Last year around this time, Virat Kohli had stepped into the shoes of MS Dhoni at Test level. Captaining the side, he led from the front and almost snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in the first match at Adelaide.
Then on, his batting held centre-stage in the four-Test series. He led in one more Test, and his success with the bat helped wipe out memories of a disastrous tour of England in 2014.
The year didn’t exactly turn out as spectacular with the bat as it was expected to during the Tests; his performances were inconsistent in the ODI format. But it still ended on a pleasant note. Kohli the captain helped India jump to second spot in the International Cricket Council (ICC) Test rankings by blanking South Africa 3-0, after beating Sri Lanka in their den to mark his maiden series success.
Change of guard
Ahead of India’s departure to Australia for the limited-overs series next week, Kohli probably may have to prepare for extra responsibility. With Dhoni winding down his career — this series could be the last or one of the last few ODI series for him — the Test skipper has a point to prove in the shorter format.
Last year, Kohli didn’t have a great time in the ODI tri-series in Australia before the World Cup. The highlight of his World Cup was a gritty, match-winning century against Pakistan in the opener, which set the tone for India. After that, the year saw him score only one more ODI century — against South Africa at home.
“He is certainly improving as captain. In fact, I would say he is developing in all respects, particularly in captaincy,” says former India batting great, Gundappa Viswanath.
Growing as leader
Former India all-rounder Madan Lal says, “With captaincy, once you start doing well, you keep improving and get confidence. That is what is happening. If he wins one or two series abroad, that’ll put him as a top-class captain.
“Importantly, he has the qualities needed for a good captain. He is giving chance for players to excel. If he feels strongly about something, he does it. He believes in horses for courses and takes good decisions. If he wants to play five bowlers, he will. If he wants to play spinners on a wicket that suits them, he is not afraid to ignore seamers.”
However, Viswanath has a word of caution with regard to batting. “Virat needs to learn to stay at the wicket in Tests. He has strokes all around and sometimes he plays one too many. He gets out the same way too many times. He must avoid that.”
The one mode of dismissal that’s chased him since England in 2014 and has begun to trouble him even in ODIs is the tendency to get caught behind. Viswanath says, “It requires major adjustment. But to start with, instead of playing towards cover and cover point he should play straight and to mid-off. And instead of following the ball, he should let it go.”