Virat Kohli likes to make a statement. In his batting, in his celebrations, in his press briefings, he likes to go out and assert himself. As captain of the Test team, he was no different.
The Indian team left for Australia in November 2014 without their regular captain MS Dhoni. It was trying times Down Under with the whole nation mourning the sad death of the promising young cricketer Phil Hughes. Kohli, as stand-in captain, had to be a statesman in the lead up to the series before making any cricketing decisions, something he did meticulously.
On the field, as the Test captain for the first time at his favourite venue Adelaide, Kohli picked Karn Sharma ahead of Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, a move that didn't pay off, with the Australians making merry against the rookie leg-spinner. Tactically, Kohli was a bit rusty. Adelaide can be a hard ground to defend and with a bowling attack that lacked any bite, Kohli struggled to keep control.
While the team was losing control of the game in the field, Kohli was taking his batting to another level. After scoring a hundred in the first innings, Kohli egged himself and his team in the second innings to chase down whatever target the Australians set. While many experts wanted India to play out a draw, Kohli made 141 runs at a strike rate of 81, getting out eventually while trying to hit a long hop from Nathan Lyon out of the ground. Kohli had lost, but like the legendary American singer Frank Sinatra, Kohli asserted, "I did it my way".
Fast forward to Vizag. Kohli has captained India in 19 Tests and has lost only one more match since that Adelaide heartbreak. While many have argued that his team hasn't been tested against tough oppositions away from home yet, Kohli has made the most of a friendly schedule by taking his team to the top of the Test ranking while continuing to do things his way.
Kohli has made changes to his team in almost every game, sometimes to our bemusement, but always while backing the plan in his head. He played five bowlers most of the time in a bid to go for more outright victories, something his predecessors weren't sure of doing even against weaker oppositions at home.
We expected series wins at home, but now we are confident of whitewashing any opposition at home. Kohli's own batting has also flourished during his captaincy. He averages close to 60 as captain, which is much higher than his career average of 48. Having lead India right from the U-19 level, captaincy sits easy on his head and gives him that extra push to do even better as a player. His four centuries as captain of Royal Challengers Bangalore in the Indian Premier League (IPL) is testimony to his drive as a captain.
With his team on the top of the world in Tests and his batting form and consistency miles ahead of anyone else in the world, there can't be a better time to hand him the captaincy in limited overs format also. This isn't a reflection of MS Dhoni's ability as a captain, it's a move that is required to take this team forward. Teams thrive under leadership that is consistent, something Dhoni is losing as he sits out during the Test season.
Split captaincy has been tried by different teams at different times with varying success. Adam Hollioake took charge of an English ODI team that hadn't won a trophy in close to 10 years and led them to a win in Sharjah beating Asian giants India and Pakistan in 1997. Steve Waugh became captain of the ODI side much before taking charge of the Australian Test team. In both the cases, they had to choose a different captain in ODIs because the Test captains of the time didn't warrant a place in the respective ODI sides, just like Pakistan's Misbah-ul-Haq and England's Alastair Cook in the present day. Kohli, on the other hand, is the team's most valuable player in ODIs and T20s.
Dhoni is a great captain and an important member of the limited overs team but he would be the first one to admit that his trophy and his souvenir stumps cabinet doesn't stack up as frequently as it used to. India has a strong limited overs team and it will continue to win matches, even when leadership isn't ideal. This isn't a team in turmoil due to captaincy issues, but one that has the potential to be the best across all formats with better leadership.
Kohli has often paid tribute to Dhoni's captaincy and how he has learned from him. Having Dhoni's counsel on the field while captaining the team can turn Kohli into an even better captain. Captaining his side in the IPL has already taught him how to handle superstars. When Chris Gayle didn't play a game and Kohli was asked whether the big West Indian was rested, Kohli was blunt in his response, "No, he was dropped." You didn't expect a Delhi mohalla brat to be soft, did you?
Effective captaincy of a sports team begins in the dressing room. While many experts believe Michael Clarke was more superior as a tactician than his predecessor Ricky Ponting, the latter enjoyed immense respect from his team. Yes, he did have a great team but his authority in the dressing room was essential in his team achieving great results.
For the current generation of Indians, Kohli is the role model they look up to. They copy his methods, his work ethics, and his style. He is the natural leader for any youngster coming into the team. In his autobiography, the former Australian wicketkeeper-batsman Adam Gilchrist talks about the muddled dressing room situation he walked into when the captaincy was split between Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh. A youngster coming into any team enjoys having a single point of authority to defer to. KL Rahul has often paid tribute to Kohli's mentorship both in the IPL and the national team for his rise as an international cricketer.
Of course, there is a chance that the limited overs team will miss Dhoni's leadership and fail to achieve anything under Kohli, but that's a risk this team has to take if it wants to be remembered as one that dominated this era. Sometimes you have to risk going too far to know how far you can go.
First Published On : Nov 22, 2016 14:23 IST