The unbridled passion an enthusiastic Virat Kohli brought to captaincy in 2014 came as a whiff of fresh air. He wore his passion on his sleeve like a badge of honour, and his furious gesticulations, animated expressions and forceful badgering were a complete contrast to the deadpan, unfathomable mien of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, India's celebrated captain cool.
Kohli brought overt aggression to the post and this stood out when, in Dhoni's absence, he led India for the first time in a Test at Adelaide in December 2014. Kohli scored 115 in the first innings, and after Australia set India a target of 364 on the final day, Kohli's eagerness to take up the challenge was a far cry from the defensive approach of Indian captains of the past. He led from the front with another ton, 141 off 175 balls, and India made a fist of it before being bowled out for 315.
India lost the Test, but Kohli had sent out a loud and clear message: Given half a chance, he and his team would go for broke. At the time, it looked like the young warrior was set to lead Indian cricket through exciting times, particularly as his batsmanship was progressing from strength to strength on the back of some truly outstanding performances.
Yet, with the passage of time, and matches, it appears that Kohli is falling into the same bracket as past giants of the game — Ian Botham, Viv Richards, Sachin Tendulkar, among others. They were also cricketering greats, the very best in the business, yet the intricacies of captaincy were lost on them.
Of course, these are early days for captain Kohli and he is still on a learning curve. But the manner in which his team Royal Challengers Bangalore have repeatedly failed to protect huge targets in this year's IPL T20 is a cause for concern.
No doubt the easiest option would be to dump all ills of RCB at the doorstep of the bowlers. But the question that the captain and think tank must ask themselves is, have they done all they could to extract the best out of the bowlers? Has there been optimum utilisation of the pacemen and spinners, and have they been individually deployed at an ideal time?
Simply put, resources are always limited. It is the captain's ability to put them to optimal use that makes the difference between success and failure.
Of course, any captain could have his plans torn apart by an opponent's brilliant batsmanship. But for it to happen so regularly is a bit hard to digest. Particularly since RCB, man for man, look better on paper than Sunrisers Hyderabad or Delhi Daredevils.
Mike Brearley, England's exceptional captain of yesteryears, in his seminal book The Art of Captaincy, believed it was important for the captain to understand the nature of the individual within the structure of a team. Cricket, he wrote, is a game of individual performances; therefore, to obtain best results for the team, each person should be given the confidence that the team trusts his ability to perform. That sort of confidence needs to be nurtured and coaxed out of an individual, like Shane Warne did with the Rajasthan Royals; the Delhi Daredevils, more recently, have also shown this to be true.
For a start, Kohli could be a lot more proactive than just throwing the ball to a bowler and retreating to field at deep midwicket or long-on. Incidentally, it can't be very reassuring for a bowler if his captain believes most of the deliveries will be dispatched to deep midwicket.
Certainly, Kohli has been one of the most outstanding cricketers of this era. He has taken the quality of batsmanship to extraordinary levels and is arguably the number one batsman in the world today. But is he as innovative and proactive as skipper too?
Kohli had led RCB in Daniel Vettori's absence in 2011 and 2012, and was appointed full-time skipper in 2013. Thus, he has had a fair stint at the job. But there are grey areas that escape comprehension. The decision to bat first against Gujarat Lions, for instance. It not only went contrary to RCB's native strength, it also resulted in an easy win for the Lions, who romped home with plenty to spare. They have lost four games after batting first this IPL season, and on all four occasions, posted excellent first innings totals — 191, 185, 180, 170. Limitations of the bowling notwithstanding, failure to defend such large totals is jarring.
Kohli could yet redeem himself and RCB. But for that, he needs to think on his feet and be a lot more sensitive to the abilities of his bowlers. RCB did defend a target successfully two times this season. So there is certainly some cause for cheer there.
At this point of time, Kohli's captaincy is progressing along the lines of Tendulkar, Richards and Botham. They too set such high standards for themselves that they failed to appreciate the limitations of lesser players. They could perform individual wonders, but were perplexed when others in the team failed to do so.
Kohli needs to chart a different course to show that he is the man. Particularly since limited bowling resources is something not just RCB but also the national team suffers from, the captain's touch is dearly needed to boost the bowlers' self-esteem. The question is: Can Kohli rise to the challenge?
Updated Date: May 05, 2016 09:15 AM