket with high fives and fretting and fuming when a chance goes down. You can read the match on his face.

That’s Kohli. A livewire, really. There’s never a dull moment when he’s out there.

Kohli the captain is an extension of Kohli the batsmen. He’s relentless in his pursuit of perfection, and his fitness regime has been compared to footballer Cristiano Ronaldo and tennis star Novak Djokovic. It helps him squeeze out that extra run, stay at the crease longer in testing conditions. It makes him a better batsman. A more prolific one.

He has inculcated the same values in the team as well. A fitter team performs better, seems to be the credo. Kohli’s aggression too appears to have rubbed off his teammates. You can see the same combativeness in Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja. Some others, like Mohammed Shami, are equally forceful, but in a quiet way. All this has helped India raise their profile as fierce competitors.

20210204-Cricket_kohli stats
Image Credit: Seyyed Llata/Gulf News

Part of the respect stems from Kohli’s sublime batting skills and an incredible record. He’s arguably the best batsmen in the game. He’s got the stats to back it. All former players concur. His foes too.

The aura can sometimes be a burden. Younger teammates could be in awe of Kohli’s stature and refrain from voicing their ideas and suggestions. And would cower in fear if they bowl badly or drop a sitter. They know Kohli demands the best from them. Anything less is unacceptable.

That’s helped shape India into the worldbeaters they are. And Kohli deserves full credit for that.

His batting talent was never in doubt right from when he turned out for the India Under-19 team. Soon after the maiden century in Adelaide against a formidable Australian attack in 2012, Kohli cemented his place in the side and went on to become the best batsmen in the world, drawing comparisons with Sir Vivian Richards of the West Indies.

Kohli the batsmen is awe-inspiring. His captaincy too has been brilliant. Look at the record: 33 wins from 58 Tests, and the best win percentage abroad among India’s captains. You can’t argue with that.

So what’s the problem? His image. It turns off people. It makes people have a go at him at the slightest chance. But Kohli’s unperturbed. He makes no apologies. The aggression works for him. So, why change?

PROFILE: All Ajinkya Rahane needs is respect

Gautam Bhattacharyya, Senior Associate Editor

The series win against Australia may have changed how the cricketing world looks at Ajinkya Rahane, but ‘Jinx’ is under no illusion as he takeS a fresh guard for the England series.

‘’Nothing changes for me. Virat Kohli is my captain, and I am his deputy,’’ Rahane said in one of the interviews soon after returning to a champions’ welcome in January. Maybe the designation will not, but there will be plenty of respect.

It’s been nearly a decade since Rahane has become a part of the Indian dressing room and ironically enough, even though he made the cut with One-day Internationals in 2011 — he does not figure in India’s white-ball scheme of things for quite a while now. His overseas record in Tests stands out, and maybe, the overall figures should have looked better than 4471 runs at an average of 42.58, but then one got the impression that he had to withstand often the pressure of having to prove himself despite his compact technique and adaptability.

20210204-Cricket-AJINKYA-RAHANE stats
Image Credit: Seyyed Llata/Gulf News

What hurt Rahane most was that the team management never considered his name seriously even when there was virtually a nation-wide hunt for the crucial number four position for their 2019 ICC World Cup campaign. What’s more, when KL Rahul got injured, Rahane was very much in England on county duty for Hampshire, but Tamil Nadu allrounder Vijay Shankar was flown in instead.

At 32, and possibly at the peak of his batting prowess, Rahane had been vocal about playing more of white-ball cricket — but his true calling could only be the longer format. After conquering Australia with a series-defining century in Melbourne, he has got two four-Test series — at home and then in England — and he will be looking forward to grab the situation with both hands.

To put in in Rahane’s own words: ‘‘I prefer my bat to do the talking.’’