It was Gautam Gambhir, the outspoken former Indian opener, who raised the uncomfortable question the other day.
As India succumbed to a somewhat embarrassing series defeat in One Day Internationals to Australia recently — with M.S. Dhoni opting out of the last two matches — Gambhir questioned if Virat Kohli can be as effective as skipper in the absence of his much decorated predecessor in the team.
Gambhir, who knows a thing or two about captaincy (he turned around a below-par Kolkata Knight Riders into IPL champions twice), felt Kohli seemed to miss Dhoni’s calmness in the middle in times of crisis. It’s this underlying apprehension about the master batsman, which many feel, had been the clinching factor behind the former captain being a certainty in that flight for the World Cup in England in a few months — barring any unforeseen circumstances.
The same question mark, however, sticks out like a sore point as the 12th edition of IPL gets under way on Saturday — a tournament where Kohli the batsman has achieved a bagful of feats — but has failed to lift the trophy as the Royal Challengers Bangalore captain.
Just ponder this — the Indian captain is second in the list of all-time high rungetters in the history of the franchise league and only 37 runs behind the top man Suresh Raina of Chennai Super Kings at the moment — a piece of statistic that could change overnight as Bangalore and Chennai will set the ball rolling for the IPL opener on Saturday. Kohli has also, almost without fail, carried his superhuman form in international cricket for his franchise for number of years now — going on to be the only batsman to score 900-plus runs in a season in 2016.
This is an anomaly that Kohli, and his franchise owners, will want to address at the earliest — and the desperation is showing. It had been a case of so-near-yet-so-far on three occasions when they lost the finals in 2009, 2011 and again in 2016 under Kohli’s captaincy.
The RCB management had been assembling a batting line-up to die for close to a decade now — with names like Kohli, AB de Villiers, Chris Gayle, Shane Watson, Yuvraj Singh adorning their dugouts — but returned empty-handed for 11 seasons now.
What is it that Kohli the captain needs to bring to the table as another new season is about to unfold? There is no doubt that a winner’s luck does play a major role in a long drawn league like this, more so in the T20 format, but there are certainly clues in the way most successful IPL captains have conducted themselves — be it the calmness of Dhoni, the ability to absorb the rough with the smooth like Rohit Sharma or the tactical acumen of someone like a Kane Williamson (the Kiwi will be up there in my book despite ending runner-up with Sunrisers Hyderabad last year).
The main job before the RCB coach Gary Kirsten will be to try and calm down his main man and forge the right combination for each match after due diligence rather than just throwing in an array of big names at the opposition.
Kohli, who wears his heart on his sleeves, would be better off by not trying too hard — though it’s easier said than done.
As for the rest, we will have to wait till May 12 to know if Kohli can have the last laugh.