There was a time when India captains were assessed by the number of Tests they managed to avoid defeat. That changed with the arrival of Sourav Ganguly in 2000.
And though MS Dhoni, India’s most successful skipper, began his rein with a bang, not losing a game till his 12th Test, Kohli is changing perceptions about the job by shaping the team in his own aggressive image.
Of the first 20 Tests Kohli has led, he has won 12, lost two and drawn six. That equals Dhoni’s record in his first 20 Tests as captain and is already better than India captains in the last three decades.
Ganguly won 10 of his first 20 Tests as skipper while Rahul Dravid had won six. Their initiation to Test captaincy, however, was more difficult. By the time Ganguly had led India in 20 Tests, he had been to Zimbabwe and South Africa and was in the middle of a Caribbean tour. At the 20-Test mark, Ganguly had won two Tests, lost three and drawn two outside the subcontinent.
Dravid was given a tough assignment as he had to lead in Pakistan, West Indies and South Africa early into his stint. His figures for those tours read two wins, five losses and five draws.
- Of the first 20 Tests Kohli has led, he has won 12, lost two and drawn six.
- This equals MS Dhoni’s record in his first 20 Tests as captain.
- Sourav Ganguly won 10 of his first 20 Tests as skipper while Rahul Dravid had won six.
Dhoni had a fairly easy initiation to his captaincy, playing only two Tests outside the subcontinent in his first 20 matches. India won and drew one each in New Zealand in 2009. Kohli’s record, in comparison, is far better. He had lost his first Test as captain in Adelaide before drawing the next in Sydney. On his next full tour outside the subcontinent, in the Caribbean, India won the four-Test series 2-0.
Kohli’s success is due to many factors — his own form, a young and fit team, a skilled reserve bench, R Ashwin’s rise as a dependable all-rounder and a great spinner as coach.
But the one crucial factor that has given Kohli the edge as captain is his stress on playing five specialist bowlers, even if it means extra weight on the shoulders of the five batsmen. His debut as captain came on the 2014-15 Australia tour where Kohli was thrust into the job first due to Dhoni’s injury, and then his abrupt retirement.
With his next assignment, the one-off Test in Bangladesh, Kohli made it clear the 6+5 combination would be become the standard. Starting with that Fatullah Test, Kohli stuck to the combination in seven out of eight games he has led outside India.
Already 2-0 up in the ongoing series against England after fielding five specialist bowlers, Kohli now has led India to eight Test wins at home. And with a few more Tests to come at home, Kohli is expected to have it easy.
The real test of his captaincy though is likely to come in 2018 when India are scheduled to tour South Africa, England and Australia. That should help define Kohli’s captaincy better. But given how thorough he has been with his plans, there is no reason why Kohli can’t break the barriers, especially in South Africa and Australia where India have never won a series, and in England where India were thrashed on the last two tours.