King Kohli, the T20I Captain, Without a Crown To Show For
A look at Virat Kohli's career as India's T20 captain.
Sitting in his quarantine room in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) before the start of the Indian Premier League (IPL), Virat Kohli announced on Thursday, 16 September, via social media, that he will be giving up India captaincy in the shortest of formats after the T20 World Cup later this year.
In several interviews, especially after welcoming a baby girl, Kohli had been dropping hints on his inclination to let go of some of the responsibilities, and understandably so. His urge to prioritise things and give more time to his young family ultimately tilted the scales.
Step into his shoes and it's easy to see how the Indian captain has been the centre of attraction over an entire decade now. It would take a toll on anybody. Add to the onus of captaincy in pressure-cooker situations on the field, and the umpteen obligations off it, press conferences, brand endorsements, events and what not. Clearly, the greys in the beard are justified.
It was in the beginning of 2017 that MS Dhoni decided to step down as the white-ball captain in a bid to give Virat Kohli close to two and a half years to build his team for the 2019 ODI World Cup. The England tour of India in January-February 2017 was the first time Kohli took to the field as India's permanent T20 International captain.
India won their first T20I series under his leadership by 2-1. That marked the beginning of a ride which was going to oscillate between impressive and ordinary.
Since then, Kohli has led India in 45 T20Is, winning 27 and losing 14. He has scored 1,502 runs in this duration at an healthy average of 48.45 and led the team to some memorable series wins in South Africa, England, and Australia.
One of the highlights of his tenure as India's T20I captain was the emergence, and then the fading away, of India's famous spin twins.
Kuldeep Yadav had a breakout year in T20Is in 2017, the same year in which Kohli permanently took charge. The left-arm wrist spinner picked up 12 wickets from 29 overs in 2017 at 18.50. The numbers improved to 21 wickets at 9.81 in 2018, after which the decline began.
With Yuzvendra Chahal as well, the story is more or less the same. Chahal has had his best year in T20I cricket in 2017 when he took 23 wickets from 41.3 overs at 14.13. The leggie snaffled 18 wickets in 2018 at 22.83.
It was obviously credit to the guile of Chahal and Kuldeep, but one could easily see a lot of Virat Kohli in their bowling style. They were anything but shy of giving the ball ample air, never disheartened when taken for a few, and always backed themselves to get back at the batsmen, even on their off days. This is exactly the Kohli philosophy. And, this is how he has led India, and continues to, across the three formats.
That Kohli wears his heart on his sleeve, both as a player and captain, has become hackneyed, but it is true nonetheless. While there were some blips along the way, not least concerning the team selection, with a win percentage of 65.11, it is almost incontestable that T20I cricket in India moved forward with Kohli in charge.
Virat Kohli, the T20I batsman, as expected, did not wilt under the pressure of captaincy. From 2017 onwards, he has never averaged under 30 in a year, which is remarkable. In fact, in his last T20I assignment as captain, which ended up in a favourable 3-2 against England, Kohli was at the peak of his powers.
The captain finished the 5-match affair with 231 runs at an average of 115.50 and a strike rate of 147.13, miles ahead of the second-placed Jos Buttler, and even flirted with the idea of opening the batting.
While an official announcement is awaited, there is little doubt that Rohit Sharma will take over the reins from Kohli. He will still have Kohli, unequivocally one of the best batsmen across formats, as an invaluable asset.
It has been notable how the relationship between Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli has grown over the last year. When it comes to T20 captaincy, one has clearly been superior to the other. Kohli has a win percentage of 48.04 from 132 IPL matches and is still without a trophy. Sharma, on the other hand, has won more than 60% of his 123 IPL matches with five trophies to show for. Sharma has also captained India 19 times in T20 Internationals and has only lost on four occasions.
As luck would have it, the upcoming T20 World Cup will be the first such event since 2016 when MS Dhoni was in charge. Ironically, this will be Kohli's first World Cup as T20I captain, and his last as well.
While there is little doubt that it would have served Indian cricket better had the news not become public before the showpiece event, now that it has, all King Kohli's got is one big, fat, realistic shot at lifting India's second and his first and only T20I World Cup crown.
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