ICC World Cup 2019: Power and many shades of Virat Kohli
If India are two steps away from a third World Cup it is largely the result of Virat Kohli’s single-minded pursuit of excellence. In the last few years, he has not just captained India but shaped its cricket—making policy and directing change.
It is fashionable for players to talk of processes, preparation and execution of plans. For Kohli, the road to the World Cup was an extension of this formula: prepare, train, perform—then hit the repeat button. In the run up to the World Cup, Kohli played multiple roles. As unquestioned don, he picked the coach and selected players, with some assistance from the selectors. He set physical fitness standards, with inputs from trainers. He decided ‘team culture’ and demanded that players buy into playing with aggressive intent. His mission: Compete everywhere, win overseas.
Before Kohli, other captains had authority and power but not many experienced such control that even BCCI bends (bows) before him. With BCCI indisposed for long, Kohli stepped up to take additional responsibility. In his captaincy style, there are shades of past leaders, Indian and foreign.When it comes to being imperious, he is a worthy successor to Imran Khan who never sought, or tolerated, a second opinion. Imran’s was the first and last word, he dominated the dressing room and entertained no doubts about his status or methods. Team mates looked up to him in awe and fear, opponents treated him with respect.
Waqar Younis sees similar qualities in Kohli. He is a role model the way he plays cricket to win, and even in the way he trains. Look at what he posts on social media— telling everyone to eat healthy, exercise and become fit. Kohli, says Waqar, intimidates opponents with his attitude. Ali Bacher, someone with a keen cricket eye, sums it up neatly: the bloke is terrific, he is like an Aussie. With Ian Chappell, Kohli shares an attitude that the captain is the boss. But Chappell also had a much advertised disregard for officials, which Kohli is not credited with.
In a way, Kohli is more like Tiger Pataudi. He created the ‘spin to win’ mantra, united the dressing room and focused on fielding. Pataudi the batsman stood up to pace and made tough runs in England and Australia. Kohli has had a similar impact.
From Sourav Ganguly, he inherited the ambition to win overseas. With that uppermost in mind, youngsters aspiring to play for India had to convince Ganguly they could handle pace and bounce. He groomed those with this quality and stood up for a core group he trusted, a trait visible in Kohli too. Like Ganguly, Kohli made chasing history his mission and the Test series win in Australia (first in 70 years) is a tribute to careful planning and relentless focus. There is a bit of Sunil Gavaskar and MS Dhoni too in Kohli’s captaincy. Power and authority sat nicely on both these powerful past leaders. Their assurance, dignity and calm confidence was such everyone in cricket’s ecosystem knew it would be foolish to mess with them. The same applies to Kohli.
One reason for Kohli’s power is his spectacular success as batsman. As the world No 1 batsman, his stature puts him in a special position. Yet, occasionally, there are murmurs of disappointment and sharp criticism. Gautam Gambhir had much to say about his IPL captaincy and there are others who would not quite place him alongside great captains.
In limited-overs cricket, Kohli has forged a smart partnership with Dhoni. By sharing on-field captaincy responsibilities, this alliance works well with Dhoni moving fielders around, shouting instructions to bowlers and suggesting bowling changes.
Despite this collaborative captaincy, it is clear who is in control, and who pushes the buttons. The next two (or three?) matches will decide Kohli’s place in the list of India’s all-time great captains.
The writer is a sports administrator. Views are personal.