The question is, who will be vice-captain: and Rishabh Pant fits the bill
How good a captain was Kohli? What he lacked tactically, he made up with result-influencing intensity.
Let’s forget the statistics for a moment, or the impact or the legacy and consider our first reaction to Virat Kohli’s resignation from captaincy. Here is the most powerful man in Indian cricket – and by extension world cricket – quitting a job he manifestly enjoyed, and had been so successful in. How could we not feel a twinge of sadness and disappointment, and consider a slew of might-have-beens?
Kohli provoked extreme reactions. Old-timers thought he represented the worst of youth. Youngsters thought he stood for the best, for the so-called ‘New India’, and even went about growing beards like him. Both were wrong.
He loved and respected Test cricket and played it with a passion even the IPL generation could seldom whip up. He was old-fashioned but with a modern twist. You saw in him what you wanted to see, and that made him a media darling.
The Kohli-cam was focused on him, broadcasters aware of the value of a player who wore his heart on his sleeve. He could be a lot of things, but never boring and neverstill. He might yet conduct an audience (once spectators get back into the stadiums) of supporters, he might yet scream into the stump microphone. Or he might decide to play the role of the grey eminence. It will be fun to watch, whatever he chooses.
Tactically Kohli wasn’t India’s most astute captain, but that didn’t matter. He had serious brains in his corner –Anil Kumble, Ravi Shashti, Rahul Dravid. It left him free to be himself and to convert the less-convinced to his way of playing with a fierce determination and much noise. Everybody played for a common cause; K L Rahul summed it up in England when he said, “If you go after one of us, eleven of us will come after you.”
How good a captain was Kohli? What he lacked tactically, he made up with result-influencing intensity. He seemed to be able to will a dismissal or influence the opposition into bowling to his strengths. Strength of mind can sometimes be more effective than strategic certainty.
Cricket is a romantic sport mainly for those writing and reading about it or watching from outside. For players it can be brutal and unforgiving, and for captains even more so. Cricket teams today are like corporates, with a huge turnover, internal political manoueuvers, and dismissals that happen because the team leader ran foul of people in authority.
Perhaps he didn’t wish someone ‘good morning’, perhaps he implied that another was a liar. Indian captains don’t quit so easily. Kohli had his ear to the ground, and heard the rumbles of the approaching sacking.
Soon, he will be taking instructions from a new captain, perhaps someone younger whom he might have chosen for India. This is the biggest test former captains have to face, and Indian captains haven’t done too well in these circumstances. They have tended to create separate power centres within the team – in the 1980s, there were Kapil Dev’s boys and Sunil Gavaskar’s boys in the team; before that the Pataudi boys and the Ajit Wadekar boys. If that doesn’t happen now, Kohli can take some credit for getting the team to play and respond as a single unit.
The important question for Indian cricket now is who will be vice-captain of the team. It will have to be someone with a long tenure as captain when his turn comes.
The likely captain Rohit Sharma is more than a year older than Kohli (although he has played fewer than half the number of Tests), which means these two players will quit the game around the same time. Having someone like Rishabh Pant as vice captain will give the 24-year-old wicketkeeper the time and space to grow into the top job. And let’s not forget that Kohli will be standing next to him at slip to continue this education.
A candidate who has not been discussed in the captaincy stakes is R Ashwin, who at 35 is seven months older than Rohit, has shown himself to be a thinker of the game, and could do a holding job efficiently. He will come up against the bias selectors have against bowler-captains, but he has the experience to slip into the role seamlessly. Pant could apprentice under him too.
Whether it is any of the above or KL Rahul or Jasprit Bumrah it will not matter to Kohli the batsman, still the finest India have had in the past decade or so. That attractive cover drive or the minimum-fuss drive between mid-on and mid-wicket should continue to charm us regardless.
The captaincy legacy he has bequeathed the team– fitness, aggression, self-confidence, grace-under-pressure – will stand Indian cricket in good stead. The batting legacy – he is only 33 after all – can still be worked on.
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