Change of guard in Indian cricket is bad news for rivals

Rohit Sharma (right) and Virat Kohli, the two Indian superstars. (AFP file)
Rohit Sharma (right) and Virat Kohli, the two Indian superstars. (AFP file)

Bengaluru - Better tactics on the field and a return to batting form for Virat Kohli will make India an even more formidable force than it already is



By Sumit Chakraberty

Published: Fri 17 Sep 2021, 5:57 PM

Last updated: Fri 17 Sep 2021, 6:14 PM

India’s cricket captain in all formats, Virat Kohli, ticks a lot of boxes as a leader. A fitness culture that puts a zing in the fielding, opportunities for young talent like Rishabh Pant to break into the coterie, and a never-say-die attitude that enables the team to pull off one remarkable turnaround after another.

Most of all, Kohli has set an example of always playing according to the situation in a game rather than for personal milestones.

He deserves a lot of the credit for building a team that dominates rivals at home and has started to do better abroad. He has combined well with coach Ravi Shastri to make tough calls, such as the recent counterintuitive move to leave out the world’s second-ranked Test bowler, Ravichandran Ashwin, from the playing eleven in England. It caught flak from all corners, but India’s decision to play four pace bowlers and all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja was vindicated when they led the series 2-1 before the final Test had to be abandoned.

For all his leadership qualities and strategic acumen as a player and captain, however, Kohli continues to be tactically erratic. In between smart moves like a leg trap or an intuitive bowling change, the team pays dearly for unmanned catching positions in the slips or forward short leg from a captain who is quick to go on the defensive. Even though the selection for the England series was spot on, it came after the blunder of playing two spinners in the World Test Championship final against New Zealand who went in with an all-pace attack in ideal conditions for seam and swing bowling.

The mistakes have taken their toll. Kohli has won only six Tests out of 38 as captain in the SENA countries (South Africa, England, New Zealand, and Australia).

Failures are piling up in ICC tournaments, losing the WTC final this year, getting knocked out in the 2019 ODI World Cup semi-final, and losing badly to Pakistan in the 2017 Champions Trophy final. He hasn’t won a single Indian Premier League (IPL) title in eight seasons at the helm of Royal Challengers Bangalore.

Team-mate Rohit Sharma, on the other hand, has had an embarrassment of riches in the same period – five IPL titles since taking over the captaincy of Mumbai Indians in 2013. Mumbai had not won a single title until then. Sharma has been equally successful when he has taken charge of the Indian T20 team in Kohli’s absence, with 15 wins in 19 games. So the announcement of Kohli relinquishing the T20 captaincy later this year after the T20 World Cup comes none too soon.

Sharma brings a relaxed demeanour to the field which gets the best out of the players, probably because they feel free to take the initiative more readily. At the same time, lurking in the laid-back persona is a smart cricket brain that knows how to seize an opportunity.

Kohli would do well to hand over the ODI captaincy as well in due course, as well as take breaks from leading the Test team, as he did in Australia last December when he returned home for the birth of his child. Sharma’s a year older than Kohli but offers an ideal bridge to a younger captain down the line. What that will also do is give Kohli a chance to regain his position as the world’s best batsman.

Kohli has a Test batting average of 26.80 in 12 Tests since the start of 2020 and hasn’t had a single century in 53 international games in that time. This is an extended slump for a player of his class, and clearly, the pandemic-induced bubbles and pressures of captaincy have shaken his focus. The best thing for Indian cricket will be a return to form of one of the all-time greats who has stamped his authority over all formats of the game.

India is already proving a tough nut to crack in all formats and conditions, thanks to an assembly line of top performers coming out of the IPL. If the Kohli bat starts talking, that will dampen the spirits of rival teams further.

Sumit Chakraberty is a writer based in Bengaluru. Write to him at chakraberty@gmail.com


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