Kolkata: Barely a day after suffering a humiliating 2-1 series loss to South Africa, Virat Kohli shook up a relatively quiet Saturday evening as he stepped down as India’s Test captain after seven eventful years at the helm.
The sudden decision will set off a series of speculations as there is enough scope to read between the lines - given the uneasy truce that now exists between him and the powers that-be at the BCCI. Did he not want to give them another chance to send him feelers to step down? Would he have taken such a call if India had actually managed to conquer the South African frontier?
A clearer picture may emerge over the coming days, but fact remains that Kohli - a devout worshipper of Test cricket - is still needed by the Indian team in whites as captain when they have just embarked on the second cycle of World Test Championship from 2021-23. The legacy that he leaves as the Test captain is by far the best among all three formats with 40 wins out of 68 Test matches since 2014 - making him the most successful skipper of the country which has seen some of the finest leaders of men.
“Everything has come to a halt at some stage and for me as test captain of India, it’s now. There have been many ups and also some downs along the journey, but never has there been a lack of effort or lack of belief,” Kohli said in a long message on his social media handles - in an almost identical fashion when he announced the decision to give up T20 captaincy.
‘‘It’s been 7 years of hard work, toil and relentless perseverance everyday to take the team in the right direction. I’ve done the job with absolute honesty and left nothing out there,” Kohli began the tweet - and few could disagree with his honesty of purpose.
It had been the most dramatic last five months in the career graph of India’s most prolific batsman in the post-Sachin Tendulkar generation. When he announced his plans to give up the T20 captaincy after T20 World Cup in September, Kohli sounded reasonably convincing in his logic of cutting down on workload and focus on his primary role as a batsman. There was, actually, no dearth of viable captaincy options in white ball cricket - with Rohit Sharma having played the second fiddle to him for far too long.
It’s not exactly a secret anymore that Kohli wanted to lead India for one last tilt at the 2023 ICC World Cup on homesoil, but he came to realise soon enough that he was no longer the master of his destiny. The scenario is a lot different vis-a-vis his role as the Test skipper - where he and Ravi Shastri had drawn up a blueprint and pursued it with success despite their share of quirky decisions - be it the overall emphasis on fitness, playing with five bowlers to bowl the opposition twice and the likes.
Moments after Kohli announced his decision, the BCCI congratulated the already ‘former’ captain in an almost corporate jargon. “BCCI congratulates #TeamIndia captain @imVkohli for his admirable leadership qualities that took the Test team to unprecedented heights. He led India in 68 matches and has been the most successful captain with 40 wins,” the board said on Twitter.
As the discussion will now rage on who is the logical successor to Kohli as the Test captain, there may not be an easy solution to this. For Rohit Sharma, who is two years older to Kohli and often breaks down due to fitness issues, it may be too much of a burden. KL Rahul could be a popular choice as he figures in all three formats but as the second Test at Johannesburg showed, his leadership is still a work in progress. There is, of course, an extremely capable candidate in Ravi Ashwin - but age is not exactly on his side.
These issues, of course, will not be Kohli’s headache anymore as he walks out to bat without any baggage in the ODIs against South Africa which begins in a few days’ time!