Virat Kohli Quits Test Captaincy: End of an Era, And it Ended When He Chose to End it
It is a sign of the times we live in. Virat Kohli stepped down from the Test captaincy via social media, not through a press conference, one he addressed soon after India lost to South Africa at Newlands or even an official communication from the Board of Control for Cricket in India. Not winning in South Africa was not a body blow, or a tipping point, for India has never gone the whole hog in this country before.
But, nothing happens in isolation in Indian cricket.
In September last year, Kohli relieved himself of the Twenty20 International captaincy, citing a need to manage his workload, mental, if not physical. In December, Kohli was stripped of the One-Day International captaincy, with the selectors deciding that one captain was enough in all white-ball cricket. This did not happen smoothly.
The very next day, Sourav Ganguly, the former India captain and current BCCI president, said that he had requested Kohli not to step down as T20I captain. This claim was contradicted by Kohli when he told a press conference that his decision to quit as T20I captain just prior to the World Cup was “received well” and even termed “progressive” by the authorities. Add to this the fact that Kohli was told he would lose the ODI captaincy — just a short time before a selection meeting in December, and you have the makings of a disaster.
To be fair, most captains in Indian cricket have not been afforded advance notice of their sacking, but, this does not make things any simpler. To be blunt, Kohli was not enjoying the best of times and his position as supremo in Indian cricket was not just being challenged, it was being cut down by the powers that be in the BCCI. To this end, Kohli’s announcement that he was stepping down from the Test captaincy as well, should not come as a shock.
Over the years, Kohli has developed very strong self-preservation instincts and perhaps this was just the latest instance in which they kicked in. Statistically, Kohli is India’s greatest Test captain. In 68 outings he has 40 wins. Globally this puts him one behind Steve Waugh, and a bit further down the list from Ricky Ponting (48) and Graeme Smith (53). Tactically, Kohli is nowhere near India’s finest captain. From Tiger Pataudi to Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev to Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid to MS Dhoni, many leaders have been asked to make do with much less.
For starters, Kohli had a bowling attack that could get him 20 wickets overseas. Credit must be given to Kohli for not only demanding this but ensuring that enough resources were put into the program over a sustained period to ensure it happened. The National Cricket Academy and the India A system worked consciously to ensure that the fast bowlers were not only identified but taken care of and kept primed for when the Indian team might need them.
Equally importantly, Kohli was determined to take the toss out of the equation in home Tests, possibly because he had seen, as a player, how much of a role this played when India were overseas. Gone were the times when the first two-three days were perfect for batting, only for the pitch to become unplayable in the business end thanks to wear and tear. From Day 1 Indian pitches would assist turn and bounce under Kohli, and this made batting difficult not only for the visitors but also for Indian batsmen brought up on a different kind of turning track.
Kohli did not shy away from losing in his relentless pursuit for victory, and this will be his legacy. As a batsman-captain Kohli was perhaps similar to Sachin Tendulkar, who demanded a level of excellence from those he commanded that matched his own unmatchable standards. When Tendulkar gave up the job, a few reporters, including your correspondent, were seated casually around him at the Brabourne Stadium in Mumbai, the news coming as a shock, but not accompanied by awe.
When Kohli decided to send his thunderbolt, nobody saw it coming. If anyone tells you they knew it beforehand, they are being facetious at best and deceitful at worst. It is the end of an era, and it ended when Kohli chose to end it.