India vs Sri Lanka: Virat Kohli's batting is far from wilting under captaincy pressure, there's no cause for concern
In fact, Kohli's predecessors, Dhoni, Dravid, Tendulkar and Ganguly have had less impressive figures with the bat when they also had to lead the side.
38, 0, 13, 12, 15, 6, 3.
What does this string of scores tell you about a batsman? Clearly struggling for form, isn't he? It could well be that he has had a lean series. But as much as the impatient Indian cricket fan is inclined to, it will not perhaps be prudent to draw conclusions on the batsman's career from these scores. And certainly not when the batsman in question is Virat Kohli.
Yes, Kohli has not had the best of times in the series against Australia earlier this month. After the 204 in the first innings of the one-off Test against Bangladesh, he could only accumulate 87 runs over seven innings. Yes, his batting graph had dipped during that series, but to say that captaincy is bothering or burdening him would be an over-reaction.
Was this not the same batsman who slammed four double centuries in four consecutive Test series, against West Indies, New Zealand, England and Bangladesh, while carrying out the responsibilities of captaincy with elan? Was this not the same batsman who hit three centuries in his first three Test innings as captain, becoming the first Test captain ever to do so? Was this not the same batsman, who curbed his natural strokeplay when the situation demanded him to do so, on a ploughed field of a Day 5 pitch against England at Rajkot, pulling his team out of trouble and helping them draw the series? Wasn't it the perception even only a few months back that there is a big score guaranteed every time he picked up the willow?
So one can't criticise Kohli now and say that captaincy is taking the sheen away from his batting, perhaps the way things went down with Sachin Tendulkar. Kohli is widely regarded as the successor to Tendulkar and his legacy in Indian cricket. Even the Master Blaster had opined that if there was anyone who could break his plethora of records and milestones, it would be Kohli. Indeed, comparisons between the two batting maestros have become par for the course. So another comparison between them is perhaps in order here. One that looks at their batting figures during the time that they were the captain and juxtaposes those figures with their respective batting figures when they played as an ordinary member of the side.
Kohli, as mentioned earier, had started with an absolute bang, and in the 27 matches that he has been at the helm of the Indian Test team, he has compiled a creditable 2,402 runs, at a rollicking average of nearly 60. Nine hundreds and four fifties during this time is testimony to his fantastic conversion rate of fifties into hundreds. That is a record which even Tendulkar would have been proud of.
What then about Tendulkar himself? If India's 'God of Cricket' had anything that could be called an Achilles' Heel, it had to be captaincy. It is certainly not that Tendulkar made a shoddy leader. But it was no secret that captaincy was a load that he often found too heavy to carry. In fact, Tendulkar's reign was marred by numerous occasions across formats when India could not make the final push, when they squandered matches that seemed they had well under their control. Tendulkar's reign was marred by galling losses, none more so than perhaps the one against West Indies at Barbados in 1997.
Set a paltry 120 to win after Abey Kuruvilla, Venkatesh Prasad and Dodda Ganesh had combined to skittle the hosts out for 140, India suffered a spectacular collapse themselves. None of the Indian batsmen apart from VVS Laxman could get to double figures, as the visitors were singed by the pace and hostility of Ian Bishop, Curtly Ambrose and Franklyn Rose. Eighty one is all that India could muster.
That loss will forever be etched in the memory of the Indian players who were part of that match, a throbbing wound that can never go away, a blot on Tendulkar's captaincy CV.
"Monday 31 March, 1997 was a dark day in the history of Indian cricket and definitely the worst of my captaincy career," Tendulkar writes in his autobiography Playing it My Way. "I hated losing and as captain of the team I felt responsible for the string of miserable performances. More worryingly, I did not know how I could turn it around, as I was already trying my absolute best," recalls Tendulkar in the book, adding that he had also contemplated moving away from the game completely.
Tendulkar captained only 25 times in Tests over a career spanning 24 years, and it is extremely difficult to find batting figures related to him which can be called 'weak'. His 2,054 runs at an average of 51.35 as a captain is not bad by any stretch of imagination, but when you consider his pile of runs (13,867) and average (54.16) when he played as an ordinary member of the team, and when you consider his disillusionment with captaincy, you feel he would have been better off without the added burden.
Kohli's Test batting figures when he had not been the captain is not too different than those after he took over the reins of the side, but that is a proof of his ability to multi-task. If anything, his batting numbers have been a touch better after taking over the leadership of the side. The number of Tests he has captained so far is also roughly the same as the number of Tests Tendulkar did in his entire career, and if you compare their batting records during this period, Kohli has his nose in front.
How does Kohli the captain and batsman stack up against some of other stalwarts who had played that dual role in recent time?
Sourav Ganguly, one of the finest captains India has ever produced, wasn't as successful a batsman in Tests as some of his other illustrious contemporaries. His 1,517 runs at an average of 39.92 in his first 27 matches as captain pales in front of Kohli. Rahul Dravid, one of the greatest Test batsmen of all time, also struggled to make much of an impact with the bat when he had had to captain the side as well. The number of Tests that Dravid had led India in is the same as Tendulkar and roughly similar to that of Kohli. Dravid's record with the bat during this time is modest at best, having scored 1,736 runs at an average of 44.51.
How did Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Kohli's immediate predecessor, fare while balancing captaincy and batting? The wicketkeeper-batsman made 1,600 runs in his first 27 Tests as captain at an average of 45.71, which is much lighter than the record Kohli has in the same number of matches, though one also needs to consider that Dhoni, unlike the Kohlis and Tendulkars of the world used to come in much lower down the order and often did not get the time to build an innings.
Therefore, it is a misnomer to say that captaincy has started to bog Kohli the batsman down. It would not be reasonable to make that call on the basis of one lean series versus Australia. Importantly, Kohli was terribly unlucky to have got out the way he did in the first innings of the ongoing Test against Sri Lanka at Galle, getting the faintest of edges to the wicketkeeper. In fact, his predecessors, Dhoni, Dravid, Tendulkar and Ganguly have had less impressive figures with the bat when they had also had to lead the side. Kohli is due for a big score and it may not be long before he gets one. Till that time let's hold our horses.
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