Virat Kohli leads by example, seals away wins record as skipper
Unlike Clive Lloyd’s West Indies and Steve Waugh’s Australia, Kohli’s team doesn’t turn up and blow the opposition away. They believe in inflicting a slower death.Updated: Aug 28, 2019 08:06 IST
Watching this India team play is like following a long distance race where the gap between the winner and the others gradually opens up—that’s how Virat Kohli’s team gets the opposition in Tests.
There’s little to separate the sides in the early skirmishes, but as the contest hots up the difference in quality begins to show. Antigua was the latest example of this. India and West Indies were neck and neck till the end of the first innings, but as the game wore on, the superiority in depth and strength in the visitors’ rank became pronounced.
Unlike Clive Lloyd’s West Indies and Steve Waugh’s Australia, Kohli’s team doesn’t turn up and blow the opposition away. They believe in inflicting a slower death.
With the win in the first Test at Antigua on Sunday, Kohli became the most successful India captain overseas, as well as the most successful Indian Test captain—period.
He now has 12 away wins as skipper in 26 matches, surpassing Sourav Ganguly’s overseas record of 11 wins from 28 games. Overall, in 47 Tests under Kohli, India have won 27, lost 10 and drawn 10. In this, he has equalled MS Dhoni’s win record, and surpassed his former captain’s win percentage—Dhoni’s was 57.5, Kohli boasts 68.08.
AS CAPTAIN, A BETTER BATTER
What makes Kohli so successful? A key component is his ability to lead from the front. The responsibility of leading a side does not wear out his batting, it does just the opposite. Kohli’s incendiary record as a batsman only got hotter as a captain (he averages 61.82 as skipper, and 53.38 overall in Tests).
There have been many captains who have been worn out by the pressure of leading the side. Even a batsman of Rahul Dravid’s stature lost his edge and decided he was better off without the extra responsibility. Ganguly was an excellent man-manager, had a great eye for talent and conviction as leader, but batting became a chore for him as his captaincy progressed. Dhoni was a limited Test batsman to begin with; his strength was the ability to read the game from his vantage point behind the stumps.
“He has matured into a very good captain; he is calmer and that definitely helps,” says former India captain Dilip Vengsarkar, who as chairman of selectors gave Kohli his international break. “The team is also doing well, and if you keep winning, things are smoother.”
Kohli’s captaincy is about wielding total control over the team. It’s his way or the highway. No one is indispensable, except may be Jasprit Bumrah. Reputations don’t matter. R Ashwin can be benched, Ajinkya Rahane can be omitted, and Rohit Sharma, having just scored five ODI hundreds in the World Cup, can’t force him when it comes to Test selection.
Kohli can do that because he is invariably the best performing batsman in the team.
“You can lead from the front if you perform yourself. Kohli is scoring hundreds every alternate innings, which is unique and rare,” says Vengsarkar.
Former India player, coach and selector Anshuman Gaekwad agrees. “He is leading from the front as he has the fitness and performance. The amount of runs he is getting…the other 10 are falling in line, it doesn’t matter who is playing.”
Yet, the ammunition at Kohli’s disposal is absolutely stacked. One man’s batting alone can’t win matches consistently. Think of former Australia captain Kim Hughes—a hugely talented batsman who was left helpless as his team, after a spate of retirements, suffered a poor run against the mighty West Indies of the 1980s.
Kohli on the other hand has a young team that has grown with him into a sharp, well-balanced unit, with fast bowlers who are the envy of the world, something that is unprecedented for India. At Antigua, Jasprit Bumrah was unplayable in the second innings, Ishant Sharma was deadly accurate, and Mohammed Shami keeping up a constant pressure from the other end.
Gaekwad says it helped Kohli that Dhoni was there to guide him initially. “Because if you lose matches, you lose confidence as well,” says Gaekwad, who was in the Cricket Advisory Committee that selected the India head coach.
WHO’S THE BEST?
It is tough to compare teams, or captains, from different eras. Experts believe there is a dip in the quality of Test cricket as young cricketers are weaned away by Twenty20 riches, leading to a slump in interest and intensity in the longest format. Gaekwad is in a good position to assess India’s successful captains from MAK Pataudi to Kohli.
“I have played under 13 captains (domestic cricket included), from Pataudi, Bishan Singh Bedi, Sunil Gavaskar to Kapil Dev. Under my coaching, I have seen three captains—Mohammad Azharuddin, Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly.
“Virat is the fittest, that’s the biggest advantage he’s got against all the captains.” And tactically? “Sourav was good tactically, Azhar was very good, and Kohli is getting there.”
“He’s getting better and better.”
It’s been a demanding learning curve for Kohli. One visible weakness, compared to Ganguly, was that the latter had the knack of picking the best possible team. In the last cycle of overseas Tests, Kohli seemed to pay the price for picking the wrong playing eleven. He left out Ajinkya Rahane and went in a batsman short against an incisive attack in bowler-friendly conditions at Cape Town in January last year. In England, he left out Cheteshwar Pujara in the opening game. He rectified the balance of the team in Australia and India won its first-ever Test series there.
“I feel his nature is changing as well,” Gaekwad says. “Earlier, he would react spontaneously; you don’t see the reaction on the face now. It’s important not to get worked up; it’s the biggest asset as captain, the cooler you are, the better decisions you will take.”
Perhaps comparing Kohli to his contemporaries will give us a clearer picture. Two other players who have thrived after being handed the captaincy are Kane Williamson (batting avg 59.06 as captain, in 26 Tests) and Steve Smith (70.37, in 34 Tests). In terms of wins, Kohli is ahead. In terms of inspiration and tactical acumen, Williamson might have the edge given the limited resources at his disposal.
Smith would have been the closest competitor, in terms of record and performances, but the Australian’s legacy has been tarnished by the ball-tampering saga. Smith’s batting average as skipper is superior to Kohli’s but the Australian’s win/loss record is 18/10 in 34 Tests compared to Kohli’s 27/10 in 47.
Smith will have a lot of catching up to do when, and if, he is handed the captaincy again.
First Published: Aug 27, 2019 22:42 IST