Skipper Kohli had the aura of Pataudi, Imran

  • Virat Kohli was a game-changer who was more boss, a powerful leader who imposed captain’s rule on cricket to single-handedly run the Indian team
File photo of Virat Kohli.(AP) PREMIUM
File photo of Virat Kohli.(AP)
Published on Jan 17, 2022 11:32 PM IST
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ByAmrit Mathur

Those wanting to know whether Virat Kohli gave up the Test captaincy because he was tired, retired, or retired hurt, may never know the full truth. It seems we won’t find out why someone who loved a scrap suddenly threw in the towel.

Whatever the andar ki baat, the reality is that King Kohli has abdicated, chucked the crown and demitted office. Like other professionals who experience high work pressure, Kohli had a rough ride last six months and decided he didn’t need this anymore. He moved on, and with Kohli’s exit Indian cricket closed a chapter.

His seven-year reign was a fascinating passage of play for the Indian team. Kohli was a game changer who was more boss than captain, a powerful leader who imposed Captain’s rule (the equivalent of President’s rule in politics) on cricket to single-handedly run the Indian team.

Few captains have wielded power like Imran Khan who had complete authority over Pakistan cricket in his time. Everyone bowed to Khan saab and nobody dared question him. As with Khan, people realised it was unwise to cross Kohli’s path. Neither Khan nor Kohli could be accused of being democratic — but both used their clout for common good and took cricket forward by shattering the traditional mould.

In a way, Kohli’s leadership had shades of Tiger Pataudi, who changed the course of Indian cricket, rebooting it by introducing new ideas, focusing on fielding and adopting the “spin to win” strategy.

Kohli created a new team culture which radically altered the grammar of Indian cricket and rewired the mindset of its players. With him, peak fitness and complete commitment became non-negotiable, a pack of world class fast bowlers was assembled and aggression embraced as a guiding principle. This was a team that played to win and remained on the front foot.

Interestingly, this transformative change was not decided by the BCCI. Instead, the new vision was drafted in the dressing room by Kohli. It was he, not the selectors, who decided whether yo yo should be 17 or 17.5 or whether it should be there at all.

Kohli assumed power and, much like Khan, entertained no self-doubt about the choices he made. He refused to accept Anil Kumble as coach, said no to Rahul Dravid and Zaheer Khan and cut out all “outside noise”—that is anything not aligned to his way of doing things.

Often, what he did baffled others and threatened logic. In the initial phase, captain Kohli played a different eleven every game and the chop and change strategy spread insecurity in the dressing room. He stubbornly refused to give Ashwin a go and, later, equally stubbornly stuck to senior batsmen ignoring their consistent failures. No wonder reports emerged that players, especially youngsters, thought him an aloof, autocratic and divisive figure.

But regardless of these whispers within the group, captain Kohli was a popular leader for young India. Fans approved of his raw aggression, excused his over-the-top celebrations and saw nothing wrong in his repeated references to Ben Stokes. Of course, others thought differently and they couldn’t understand why someone should scream expletives in anger after scoring a hundred or speak into a stump mike to complain. Many were aghast the Indian captain could throw a sulk and behave like a petulant child.

Kohli of course did much that was right as captain. One can point out his captaincy record and list his achievements—the very high success rate (40 wins from 68 Tests), victories overseas and the “positive intent” of the team each time they crossed the boundary to play.

But it would be wrong to judge Kohli’s legacy or measure his contribution from a statistical viewpoint, however great those numbers are. Kohli is the symbol of Indian cricket and represents the modern generation of players who are talented, driven and wired to succeed at any cost. For Yash Dhull and countless young kids knocking a ball around chasing dreams of making it big, Kohli is a massive inspiration .

His commitment is visible in the intensity he brings to his game and the manic energy and effort spent to become the best version of himself. No Indian captain did press conferences better than him. In media interactions Kohli is articulate, measured and dignified. On his helmet, the Indian flag is placed above the BCCI logo. What’s not visible is he wears the tricolour on his heart.

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Friday, July 01, 2022