King Kohli to commoner, the turning point for Virat
- For many years now, Indian cricket had just centre of power: Virat Kohli. Now that equation has started to shift.
Initially, it didn’t add up. When Kohli spoke about workload management and creating space to surrender the T20 captaincy, it appeared he was simply cleaning his computer inbox and deleting minor files, nothing more.
It made more sense later when he gave up the IPL leadership. Kohli is the busiest player on the planet, playing and captaining across all formats and if he wants to lighten his burden, that’s perfectly fine.
But questions swirled about the “real” reason for him to step down. While many others in the past - from Sunil Gavaskar to Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar - had given up on captaincy to focus more on their game, Kohli’s DNA is different and unlike the others mentioned here, he is a serial leader, the enthusiastic kid in the front row who always puts up his hand. Kohli doesn’t play the second lead and power is his natural ally.
Media reports citing unnamed sources have suggested the dressing room was tense because Kohli was allegedly aloof and autocratic. Other stories hinted darkly that he was Defense Minister, Field Marshall and Chief of Staff all rolled into one and had no faith in democracy, debate or healthy discussion.
There is some evidence to support this view. The Anil Kumble-Ravi Shastri coach appointment episode is well documented; a watershed moment in Indian cricket history. Erratic selection issues involving senior players are also too many to list. Everything about the Indian team, both good and otherwise in the past few years has Kohli’s prints all over it.
Was King Kohli then delivered a blunt message, his wings clipped, taught a lesson?
There is much to applaud and admire about Kohli the captain. He has shaped Indian cricket for nearly a decade, given it a new direction and vision and built a unique team culture. He also demanded strict compliance.
Perhaps for the first time ever, it was one individual and not a cricket body who decided how the national team will play, the brand of cricket to follow and the values it will uphold. England, Australia, South Africa had extensive discussions and “cultural reviews” to frame their cricket’s “vision and mission” but similar debates never happened in the BCCI headquarters. Instead, Kohli sorted these issues after a practice session.
It’s no exaggeration to say major decisions impacting Indian cricket were reached in the dressing room. It was Kohli who decided whether the yo-yo test standard should be 17 or 17. 4 or whether it should be there at all. Kohli made fitness non-negotiable, insisted on improved fielding, spoke about “intent” (his favourite word) and declared the team would play fearless cricket.
He changed the script by assembling a fast-bowling attack and dumping spin, and altered the team’s grammar by deleting the backfoot. When Kohli the batsman takes guard one foot outside the crease, a message is sent to the opposition and his own team. KL Rahul summed up the new mindset of Team India while commenting on the James Anderson-Jasprit Bumrah scrap: If someone gets at us, we retaliate as a group.
Over the years, the Kohli formula worked. The Indian teams recent record, specially abroad, is unmatched in its Test history. Kohli is India's finest Test leader, and only three captains in the history of Test cricket have won more matches than him.
Yet, there are two interesting sides to the King Kohli reign. At one level he is the visionary who read the game right, and like Tiger Pataudi 50 years before him, in a moment of brilliance, reset the course for Indian cricket. Pataudi invented the “spin to win” formula and focussed on fielding when dropping a catch was not considered a major sin. Kohli advanced Indian cricket by insisting players must be athletes first.
Curiously, Kohli the captain isn’t rated as strategically brilliant. On the contrary, most experts would give him a modest score if judged in this manner. Sourav Ganguly gave confidence to youngsters and extracted the best out of them. MS Dhoni was the genius with an intuitive feel for match awareness and the psychological side. Kohli is best remembered for leading from the front.
For him, between England and now, the cricket pitch has changed and a turning point reached. Regarding the T20 captaincy, the official communication mentioned succession planning - but the obvious candidate to replace him is a year and a half older. In Test cricket, if Kohli is a marathon runner, the alternative option is a few kilometers behind. Still, the remote has passed from his hands now, and he won't even have Shastri to back him up after the T20 World Cup.
But Kohli need not be fussed about all this. He remains Indian cricket’s greatest asset - an all-time great of the game and the boss of all three formats.