War & Pace: The Kohli Legacy
In seven years as skipper, Kohli remodelled the team to an aggressive, fit and pace-oriented unit like never before
In your face and letting the opposition and the world know every success on the field, Virat Kohli showed who was the boss during an impactful seven years as Test captain.
A rare junior World Cup-winning skipper to shine in the job at the senior level, Kohli remodelled the team in his mirror image—an aggressive, win-at-all-costs side approach borrowed from a past Australian mantra, and commitment to fitness and fast bowling like never before.
Supporting the fast-tracking of Jasprit Bumrah into Test cricket on the previous South Africa tour in 2017-18 gave the Indian team potency to challenge tough opposition at their home. It brought Kohli’s team one of Indian cricket’s biggest victories—the first-ever series success in Australia on the 2018-19 tour. India repeated the feat in 2021-22 even in Kohli’s absence, while he return to build a 2-1 lead in the 2021 tour of England with one final game postponed to 2022.
Kohli, who surprised Indian cricket by resigning as Test skipper after the team’s series defeat in South Africa on Friday—the skipper and a few teammates were under fire for attacking the broadcaster on stump mic after a DRS review went against India—finishes as India’s most successful in the job. South Africa, where India have never won a Test series, was seen the “final frontier” but the hosts rallied after losing the first game to win 2-1.
Kohli led India in 68 Tests, winning 40. He helped India regain the No 1 spot—they have held the top spot for most part from October 2016.
Invincible at home, India became feared opponents in the most challenging conditions abroad. Batsman Kohli thrived too, making all seven of his double hundreds as skipper—20 of his 27 centuries come as captain. For Kohli, it was always about leading from the front. Till 2019, Kohli’s batting was sensational as he figured in every discussion on the world’s best Test batter. As captain, he scored 5,864 runs, averaging 54.80.
FACE OF TEST FORMAT
Kohli pushed for Test cricket as the prime format during a time when the five-day format is losing its fight for popularity with limited-overs cricket. That he is regarded as the finest ambassador for red-ball cricket will be a glorious legacy.
“Long live Test cricket while we've Virat Kohli,” Warne said last September after India beat England by 157 runs in the fourth Test at the Oval to take the series lead.
“They look up to him. He's got the respect of all the players. They back him and they play for him. It's important for a captain that a team plays for you. I think the way Virat conducts himself, we've all got to say, 'Thank You Virat',” Warne told Sky Sports.
“Kohli gives his team the belief and it's great to watch. Long live Test cricket while we've Virat Kohli. Please keep playing for a long, long time,” he added. Statistics put up by ESPNcricinfo said that in India’s Test history, bowlers had the finest numbers under Kohli. The bowling average is 25.02, strike rate 51.8 and there were 56 five-wicket and eight 10-wicket hauls.
A player who wore his heart on his sleeve, Kohli has been central to India’s rise as a Test power. He first captained, standing in for MS Dhoni, in the Adelaide Test of 2014, where he won admiration for leading from the front in chasing a stiff target, though India lost.
Though high intensity and energy levels had admirers, he was criticised for crossing the limit. He got away on quite a few occasions though due to BCCI’s influence in world cricket.
COMBO WITH SHASTRI
A lot of things came together for him. His relationship with Ravi Shastri, who was first team director and then became coach, worked brilliantly. They both believed in not taking a backward step, in always being in the opponents’ face. Shastri proved a great motivator, while he gave Kohli a free hand. It, however, led to a few selection controversies.
PACE BOWLING UNIT
One decisive change Kohli brought about was to fully back fast bowling. The thrilling phase started with the 2018 series in South Africa. With the introduction of Jasprit Bumrah, chin music entered the Indian bowling vocabulary too.
With fast bowlers of the calibre of Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj, Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav, the opposition batters were always on their toes. Home curators had to think twice before making pace-friendly surfaces. It helped India won their first Test series in Australia and also reach the World Test Championship (WTC) final.
He became a fast bowler’s captain. The best example was how he marshalled the bowling on the final day at The Oval last September. England had an opening partnership of 100, but Kohli built the pressure after an intense opening spell from Bumrah and Yadav. It set the tone for the post-lunch session where Bumrah prized open the batting with reverse swing,
Kiran More, the former India stumper and chief selector, said: “Virat’s fighting spirit… the way he played his cricket, especially overseas, kept his head high all the time and made sure you need to fight to win every match. Test cricket is the ultimate, you play T20 and one-day cricket but Test cricket is tough and he got some unbelievable performances (from his team). Hats off to him!”
Former India captain Dilip Vengsarkar, who as chief selector had backed a young Kohli first, said: “Kohli has left his mark on Indian cricket. With his commitment to the team and his intensity, the way he led the team was really inspiring.”
For Kohli, fitness was non-negotiable. In 2012, he took it upon himself to change his diet and routine to turn into one of the fittest cricketers. When he became captain, he insisted on everyone meeting fitness parameters. It spurred his teammates to buy into his mantra.
Highlighting Kohli’s impact, pacer Ishant Sharma had told ESPNCricinfo: “He (Kohli) set an example for everyone, for sure. Take the case of fat percentage—before him I had never heard of it being spoken about in the Indian team. It was totally about skill. But now, along with skill, it is also about fitness. So, if you eat well, you stay strong in the field, maintain your fitness, your energy. After what he did for himself, it totally changed the system in the Indian cricket team.”
It became mandatory for players to clear the Yo-Yo fitness test. In an interaction with PM Narendra Modi on yo-yo test, Kohli said: "I'm the one who goes to run first and this is the condition that if I fail that I am also not available for selection. It is important to set that culture and it will lead to improvement in overall fitness levels.”