Kohli Was India’s Imran Khan But Time Now For Two-Captain Policy
We learn from history that we do not learn from history - German thinker Georg Hegel
Indian cricket fans in the 1980s always yearned for an Imran Khan as our captain. Whenever we saw Imran on the field and off it, taking charge and making decisions, there was always a sense of neighbour’s envy.
The impact of what Imran did with Pakistan ensured that they held sway over India till the 2003 World Cup. He built a squad, left behind a legacy and handpicked players who would leave India gasping for breath, quite literally, through the 1990s as well. In fact in the tournaments in Sharjah, Imran would fly in players overnight and field them the next day because of some sign of potential.
Indian cricket’s wish seemed to have been answered in 2014-15, and then again in 2016-17, when Virat Kohli became virtually the supremo. He has immense powers, has picked players who he thinks can work wonders and has virtually been unchallenged especially since he replaced MS Dhoni as captain in the white ball formats as well.
Alam and Shastri have let their captains run the ship, while they supported them in their contrasting ways.
But that’s where the similarity between Kohli and Imran ends.
No Deputy in Charge
What Imran had was an effective second in command in Javed Miandad, who would challenge him, push him and even strategise for him. Miandad was secure in his role and felt comfortable even doing the unthinkable, by pushing Imran as well. They never quite agreed, but Miandad was no yes-man.
Here is a man who should have been India’s best bet away from home, but Rahane has remained a shadow of himself, thanks mainly to the level of insecurity that has crept in. Rahane led India confidently and aggressively, without being in your face, in the deciding Test against Australia last year. Since that victory at Dharamsala, Rahane seems to have paid the price of being victorious. He was quite inexplicably even dropped in South Africa. In normal circumstances Kohli should have had a secure and calm Rahane in his ears, but that just does not seem to be the case.
That level of his insecurity is also seen in the way some of the other batsmen have approached the series. Cheteshwar Pujara is an odd man out in the Test squad as he does not play in white ball cricket, so as a result he is left wanting to be part of the action. But the way he has been treated on the basis of his perceived ‘lack of intent’, it does seem Pujara is out with the bat almost as if with a point to prove.
Even a discarded Murali Vijay and a struggling Shikhar Dhawan have been measured against differing standards. Vijay, another Test specialist, appeared to be under pressure from the first ball, whereas Dhawan quite strangely enjoyed the benefits of his white ball form in Test cricket.
Clouded Thought Process
Kohli’s authority is also seen in the way India prepares for an away Test series. There is no thought or process put in place on how the tour will be approached. That is primarily because Kohli plays all three formats and is always in tune with the demands. The others, however, do not have that kind of luxury. Except Kohli and now to some extent fast bowler Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, no one is really certain of their place in all three formats.
So that results in limp performances like that of Ravichandran Ashwin in the fourth Test at Southampton.
All this kind of authority for Kohli would have made sense if India had achieved the kind of success away from home like we had been promised.
Winning at home is something most Indian captains have achieved. But Kohli had the advantage of a complete fast bowling attack which none of his predecessors had. So he was expected to create wonders.
But in his four years as captain, we have not really moved forward in Test match cricket. Even if you give allowance for the fact that India won twice in Sri Lanka (2015 & 2017) and once in West Indies (2016) it still does not mean much in the bigger picture.
India lost both in South Africa and now England this year.
Time For Two-Captain Theory
Time has therefore come for India to seriously consider going back to a two-captain format. This will not be an indictment of Kohli in any way, because he is still the side’s numero uno batter, but more an admission of a lack of progress by the side.
These individuals are as aggressive as they come and it is now time to hand them some responsibility.
To be fair, we wasted two years after the 2015 World Cup for Dhoni to leave his role in ODI cricket and then for a year post the 2016 World Twenty20 loss for him to exit the shortest format as captain. Champions Trophy 2017 was the first big white ball engagement under Kohli and that ended in a disaster. Except for wins over a second string South Africa ODI and T20I squad we don’t really have much to show away from Asia.
The change will therefore be forced upon us in any case post the World Cup in 2019, if there is no title triumph. There will definitely be a recalibration of strategy in July 2019, why not act now then? In any case the six Test matches that lie in front of us will get lost in the melee around the showpiece event. So let’s quietly make the change and prepare for life beyond 2019 World Cup right away.
Fresh Voices Please
Also time has also come for some fresh voices in the dressing room. Shastri, batting coach Sanjay Bangar, bowling coach Bharat Arun and fielding coach R Sridhar have been with the squad for four years now. There is a shelf life for everyone’s role, the same is the case with the coaching staff. There is a sense of a comfort zone being created for everyone and that is not good for anyone, especially in a team sport.
Even after the 1-4 loss to England, Kohli insisted that within the squad the view of a result was different from that of those outside. This kind of insular view is not ideal for a captain or a leader in any group as it closes his/her mind from possible changes.
Learn From The Best
The biggest mistake a leader can make is to believe that he/she is in charge forever.
Imran certainly wanted one final crack at England in 1992 after the World Cup triumph, but a player rebellion put paid to those hopes. The very players he helped nurture were up in arms over his speech post the World Cup triumph.
Kohli would therefore do well to learn from the Imran example, else he could well end up being overtaken by events.
(Chandresh Narayanan is former cricket writer with The Times of India, The Indian Express, ex-Media Officer for ICC and current media manager of Delhi Daredevils. He is also the author of World Cup Heroes, Cricket Editorial consultant, professor and cricket TV commentator.)