Kohli, Dhoni and The Case of India’s Switching Captains

No more just the apprentice.

3 min read
After winning the Test series against New Zealand, Virat Kohli will hand over the captaincy to MS Dhoni for the ODI series that starts Sunday. (Photo: Reuters)

An unprecedented home season featuring as many as 13 Test matches has meant India’s cricketers will only make intermittent appearances in coloured clothes over the next few months. Basking in the afterglow of their emphatic whitewash over New Zealand in the Tests, the next few weeks present an opportunity to inflict further misery on the visitors over five one-day internationals.

While the cricket promises to be delicious, it will also be fascinating to observe the dynamic between Virat Kohli and the man who takes over the reigns of the team in the limited overs matches – M S Dhoni.

MS Dhoni and members of the Indian ODI team fly to Dharamsala for the opening game on Sunday. (Photo: Facebook.com/BCCI)
MS Dhoni and members of the Indian ODI team fly to Dharamsala for the opening game on Sunday. (Photo: Facebook.com/BCCI)

Since being catapulted into the job of India’s Test captain after Dhoni’s sudden retirement from the format at the end of 2014, Kohli has visibly grown in the role. His win count is already into double figures and astute observers have been appreciative of his tactical nous, his fearlessness in taking tough selection calls and how his eager, young team has responded to his leadership.

There can be no doubt any more that if, or when, called upon, Kohli will have no difficulty in taking over the role in the limited overs formats as well.

However, for now he must return to the trenches and be one of the troopers, handing over command to a well entrenched general. Many of the personnel Kohli commands in the Test set-up are key players of the ODI team as well.

Presumably, Kohli must reboot his methods around those players. In essence, he must go from boss to colleague before returning as boss in less than a month when the Tests against England begin on November 9.

Under Virat Kohli, the Indian team won the Test series against New Zealand 3-0 this week. (Photo: PTI)
Under Virat Kohli, the Indian team won the Test series against New Zealand 3-0 this week. (Photo: PTI)

To the world outside, this may appear an anomalous scenario. In cricket teams though, swapping captains for different formats isn’t unusual. And it would seem the transition from Kohli to Dhoni to Kohli again is a smooth process within the confines of the Indian dressing room largely because the two men appear to share a warm equation as professionals.

I would like to learn more of the composure from Dhoni. Also his ability to not panic in pressure situations is something I would like to take from him. He won everything as skipper, leading the Test side to World No.1, ODI No.1 and T20 No.1. He has nothing left to achieve in his career. I have been watching him for a long time and I admire him a lot for what he has done for the country.
Virat Kohli in 2015

With his heir apparent rapidly growing in stature, Dhoni will be aware that his leadership will be analysed microscopically in every series India plays. In the near two years he has spent solely as limited overs captain India has failed to defend the World Cup and lost ODI series to Australia, Bangladesh and South Africa. At some stage, plans will start being formulated for the next World Cup in 2019.

Can Dhoni, who will be 38 by the time that World Cup rolls in, be part of those plans? If not, should 27-year old Kohli, already on the ascendancy in the longest format as leader, be entrusted with the task already?

This scenario is tailor made to be passionately debated and argued by fans in the echo chamber of Indian cricket. Selectors and officials entrusted with the task of making a decision about this situation will undoubtedly grapple with it in the weeks and months to come, mulling over when the opportune moment will be to make the transition.

But the relationship between the two men who form the centre point of this conversation seems unaffected by the discourse. Virat Kohli and M S Dhoni appear to have perfected the process of handing the baton over to each other as the Indian cricket team strides purposefully forward under their stewardship.

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