A legend with the bat and a captain with no ICC trophies so far, Virat Kohli’s journey in International cricket has been a fascinating one. From donning the captaincy hat in 2014 after MS Dhoni’s retirement in Test cricket, to becoming the only Indian captain to win four Test championships in a row, Virat Kohli has established himself as the best Indian captain in the longest format. However, he hasn’t yet flourished as a captain in the ODIs.
Having lost both of the ICC tournaments after becoming the captain, the 32-year-old has been criticized for his performance in tournaments other than bilateral series. However, is it fair to criticize Kohli? Let us find out.
Kohli has so far led India in three major ICC tournaments – ICC Champions Trophy 2017, ICC 50-over World Cup 2019 and World Test Championship (WTC) Final. In all these tournaments, Kohli’s team hasn’t performed as per the expectations and the trophy has eluded them. But do they deserve to be called chokers like South Africa? Or is it just that the players have had bad days, which might’ve coincided with the Finals or Semi-Finals? Or is it just about the conditions which don’t sync with the style of Indian batsmen?
The biggest common aspect in all three tournaments is the English conditions. All three were played in England and barring the 2017 Champions Trophy Final, the other two were disturbed by rain. The conditions, which develop after the rain, are more suitable for seam and swing bowling and definitely not suitable for Indian batsmen and their style of playing and it is justified by India’s poor record of winning Test series in England. Indian batsmen are just outplayed when the conditions favor seam and swing bowling, be it limited-overs format, or Test cricket.
Do they deserve to be called chokers?
Another thing to consider is whether this Indian team deserves to be called chokers as they haven’t won an ICC trophy since 2014. The answer is a big NO! There is a fine line between choking and getting outplayed. Going by the definition, choking means that a team is in the winning position for long time and they just find a way to lose the game from there. Has this been the case with Virat Kohli’s men? No. Indian team hasn’t just turned up for the contest in all the three knockout matches. They’ve been outplayed by the superior skills of their opposition and some grave mistakes in the 2017 Champions Trophy Final and they’ve been disturbed by the terrific bowling attack in the other two knockout matches.
The humiliating loss against Pakistan in 2017 Champions Trophy Final
In June 2017, when India clashed with their arch-rivals Pakistan in the final, everyone had expected India to win, considering their record against Pakistan in ICC tournaments. But India were thoroughly outplayed by their opponents as it ended up being a one-sided affair. Batting first, Pakistan scored a mammoth 338, with Fakhar Zaman making India pay for Bumrah’s no ball as he scored a magnificent century. In reply, India’s top order faced the wrath of Mohammed Amir and they lost the plot thereafter, getting bundled out pretty early for a paltry total.
Getting outplayed by the finalists New Zealand
Two years later, in the same country, Virat Kohl led his team in his first World Cup as a captain. India were superb throughout the league stage, having won against all the teams expect England. The Virat Kohli-led side faced New Zealand in the semi-final and were well in the game until rain played the spoilsport later in the day. Since it was a semi-final, the ICC had kept a reserve day. Overnight rain meant there was moisture in the pitch, which made the belter of a pitch a dream one for the New Zealand bowlers, who were ready to feast on the opponent.
Being set a low target of 240, India got off to the worst of the starts as Trent Boult and Matt Henry exploited their home-like conditions and got the ball to move and seam both ways. Indian batsmen, being totally uncomfortable in such conditions, succumbed and were reduced to 5/3, with all of the top order back in the hut. India lost the game eventually and Kohli faced another defeat in the knockouts.
The inaugural World Test Championship Final in the same conditions
When he had the best opportunity to turn things around with the WTC Final, New Zealand entered the one-off Test in Southampton with an advantage. Not only did they have the match practice against England, the conditions suited their fast bowlers and the rain on the first two days, was like a cherry on the cake for them.
India went into the final with little match practice and faced the best New Zealand bowling attack in the history. New Zealand played with five fast bowlers, while India played with three as they missed the services of an unfit Hardik Pandya and had to play Jadeja to add some batting depth. The pitch now had moisture to support swing and seam bowling. Even Sunil Gavaskar described the pitch as ‘most difficult for batting’.
New Zealand bowled first and troubled Indian batters with excessive swing. India realized not having a swing bowler as they had reserved Bhuvaneshwar Kumar for the T20Is owing to his injuries. India ended up fielding three fast bowlers, all ‘hit-the-deck’ bowlers with none having a major swing aspect. India lost the final by eight wickets as they were bundled out twice in the match. India’s batting was a major disappointment as the trio of Kohli, Pujara and Rahane failed to step up in these difficult batting conditions, despite touring England twice in 2014 and 2018.
Should Virat Kohli be called as a bad captain?
But does these things prove that Kohli is a bad captain? Definitely not. Kohli has been spot on with the bowling changes over the years and that’s what defines Kohli as a captain. He has taken Indian cricket to whole new level and has brought a fitness revolution in the team which has helped them become the top team in World Rankings. However, Kohli has been eluded by ICC trophies, in which he has been let down by his own batting and other players’ batting. His captaincy, though, has been spot on. It’s just the batters, who need to step up in tough conditions.
Virat Kohli will now lead India in the T20 World Cup in the UAE and it will again be a tough task, provided that India will be playing only three T20Is, that too against a depleted Sri Lankan side, before the showpiece event in October. This will be the best chance for Kohli to win the ICC event give a fitting reply to his critics. Coming back to the question in the title: Virat Kohli – The captain or batsman, What India needs? Well, India needs both.