The Virat Kohli Way

Virat Kohli in action against South Africa.

It was fitting that the favourite to succeed Virat Kohli for the test captaincy tweeted that he was “shocked”. The cricketing fraternity was hit with a jolt when Virat Kohli resigned as Indian Test captain, marking the fairly sudden end of his Indian captaincy tenure in all formats. Cricket fans, in general, have become accustomed to the Kohli way: the aggression, the heart on the sleeve style of cricket, the determination, the fitness. Now India must prepare to enter a new era.

When MS Dhoni stepped down from the Test captaincy at the end of 2014. India was ranked seventh in Test Cricket, with the side’s main issue their inability to compete in overseas tours. In a short span of time, they lost 5-0 to England, 4-0 to Australia and 2-1 to South Africa. Other than their famous Lord’s victory in 2014, the only other time India played without fear and competed ferociously was in Adelaide, 2014. The captain on that occasion: Kohli.

After the game, he said, “we didn’t want a draw, we must play for the win”. In that game, India lost by 48 runs chasing 364 on the final day, while Kohli scored a century in each innings. It also set the path forward for Indian Cricket. But for to many players, their fitness didn’t meet the required standards. In his first meeting with the BCCI management, Kohli proposed the implementation of a ‘Yo-Yo Test’ in which a minimum fitness level was be set for players to be eligible to play for India. The rationale behind this was to ensure India’s ability in the field improved, but also so that Indian bowlers were able to steam in, full pace spell after spell rather than wear out after a long partnership.

This was the hallmark of the Kohli way. Dhoni was a captain who was able to martial his spinners in R. Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja very well. But under Kohli, Ishant Sharma’s career reached new heights. Umesh Yadav finally met his potential. The unorthodox Jasprit Bumrah reached a level where he is now regarded as one of the premier fast bowlers in the world. Mohammed Shami, meanwhile, was perhaps the most underrated seamer in the game, while youngsters in Mohammed Siraj and Shardul Thakur took their opportunities with both hands.

Other than mandating fitness levels for fast bowlers to maximise their performance, it was the aggression and passion he instilled into them that brought improved performances. Every wicket felt special due to the trademark Kohli fist pump, scream and mobbing of the bowler. It allowed the pacers to feel like they belonged but also allowed them to feel special under the leadership of Kohli. Kohli’s relentless attitude also ensured the fast bowlers kept at it and didn’t get disheartened or frustrated after passages of play that didn’t go India’s way.

The results that followed highlight the effectiveness of Kohli’s way. As Kohli leaves the leadership role, India is now the number one ranked Test side in the world and they didn’t lose a series at home in Test match cricket under Kohli’s captaincy. They also, crucially, won away in Australia, are leading 2-1 in England in an interrupted and made the inaugural World Test Championship final. India’s fast bowling attack is now regarded as one of the best in the world and Kohli ends his tenure with the most wins of any Indian test captain.

To ensure the side could keep playing at fifth gear, Kohli led the way with his performances.  He made five double centuries as test captain, the most ever by a captain, and played headline grabbing knocks in Perth with a century as well as twice reaching three figures in England. He scored nearly 6000 runs as test captain, the fourth highest tally ever by a captain in world test cricket. As Ashwin briefly touched on, Kohli’s successor will have a very tough job to meet the standards that Kohli has set as a leader.

As for Kohli himself, there is no denying that those banner performances have been too long a thing of the past. For all his side’s recent successes, his own personal contributions with the bat have dried up and that wait for an international century is getting longer and longer. Perhaps, now freed of the massive responsibility of leading the Indian team, Kohli will let lose and dominate once again.

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