Sri Lanka tour to be Virat Kohli's first real exam as Test captain
Regardless of a player’s class, approaching captaincy with unbridled intensity and setting the bar very high reflecting one’s own capability and exhorting team mates to match that level can bring wonderful results. However, if there is too much strain and cracks develop in the group, it can get stressful for the skipper.
In a week’s time, India will set off for their month-long tour of Sri Lanka and it will be the first major challenge for Virat Kohli, the new Test skipper and India’s best batsman by a distance, although the hosts are in transition and not at their best.
The prime example of how leadership demands can work both ways was provided by Sachin Tendulkar, who faced captaincy blues after being handed the reins as a 25-year-old for a quadrangular series in Sri Lanka in 1996.
Sandeep Patil, now the chief selector, was the coach and would have experienced firsthand how Tendulkar struggled to come to terms with teammates not rising to the standards he set for himself, while it also appeared he was trying too hard. From there on, Tendulkar’s captaincy was one aspect which never touched great heights.
Sri Lanka will see Kohli emerge for the first time as his own man, out of the imposing shadow cast by Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s personality. Even before his retirement, Dhoni’s Test captaincy was panned as defensive, and that he did not force things like he did in limited overs cricket.
Although Kohli began as Test captain on the Australia tour, leading in the first and last Tests and stamping his aggression, the demands were less as he only stood in for Dhoni in Adelaide and then led in Sydney after the skipper’s abrupt retirement.
Bangladesh last month was again a one-off game, affected by rain. But that series saw tension caused by split captaincy between Dhoni and Kohli. Kohli backed pace, picking three seamers for the Test.
Dhoni reminded the same pack that speed thrills only if well-directed, criticising Umesh Yadav’s wayward spell during the ODIs. In Sri Lanka, wickets will be slow, and the pacers will still have to deliver if Kohli sticks to his philosophy.
It’s the same with spin. Harbhajan Singh and Amit Mishra are into their 30s, but Kohli has backed them. Patil spoke about selectors taking in the skipper’s viewpoint. "It is not only form, fitness is equally important, and whether that player fits in the combination, and what the team management and captain feel about him."
Former chairman of selectors, Kiran More, called for supporting Kohli as players will find Sri Lankan humidity and slow pitches a challenge even against a team in transition. "He is a new captain, young and positive, and we should give him time. Every captain wants every player to perform, but he can’t be MS Dhoni.
"He will come up with his own ideas. He has seen the world and scored hundreds, and that experience will count. He is very aggressive on the field, will take strong decisions and make mistakes, but will learn. But once he settles down, he will become a cool captain."