Kohli as RCB captain: Eight seasons, no trophies

  • He may have stepped down as India's T20 captain, but the scrutiny on him as captain in the IPL remains as harsh as ever.
Virat Kohli led RCB as captain for eight years.(IPL/Twitter) PREMIUM
Virat Kohli led RCB as captain for eight years.(IPL/Twitter)
Published on Sep 16, 2021 10:57 PM IST
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For all his stunning success as a batsman, Virat Kohli can never claim to have mastered the art of captaincy in white-ball cricket, especially in T20s. His decision to step down as T20 captain though has the hallmark of a perfectly timed cover drive (though it’s something that has failed him recently)—if India win the T20 World Cup, it would ensure he leaves on a high, having won the one thing that he has yet to win, an ICC trophy. If India miss out on the title, then he avoids facing the aggressive clamour asking for his removal as captain that would have surely followed.

Yet there is one clamour that continues and which Kohli will have to face before the World Cup—his status as the captain of Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB). Kohli’s record as India’s T20 captain is as good as it gets—his win percentage is 65.11, compared to Dhoni’s 59.28—and he has not won a ICC tournament in the format like Dhoni simply because he has never captained India in a T20 world cup before. But his record as RCB captain is poor heading towards unsustainable. Having taken over the RCB captaincy full-time in 2013, he hasn’t been able to deliver a single title and taken them to just one final. In that time, Rohit Sharma has won five in eight seasons with Mumbai Indians.

Last season, RCB qualified for the play-offs for the first time since 2016, but Kohli’s inability to stem the tide when they suffered five straight defeats at the end, including the Eliminator, was glaring. In 2019 and 2017, RCB finished at the bottom of the table; they were sixth in 2018.

Former India captain and chairman of selectors felt his struggles in the T20 format could be the reason for him taking this decision. “Possibly, that could be one of the reasons,” said Vengsarkar.

As one of the biggest stars of the game Kohli brings so much market value to the Bangalore outfit that even results can sometime take a backseat. But for how long?

“Kohli has been given a long rope by the RCB. If you have been given a world-class batting and bowling line-up, if you can’t pull it off for so many years, then you need to seek the change at the top,” Vengsarkar said.

Now with his IPL performance not linked to the India job, it gives him breathing space, said former India player Kiran More, who has also served as the chairman of the selection committee.

“It will help him to focus more and will help him in the IPL also, they are No 2 on the table,” said More.

There’s no player more driven than Kohli, but leadership is also about being able to bring the best out of your players. In this too, Kohli’s record at RCB is under scrutiny because there have been many examples of players shining after leaving RCB, the latest being Moeen Ali who has had a spectacular run for CSK this season, both with the bat at No 3 (206 runs in 6 matches scored at a strike rate of 157 plus) and his bowling (five wickets, Economy rate: 6.16).


Losing form is a common issue with captains and Kohli’s own middling form hasn’t helped RCB. After the 973-run blockbuster season in 2016, he has aggregated 500-plus runs just once, in 2018. In the ongoing edition, he averages 33 with one half-century after seven games.

“Winning is very important for any team, it affects the morale of the players and the team, it gives momentum, if you keep losing then it is a dead end,” said Vengsarkar.

In T20 the key is to be able to react as the situation unfolds. IPL action is like a blur—one or two wrong moves and the match is gone. That’s perhaps why preternaturally calm captains like Dhoni and Sharma have had so much success in the format, as opposed to an emotional, reactive captain like Kohli.

Sharma vs Kohli as captains

The decision on who will take over from Kohli will only be made after the T20 World Cup, but looking at his record and being the vice-captain, Sharma’s elevation to the job is a no-brainer.

In their IPL records, Kohli lags way behind at 48.04 in win percentage having won 60 and lost 65 of his total 132 matches (Tied: 3, NR: 4). Sharma has captained in 123 matches, won 72 and lost 47 for a win percentage of 60.16.

Sharma’s tremendous success and easy style of captaincy endears him to both fans and teammates. In the limited run he has had, Sharma has also led India to two titles—the Asia Cup and Nidahas Trophy.

“I am not someone who runs with a stick behind the players, it’s important to give them confidence, they need to understand their roles. It’s important to find a way to come back when things are not going your way,” is how Sharma described his leadership, when asked at a post-match IPL interview.

Talking about Sharma’s style, team-mate Hardik Pandya told Star Sports: “With Rohit, he doesn’t make you feel he is the captain.”

Kohli will continue to play as a batsman of course. A good rapport between the two senior players will be key to the success of the split captaincy experiment that the BCCI has set in motion now. Former India player MSK Prasad, who was the chairman of selectors when India last tried out split captaincy with Dhoni captaining the white ball teams and Kohli in Tests, said Kohli will play the same support role that Dhoni once did.

“If you see the way MS and Virat gelled… they had a wonderful understanding during the split captaincy time. I feel during the last one and half years, especially since Rohit started playing Test cricket, their understanding has become much better,” said Prasad. “In the interest of Indian cricket that chemistry must become stronger.”


Playing on neutral venues should be a relief for the RCB bowlers. Kohli calls it a level-playing field. When the tournament was held in UAE in 2020, RCB had a good first half before fading away. Yet RCB will have cause for optimism when the IPL’s second half begins on September 19—before the IPL was suspended in May, the RCB line-up had started to combine well. Glenn Maxwell was taking the pressure off Kohli and AB de Villiers. In bowling, Kyle Jamieson, Mohd Siraj, Yuzvendra Chahal and Harshal Patel were delivering steady performances.

Kohli has another incentive to take RCB to the title this time because that may just help him lead India to a world cup victory as well.

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Saturday, January 29, 2022