Should Kohli also step down as ODI captain?

  • The team composition doesn’t change much between ODIs and T20Is. With two captains, players might find themselves in a tangle moving from one style of leadership to another.
India captain Virat Kohli.(File) PREMIUM
India captain Virat Kohli.(File)
Published on Sep 16, 2021 11:29 PM IST
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A month from being India captain for the first time in a T20 World Cup, Virat Kohli has said it would also be the last time he leads the country in the shortest format. The reason he emphasised is ‘workload’ (mentioned twice in Thursday’s social media declaration) but isn’t it the other way round these days---generational cricketers quitting Tests to focus on white-ball cricket and extending their careers?

MS Dhoni did it. So did AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis, Brendon McCullum, Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo, Lasith Malinga, Shane Watson…many really. Kohli’s not quitting any format but it still feels like he is going the other way, meaning he will have led India to one Champions Trophy (2017), one World Cup (2019) and one T20 World Cup (2021). That is considerably less than Dhoni’s remarkable tally of ICC tournaments as captains: the 2007 T20 World Cup, 2011 World Cup, 2013 Champions Trophy, the 2015 World Cup and the 2016 World T20—three of them being successful campaigns.

And since Kohli is yet to win a trophy, the T20 World Cup is possibly his last chance to tick that box because let’s face it—the chances of Rohit Sharma (he should be the T20 captain-elect) not becoming ODI captain by the 2023 World Cup (to be held in India) is slim. No one else has two ODI double hundreds and given his superior IPL captaincy record, there is no reason Sharma shouldn’t slowly take over in 50 overs as well. Unless, of course, Kohli and the BCCI have come to an understanding he will be given another shot at glory. It isn’t impossible partly because most Indian greats can’t quit unconditionally and partly due to the fact that India play very little one-day cricket from now till the next World Cup.

Still, Kohli’s decision seems strange. The average Indian player clocks more hours in the Indian Premier League than in T20Is throughout the year so Kohli’s ‘workload’ reason doesn’t quite cut it. He could have opted to sit out some matches---both in IPL and international cricket---but Kohli is the alpha male of Indian cricket who is either in it 100% or not there at all.

And this is where Kohli could create more confusion than clarity. The team composition doesn’t change much between ODIs and T20Is. But with two captains, players might find themselves in a tangle moving from one style of leadership to another within the space of three of four days on a tour. Expect Sharma to involuntarily ask the long-off fielder to go squarer in ODIs or Kohli to run up to Jasprit Bumrah during the death overs of a T20I. Cricket’s a team game and the senior core decides strategy but in those crucial moments, the bowler or a fielder would rather listen to one.

The more reasonable and respectable approach thus would have been to allow Kohli to remain Test captain with Sharma assuming the other captaincy responsibilities. Indian cricket, however, has a demonstrated history of being complicated when it comes to distribution of power. So this isn’t exactly surprising.

You could sense something like this brewing. Ravichandran Ashwin being picked for the World T20 when he was regularly overlooked for the Tests in England may be a pointer to not everything being well with the team. And the comparisons of Sharma having won five IPL titles as Mumbai Indians captain to Kohli winning none with Royal Challengers Bangalore never really went away. Kohli may well treat the media as ‘outside noise’ but often during his career has he been affected by it. Another unfair but unavoidable source of conjecture has been the continuous presence of Dhoni. This T20 World Cup was to be the first time Kohli could have asserted his mettle as captain without Dhoni. That wasn’t to be. It is possible that BCCI’s decision to ask Dhoni to ‘mentor’ a team which really doesn’t need mentoring, may not have helped Kohli’s confidence. And at this level, it’s all about confidence.

Will this change of guard affect Kohli the batter? If anything, expect Kohli to channel his energy in making a statement with the bat every time he walks out. Sachin Tendulkar had resigned from captaincy to refocus on his batting. Kohli, despite a lean patch in Test cricket, isn’t facing a similar problem. Still hitting the ball beautifully, Kohli is just one innings away from owning Test cricket again. Sharma may be the one who scores daddy hundreds but Kohli has been almost machine-like in setting up victories.

The numbers he has accumulated so far bear testimony to that: an average of 59 in ODIs and 52 in T20Is and being the only cricketer to find a place in Wisden’s cricketers of the decade list in all three formats in 2019. He has been an indisputable master of the technique of risk-free batting in shorter formats, relying mainly on grounded shots in the ‘V’ and tireless running between the wickets. And what will make Kohli a necessity for a long time to come is those averages batting second—68.08 in ODIs and 83.76 in T20Is—that even Sharma doesn’t possess. He may not be captain in some time but Kohli remains India’s chase master.

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Sunday, October 24, 2021