A generation of young international captains, influenced by Twenty20, is now taking shape with Virat Kohli and Steve Smith joining the likes of Angelo Matthews and Jason Holder. Being leaders of two of the more powerful cricket nations, Kohli and Smith will be heavily scrutinised. Kohli showed himself to be aggressively-minded by instigating a daring run chase in Adelaide that barely failed while Smith displayed a more conservative nature in that series.
However, it would be unwise to read too much into their performance in the 2014-15 series, where both were stand-in skippers. Now they have the role full-time, we’re more likely to witness something closer to the finished product.
Kohli reinforced the aggressive tag with his positive approach producing a rare overseas win in Sri Lanka. In an ideal cricket world where administrators genuinely promoted the charms of Tests, they would’ve gleefully trumpeted the many attributes of Kohli’s captaincy.
Not only is Kohli’s brand of captaincy good for the fans, he’s on the right path to improving his team. By challenging India to play for an unlikely victory in Adelaide, he appealed to the competitive nature of his better performers and also sought to unearth those who could hold their nerve in the hunt for victory.
Constantly playing under pressure is the best way for good players to improve and to find out who can and can’t cut it at that level. Kohli is also fulfilling a prime task for a captain by making cricket interesting for his players.
The highly combative Pakistan skipper Imran Khan once said: "To be a good captain you have to understand bowling."
That’s another attribute Kohli displayed in his handling of the spinners against Sri Lanka. To take India to another level, he has to unveil similar traits in handling the faster bowlers in places like Australia and South Africa.
If Kohli can contain his fiery nature - as he has so far - and make his aggression work for him rather than against him, then he’ll become one of India’s better skippers.
In trying to gauge Smith’s potential as an international captain, it’s worth following his upward graph as a player. His improvement as a batsman in the last 18 months has been dramatic and indicates a good cricket brain fuelled by personal pride. That’s a good start to successful captaincy. Based on Imran’s theory, he has another advantage in that he started his Test career as a leg-spinner. I hope he doesn’t forgo his bowling as his potential to break annoying partnerships is a valuable trait.
The biggest breakthrough for a captain is understanding that all Ws (wins) and Ls (losses) go against your name. Once that concept is grasped, you captain on your terms and have a legitimate chance of being a good skipper.
This will be Smith’s biggest challenge. Australia has a huge support staff and Smith will need to memorise the phrase "stay out of the cricket side of the business" so he restricts advisors to those who are going to improve the team’s chances of winning. Mark Taylor was a very successful captain and his initial act in the job was to let the coach know he was running the show.
There’s been an enormous turnover of players following the Ashes loss but this is not necessarily a bad thing for Smith. He’s now in charge of his team and not Michael Clarke’s leftovers.
Smith has the opportunity to mould a team in his own style and the inexperienced Australian batsmen need look no further than their captain. As two of the premier batsmen in Test cricket and captains of strong nations, Kohli and Smith are going to lock horns regularly. If what results from those battles is more Tests like the exhilarating contest in Adelaide, it can only benefit the longer version of the game.