Column | A timely decision by Kohli

Virat Kohli
Virat Kohli was a pasionate leader. Photo: Reuters//Sumaya Hisham

It was a bombshell waiting to fall. Hence one cannot claim to be surprised or taken aback by the decision of Virat Kohli to step down as captain of the national side at the end of the just concluded series that India lost 1-2 to South Africa. Followers of the game in India had been given a ray of hope after the victory in the first Test that the side might achieve what none of the previous Indian teams that toured South Africa could attain - win a Test series on South African soil. But it was not be as the squad failed to breach the South African fortress, with the hosts winning the last two Tests to clinch the series.


A loss in a Test series and that too one on foreign soil does not warrant the stepping down of the captain. Indian skippers have lost their job after disastrous tours - like Ajit Wadekar after the mauling in England in 1974 and Bishan Singh Bedi and Sunil Gavaskar after defeats in Pakistan in 1978 and 1983 respectively. India did not suffer a debacle in South Africa and Kohli did not have qualms about leading the side after the ignominy of being the captain when the side was dismissed for an all time low total of 36 in Australia in December, 2019. Hence it is obvious that the decision to step down was not on account of the result in the Test series.


Kohli has been going through a relatively bad patch with the bat, with no three figure score against his name in Test matches since November, 2019. The lack of success in championships conducted by the International Cricket Council (ICC) bogged down his captaincy as well. His decision to step down from the leadership of national squad for T20 matches was not well received by the top honchos of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and they retaliated by stripping him off the captaincy in One-Day Internationals (ODI) as well. This was taken as a snub by Kohli who took the unusual step of taking on none other than Sourav Ganguly, the BCCI President, by contradicting the statement made by the latter, just before the team left for South Africa. This came as a major surprise to the observers of the game as Indian cricketers, as a rule, do not take on the might of BCCI. The only cricketer who attempted this was Sunil Gavaskar and the fact that even he was not very successful should stand as a lesson for succeeding generation of cricketers about the inadvisability of such a move. It was obvious to everyone who knew the working of the BCCI administration that Kohli’s days at the helm was numbered from that instant onwards.


During the recent series, Indian won the first Test under Kohli and lost the last one, with the skipper being unfit to play in the second due to spasms of the back muscles. A tally of 161 runs in four completed with only one half-century indicates another mediocre series by the exalted standards that he had set for himself. He batted with gumption and determination in the first innings of the last Test to make 79 which was as valuable as a century on easier pitches. But the manner of his dismissals - being caught behind the wicket or in the slip cauldron off fast bowlers- indicated that South African bowlers had identified a flaw in his technique that could be exploited. This was almost unthinkable couple of years back when bowlers had to pray that he made a mistake to pick his wicket.


Virat Kohli
Virat Kohli has a word with umpire Marais Erasmus in the Cape Town Test. File photo: AFP/ Rodger Bosch

It could be the pressure brought about by these developments along with the intense desire to win the series that prompted Kohli to indulge in ungentlemanly conduct on the penultimate day of the last Test. After the third umpire had reversed the decision of field umpire who declared Dean Elgar out “leg before wicket”, Kohli used the stump mike to convey his unhappiness about the quality of replays provided by SuperSport, the South African broadcaster, to the third umpire. This was boorish behaviour on the part of Indian skipper and the worse part was that it prompted other players also to make similar observations, which were all in bad taste. Kohli would know by now that in closely-fought matches there will be couple of difficult decisions which could go either way. Rather than accept this as part of the game or trying to suggest some systemic improvements, he chose to be churlish, which, in turn, brought down the dignity of the entire side.


This was not the first time that Kohli had allowed his impulsive behaviour to get the better of him. During the series against England last year he showed his finger at the crowd and had been fined for verbal brawls with players of opposing sides in the past. During the World Cup in Australia in 2015, he used choicest of abuses against a journalist who he felt had written something objectionable. Later it was found that Kohli had vent his fury at the wrong person or in other words he showered invective on a reporter without even checking who the person was. A lesser player would have faced the axe from the side for this misdemeanour but such was the aura around Kohli that he got away with this outrageous act. Instead of sobering up after becoming the captain, Kohli chose to continue in the same vein with the result that his actions have caused the entire nation to feel the shame.


What would be Kohli’s legacy as captain? In Test cricket, India won 40 out of the 68 matches they played under his stewardship which makes him not only the most successful skipper but also one with the highest win percentage. Sixteen out of these 40 victories were in matches played outside India, which again is an enviable record. The high point would definitely be the victory against Australia in 2018-19, though some sheen is taken from this win as hosts were without their top players. Kohli’s USP was that he played Test matches looking for victory and never adopted a negative approach nor did he play for a draw. The strategy of playing five bowlers was a reflection of this philosophy that matches were played to be won and for doing that there should sufficient firepower to take 20 wickets. His passion for the game was infectious and this rubbed off on other members of the side as well. He moulded a side that was high on aggression and Adrenalin and yielded no quarter on the field nor off it. The fact that he was also the leading batsman in the world for most part of his tenure helped him considerably to imprint his stamp on the side and its attitude towards the game. He could also count on the unstinted support of BCCI as well, till the fallout over quitting the T20 captaincy, as seen from the sacking of Anil Kumble as coach of the national side.


Virat Kohli
Big scores have eluded Kohli in the past couple of years. File photo

However, as Kohli himself stated in the tweet through which he announced stepping down from the captaincy “everything has to come to a halt at some stage”. Time is indeed ripe for his stepping down from captaincy and setting himself free from the pressures that this post brings with it. At 33, he is no spring chicken and should look towards moving on to the role of being a “grey eminence” in the side, in the manner of Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid etc during their years after captaincy. He has some more years of cricket left in him and he should focus on his batting so that he can contribute more substantially towards the cause of the side. He is the only batsman in international cricket who stands a chance of beating the record of 100 centuries set by Tendulkar.


Adieu, skipper Kohli!


(The author is a former international umpire and a senior bureaucrat)

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