OPINION: Virat Kohli as captain has Test wins in numbers, not in quality
India have never been great travellers. Blanking Australia or England away still remains a day dream but few India captains can be proud of some hard-fought series results. Virat Kohli, despite his in-your-face denial, isn’t one of them. Statistics, which unfortunately don’t record intent but facts, will still put Kohli behind the likes of Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid.
After 2011 and 2014, this is the third time India have lost heavily in England. For Kohli, it was his second consecutive overseas defeat as skipper after the 2-1 loss to South Africa in January. This however isn’t India’s worst series defeat in England. They had been whitewashed 5-0 and 4-0 in 1959 and 2011. The last time they won a series in England was in 2007, under Dravid. Before that, they had drawn the four-Test series 1-1 in 2002 under Sourav Ganguly.
Kohli’s overseas handicap however has been effectively masked by a string of victories at home and in West Indies and Sri Lanka. Even India’s most successful Test captain, MS Dhoni, couldn’t change the team’s fortunes. His most notable overseas series win had come against New Zealand (1-0) in 2009. Kohli, or for that matter MS Dhoni, have records superior to Dravid and Ganguly only because of the number of victories, not because of the quality of opposition.
No walking the talk
Despite Ravi Shastri’s public effort to highlight India’s changed attitude, it hasn’t yielded favourable numbers. With draw being the last or no option with this team, India have suffered big defeats in five of their last eight overseas Tests — 135 and 72-run losses in South Africa and 60, 118 and an innings and 203 runs in England. Overall, India have won just two and lost six of their last eight away Tests.
And unlike in South Africa, India can’t say they didn’t get enough acclimatisation time in England. They played the T20 and ODI series before the Tests, and even a solitary tour match against Essex. “By the time the Tests come, we’ll be so comfortable that we won’t even feel like we’ll be playing an away series,” the India skipper had said before departing for England in June. But the way this team went about its business tells a different story altogether.
In contrast, India’s performances under Dravid and Ganguly reaped better results, sometimes in shorter series. Under Dravid was came two famous overseas series victories —against England in 2007 and West Indies in 2006. Even under Ganguly, the impact that the team left in away tours was much talked out, be it retaining the Border-Gavaskar Trophy in 2002-03 or the innings and 46-run win in the third Test against England at Leeds after India were 1-0 down in the four-match series the same season. The last time India won in England (1-0 in 2007), they had played a three-match series. Given five Tests, Kohli’s team basically squandered a better chance of winning a series in England.
In Australia later this year, Kohli’s captaincy will come a whole circle. Having already been humbled in the two marquee series this year, he only has Australia to redeem his prestige as captain. Of course, he will look to bat well but captain Kohli will be under more pressure than the batsman, especially when Australia won’t have Steve Smith and David Warner due to bans.
The result Down Under should finally put to rest the talk of whether ‘this is India’s best travelling side in 15 years’. And given the results accrued in South Africa and England, India need to come up with something really special to banish the memories.