Virat Kohli, Sarfaraz Ahmed: Captains Who Make a Study in Contrast
The contrast in the captaincies of Virat Kohli and Sarfaraz Ahmed was a key difference in the game.
The India-Pakistan World Cup encounter was a clash of two teams, but more than that a battle of the two captains.
It presented a contrast of how they have evolved in the past two years, as skippers, since the 2017 Champions Trophy. When Pakistan beat India in that final, Sarfaraz Ahmed emerged the toast of his nation, whereas Virat Kohli was still the brash young man that everyone loved to hate.
But a lot has changed since that triumph. Both have undergone personality changes, at least in the eyes of the public and that has proved to be the difference between the two sides.
It could be sensed in the way the two captains have been treated by their experts through this World Cup.
When Pakistan lost to West Indies in the opening game, none other than former speed demon Shoaib Akhtar was the first off the blocks. He criticised Sarfaraz for his lack of fitness and commented on his liberal waistline. Kohli, on the other hand, has been the darling of the Indian ecosystem and can do no wrong.
It was obvious that Sarfaraz is under pressure from outside forces, like the media and none other than his prime minister, Imran Khan, who is also Pakistan’s only World Cup winning captain, from 1992. Before the game started, Imran tweeted about winning the toss and batting. He also cautioned against including ‘railu kattas’, a colloquial Punjabi term for bits and pieces players.
But Sarfaraz did exactly the opposite!
He won the toss and fielded first. He then included Imad Wasim, a bits and pieces all-rounder, along with two other seniors Mohammed Hafeez and Shoaib Malik, who do a bit of everything on the field. That set Sarfaraz back as he struggled to enforce the rule on the field even as India went about building the innings quietly. You could sense that Sarfaraz is under pressure and was worried about the repercussions of his decisions. That always produces bad results.
His opposite number, Kohli, appeared much more relaxed while he batted. He was joking, laughing and was generally at ease with the bat. Kohli is now in that phase of his career when his image managers have advised him that he can turn a corner with a new ‘good boy’ approach.
So, in the previous match against Australia, we saw him cheering for Steve Smith and asking the Indian fans to not boo him. Then, in this match, we saw him joking with rival Mohammed Amir and then extending a helping hand to a Wahab Riaz, who had slipped while bowling.
All this while, Sarfaraz was looking harried on the field, admonishing his players for misfields and generally being worried about the status of the game.
Kohli probably took his ‘good boy’ image a bit too seriously when he opted to walk while on 77, even as the replays later showed that there was no edge on the bat! That probably cost India 20 extra runs in the end, but it did not prove to be very costly in the bigger picture.
Sarfaraz, meanwhile, came back after a rain-enforced break and was seen yawning not once but twice on the field! That is not good form from the Pakistan skipper looking to break the World Cup hoodoo against India. He did not set the right example for his side with his approach.
A Year to Forget
No wonder Sarfaraz is under fire from all and sundry in Pakistan. There is criticism that he cannot quite hold his place in the side purely on merit. He had been under pressure right before the World Cup. The selectors rested him against Australia and that led to a lot of tongues wagging because it was said that the skipper himself was keen to play.
Sarfaraz has already had a harrowing time in 2019 with his four-match ban for racist outburst against South Africa’s Andile Phehlukwayo. From thereon things have just gone downhill for the Pakistan captain. He can almost do no right.
His opposite number, Kohli, has virtually reached a new level with his fitness and his batting. He walks into most ODI XIs in the world by right and is already part of an all-time list of batsmen. On Sunday, he got to 11,000 ODI runs quicker than even his idol Sachin Tendulkar. He is slowly but surely inching towards Tendulkar in terms of number of ODI hundreds and runs. That is a scary thought.
When India was about to field, play was delayed slightly by rain. Kohli was relaxed and one of the boys, mimicking someone on the sidelines with Kuldeep Yadav. He was joking around and generally keeping the atmosphere light. That was quite unlike him in the past.
On the field too, he appeared less hassled when substitute Mohammed Shami alerted him that Bhuvaneshwar Kumar was unable to bowl in the rest of the match with a tight hamstring. He was prepared to gamble with ‘three dimensional’ all-rounder Vijay Shankar. You could see him having fun with Shankar when he trapped Imam-ul-Haq off the very first ball he bowled.
Later, he rang the bowling changes smartly even as the Pakistan top-order appeared to be consolidating. Despite being a bowler short, he used his spin options and the support cast very well. He had to use his lead strike bowler Jasprit Bumrah sparingly and in the end that proved to be the least of his worries.
Kohli even deferred to former captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s advice on not taking a review even when he was convinced that Babar Azam was plumb leg-before. Replays proved that Kohli was right, but he moved on and did not brood much like Sarfaraz.
Near the end of Pakistan’s chase, Kohli brought back Hardik Pandya and struck gold with two wickets in two balls which virtually ended Pakistan's fight. Sarfaraz walked in with the pressure of the world on his shoulder and it told in the way he finally fell to a very loose shot off Shankar.
He walked back dejected and disappointed, resigned to what was in store from his critics.
Two years ago when Sarfaraz won the Champions Trophy, Pakistanis loved to mouth the dialogue from the hit Hindi Movie, PK, incidentally featuring Kohli’s wife Anushka Sharma, which was, “Sarfaraz Dhoka nahi deta” (Sarfaraz never cheats).
Now two years on, the Pakistani fans in unison want to revisit that dialogue.
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