The Four Years of Captain Virat Kohli
Four years ago on this day, Virat Kohli took over as India’s full-time Test captain following the shock retirement of Mahendra Singh Dhoni. It was the tour of Australia in 2014-15 and Kohli had led India in the first Test as a stand-in skipper and given an indication of his aggressive attitude when he almost chased an improbable target.
Then, after two more Tests under Dhoni, Kohli was back in the saddle, this time by right. MS Dhoni had retired from the format and India had a new captain in whites.
Thus began the Kohli era in India’s Test cricket.
Right Man for the Right Job
The start was not auspicious, with draws in Sydney’s traditional New Year Test and later that summer in Bangladesh. It was in 2015, when India toured Sri Lanka and Kohli’s men came back from being a Test down to win the series, that the team reflected its Captain’s personality.
Unlike the somewhat staid Dhoni Test era when safety first was the motto of the regime, Kohli was prepared to go the extra mile. The world may love to hate Kohli for his over-the-top aggression, but he was the perfect antidote to the dipping fortunes of India’s Test cricket. He was the right man for the right job at the right time.
Break From the Past
India’s poor overseas record under Dhoni, especially between 2011 and 2014, was a reflection of the general disaffection that the white ball champion had for Test cricket. Dhoni preferred to play the waiting game, almost as if it was an extended ODI.
It is unfair to compare captaincy styles or eras, but Kohli and Dhoni were so closely intertwined that you cannot but look at the two men and their legacies. Both worked in their own way for India, but Kohli’s captaincy will have a more lasting impact on Indian cricket in the Test format.
India did reach the numero uno position under Dhoni in 2009 but that was more a reflection of the previous two years under Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble. Kohli, however, had to literally rebuild the side following a spate of retirements and loss of form of older players.
In the last four years Kohli has almost solved the jigsaw puzzle, with some pieces still missing.
Pace is Ace
The most important aspect of Kohli’s captaincy has been the insistence on the use of pace in the bowling attack, unlike the Dhoni era in which the former skipper preferred the line and length specialists even overseas. At home, both used spin as a weapon of mass destruction against teams, with the only exception being the loss to England in 2012-13.
Kohli has gone about investing in pacemen who can relentlessly hustle batsmen. The only link with the Dhoni era was Ishant Sharma, the Delhi fast bowler who started his cricketing career with Kohli. The other bowlers have virtually come into their own in the Kohli era, even though Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar did debut under Dhoni.
This has led to the creation of the most complete fast bowling attack in Indian Test history. Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant and Shami are the first to start in the playing XI while Bhuvi and Umesh warm the bench. Then there is the all-rounder in the making – Hardik Pandya, who adds balance to the attack that India found in South Africa and England.
Before India began the overseas Test sojourn in 2018, almost all of the wins under Kohli were fashioned by Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja. The spin twins wove a web around batsmen as India raced to the first position.
Before India’s overseas troubles again came to the fore in 2018, Kohli’s men won twice in Sri Lanka (2015 & 2017) and once in West Indies (2016). That has now been forgotten, maybe because the opposition was not at its strongest. Still, there was a time when India had struggled to win in Sri Lanka and West Indies, especially in the 1990s and in the early 2000s.
India’s Away Troubles
The Test tours of South Africa, England and Australia this year were meant to define India’s progress. India had been mocked for being paper tigers and giants only at home. India’s capitulation in South Africa confirmed these thoughts, despite a tremendous win in the final Test at Johannesburg.
The South Africa tour was also the first time Kohli’s captaincy came under criticism for leaving out his deputy Ajinkya Rahane from the first two Tests.
Then, in England, the tail frustrated Kohli & Co to no end and India lost the series. Then again, India had committed faux pas with selection by dropping Cheteshwar Pujara and playing an extra spinner in Kuldeep Yadav when only one was required at Lord’s.
Best of the Pack
Although Kohli’s men managed to win a Test in England, the tour is remembered for Head Coach Ravi Shastri’s statement terming his side as the best Indian team in the last two decades. While it created a lot of flutter, the fact is that Shastri was not completely off the mark.
But presently, Kohli has a far better attack at his disposal than Ganguly ever had. Also, while Ganguly’s team had clinched victories in Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, Kohli has led India only in one drawn Test in Bangladesh. He however has a far better all-round side at his command, but Ganguly had a greater galaxy of players, perhaps the greatest ever line-up, to pick from.
If Ganguly had Kohli’s attack, and Kohli had Ganguly’s line of batsmen, THEN we would have an all-time great Indian Test squad.
Enjoy the Kohli Era While it Lasts
Kohli just has Dhoni ahead of him in terms of wins as a Test captain, but he has a lot more to do to make India a complete Test squad.
For now, let’s enjoy the Kohli era for as long as it lasts; for there’s a possibility that after the World Cup in 2019, Kohli could focus his leadership energies only on one format. Any guesses on which format that could be can be reserved for now.