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Virat Kohli and Team India start new journey: Smooth sailing or rough ride?

Virat Kohli

Bengaluru, January 16: Virat Kohli took over India’s Test captaincy in a hurried manner in 2014 following a thumb injury to MS Dhoni in the first Test against Australia at Adelaide. In no time, he showcased his ideology to the world.

Aggressive. Passionate. Always chasing a win. The traits that defined Kohli’s captaincy in later years were evident in Adelaide. Seldom an Indian Test side chased a target of 364 with such a gusto and Kohli was at the forefront of it with an exemplary 141 off 175 balls.

It was clear that Kohli was not overawed by the stiffness of the target and was clearly eyeing a win. The desired result did not come but Kohli set a template that day. “We have certainly played the kind of cricket we wanted to,” Kohli had said then.

Under Kohli’s regime, this fearless, relentless pursuit of victory became a second nature of the Indian Test team. It was an obsession for Kohli. He wanted the team to be a world beater in all conditions and adopted a no-excuse policy in alliance with Ravi Shastri.

Kohli was ready to travel to any extent for a Test win and even risked defeat. He never ever wished to win a popularity poll. It did create some uncomfortable moments too. R Ashwin, India’s biggest match winner of the last decade, was benched several times, the latest instance being against England in 2021.

Kohli had also dropped Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane as and when he deemed necessary. This created the impression of a captain who lacks empathy, and of distrust in the dressing room. Kohli also did not stand back from a fight with opposition, ready to stretch the lines if it suited his team’s goals.

For many, they all seemed boorish. But Kohli did not listen to the growing clamour outside and remained steadfast to his ethos. The ways of Kohli the captain were so different from his predecessor, MS Dhoni. Even though Kohli remained an ardent admirer of Dhoni, his captaincy had no real shades of the Jharkhand man.

Dhoni never really took unpopular calls during his tenure, at least on the face of it. Perhaps, it was because Dhoni had to take care of other power centres within the dressing room like Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman etc, much senior to him and as much crowd pullers as him.

In contrast, Kohli was the omnipotent force within the dressing room. He was the best batsman by some distance and there was no real contenders for his top seat for a large part of his regime. It gave him the liberty to take decisions with a higher sense of authority than many other Indian captains. It is possible that no Indian captian ever did that.

Even when his batting form dipped post 2019, players like Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, R Ashwin etc, the possible names who could have been considered for the leadership role, never posed a serious competition either because of their inconsistent performances or iffy fitness.

However, the departure of head coach Ravi Shastri post the ICC T20 World Cup 2021 would have come as a jolt for the Delhiite. Kohli had formed a close, even emotional connection with Shastri over the last four years, something that worked as steam for Kohli’s ever-burning engine.

This is not to say that new coach Rahul Dravid would not have backed Kohli but the former Indian captain is no Shastri and carries his own ideologies and methods. Kohli might have thought it to be prudent to move away from the point of storm than engage in clash of ideas like it had happened when Anil Kumble was around.

The change in BCCI hierarchy too might have played its part, as Kohli would have been clear in his mind about the extend of backing he would get from the Board, more precisely from its chief Sourav Ganguly, someone as adept as Kohli in the ways of Indian cricket.

But this still remains Kohli’s India. It was him that moulded this side and set the creed for them. Over the last four years, these set of Indian players have learned to follow the doctrines of Kohli — aggression, fitness, relentless pursuit of victory and a certain in-your-face attitude.

The method, which courted its own share of critics, had yielded some memorable results such as a series win in Australia, 3-0 wins in Sri Lanka and West Indies and a 2-1 series lead in England, besides complete dominance at home.

It will be the biggest challenge for Dravid and the new captain, maintaining that success rate achieved by Kohli while guiding the players to a new cricketing philosophy.

For Kohli too, the coming will be different. His opinions might be sought as a senior player but he would have to watch the decision-making, something he did with a lot of pride since 2017 as India’s full-time captain, from a distance.

A cricketer who is tuned to high-energy, ultra-emotional way of leading and playing, Kohli will have to settle for more sedate ways. It will be his challenge to master. But it will be no less interesting!

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Story first published: Sunday, January 16, 2022, 16:37 [IST]
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