By the time BCCI treasurer Arun Dhumal could deny the media reports which were falsely claiming that Virat Kohli was likely to step down from white-ball captaincy duty after the T20 World Cup, social media once again witnessed a staggering divide of loyalties in Indian cricket between fans of Rohit Sharma and Kohli.
Only time will tell if the report was credible, but it can’t be completely ruled out that, post the T20 World Cup in the UAE, Rohit could be leading the team in white-ball cricket. The appointment of MS Dhoni as mentor for the World Cup has obviously given a fair hint that the top BCCI officials are putting Kohli on notice. And so should Kohli fail to win an ICC trophy, the inevitable change may finally give Rohit the deserving crown.
In many ways, the aforementioned move, even if inadvertently planned, has the potential to end up as a win-win situation for all the major stakeholders of Indian cricket. Perhaps most importantly, it will allow Kohli a graceful exit if he falters one more time to win a global trophy.
The arrival of Rohit as a white-ball captain may not be a long-term solution but it will give enough time to BCCI to find out and groom a long-term successor either in the form of KL Rahul or Rishabh Pant, the other all format players. Shreyas Iyer, too, might be a potential candidate.
Kohli and Rohit – A symbiotic need for split captaincy?
Former England captain Nasser Hussain is regarded as one of the greatest thinkers of the modern era and he was spot on during the fifth day of the recent Oval Test where he compared the captaincy styles of Kohli and Rohit.
“It’s a big test for Kohli the captain who lives off emotion and passion. We saw that at Lord’s where he went in the huddle and said, ‘Unleash hell’ and they did unleash hell on the England batting line-up. Today is a more tactical nous work to get 10 wickets on a very flat pitch,” Hussain said on Sky Sports.
“It will be interesting to see if Rohit Sharma is out there with him because I like the combination in that slip cordon of Kohli with his passion and emotion, revving them up, and you often look at Rohit next to him, and the tactical stuff comes from Rohit for me. It will be interesting to see if he (Rohit) is out there because it will be a big, big day for Kohli the tactician, not just Kohli the captain who has passion, energy and emotion,” said the former England captain. It was arguably a perfect summary of what these two players bring to the table as far as captaincy is concerned.
If Virat comes from the Sourav Ganguly school of passion then Rohit belongs to Dhoni’s school of calmness under pressure. As Hussain succinctly points out, a cricket team needs a healthy proportion of both the traits. However, like Ganguly in the past has shown, sometimes just being passionate is not enough to win you a global trophy in white-ball cricket, which is something Kohli is desperately missing in his CV.
On the other hand, Rohit not only has the calmness of Dhoni - the only player who has a cricketing Golden Slam of T20 World Cup, ODI World Cup and Champions Trophy - but arguably is a more tactically aware captain than the ‘Captain Cool’ of Indian cricket.
Maybe in Test cricket, Kohli’s brand of passion and aggression is fine as the timely tactical inputs from the coach and support staff can always ensure that things don’t go out of control. However, such luxury is not allowed in a frantically fast game that is T20 cricket, where a captain has to think on his feet. In this regard, Rohit has proven himself to be superior.
Hence, the idea of split captaincy has its merit in Indian cricket, as was the case during Anil Kumble- Dhoni era and later the Dhoni-Kohli era. A lot has to do with respecting the format and the strength of the respective captains.
Contrasting IPL fortunes
Very few will remember the IPL 2013 for an interesting coincidence when both Kohli and Rohit got the captaincy in the same year under contrasting circumstances for their respective teams. While Kohli was always seen as a natural leader and someone who was destined to take RCB forward, Rohit was thrust into the leadership role mid-way through the season after incumbent skipper Ricky Ponting stepped down owing to his sustained struggles with the bat.
As it turned out, Rohit had the Midas touch as Mumbai Indians became champions for the first time. Ever since, history has been repeating itself every odd year, and even did so during an even year for the first time in 2020.
Cruelly, nothing seems to have changed for Kohli in the last eight seasons. Yes, Rohit has had a fantastic bunch of match winners in his IPL team but how long could Kohli blame luck, team owners, coaches and his teammates? Forget winning the trophy, the RCB side under Kohli didn’t even make it to the playoffs in five out of eight seasons. While Rohit kept getting rave reviews for his wonderful cricketing decisions over the years, Kohli was found wanting with a series of strange decisions as captain of the RCB.
If Rohit’s crystal-clear thinking in team-building and optimum utilization of resources is similar to that of Dhoni, with Kohli, several of his decisions have baffled experts and commoners alike. Over the years, Kohli has shown on countless occasions that he lacks the patience of sticking with combinations, while Rohit, like Dhoni, often opts for stability in the team.
If Kohli keeps making frequent changes in the playing XI, Rohit tries to go for a settled combination for as long as possible. So much so that last year, Mumbai were the only team to make just five or fewer changes in the squad across 18 games.
Kohli’s struggles as captain in white-ball cricket are well-documented
Such has been the intimidating aura surrounding Kohli that very few cricket experts and former players tend to question the flaws in his white-ball captaincy. This despite him being the only skipper in the history of the IPL to captain over a hundred games without winning the trophy.
On one hand you have Dhoni, Gautam Gambhir and Rohit who have captained over 100 matches and have delivered multiple trophies while on the other you have Kohli, who is not only trophyless, but also has a win percentage less than 50. Time and again head coaches have been sacked, assistants fired, iconic players discarded and young talents overlooked and yet the RCB skipper has continued to remain the only figure untouched. Perhaps a franchise like RCB has different ambitions, but the Indian cricket team cannot afford to not be ruthless.
A trophy is a must for a great captain
It was only a few days ago that PCB’s new chairman Ramiz Raja remarked that even Imran Khan’s greatness as captain would not have been the same without the 1992 ODI World Cup win. Raja added that the trophies do matter because good captains usually win a lot of trophies. A great leader is someone who ensures that his team wins the moments, especially the crunch ones.
Unfortunately, Kohli’s India have not won too many crunch moments in white-ball cricket. Kohli’s win-percentage in Test matches might be almost as good as Clive Lloyd and Ricky Ponting, but it is worth noting that both the legendary skippers have 50-over World Cup titles to their name.
Kohli’s emergence as a future captain came to the fore in a global tournament, the ICC Under-19 World cup in 2008 in Malaysia, but he has not been able to match the same feat with the senior side. In white-ball cricket, it is almost an impossible ask to match the formidable legacy of Dhoni. Perhaps, the best Kohli can do is to carve his own niche and create his own legacy in Test cricket.
Time to re-discover Kohli the batsman?
And to do what’s been stated above, one of the prerequisites for Kohli would be to rediscover the batsman in him, who was not too long ago the most dominant force in cricket. Since November 2019, Kohli hasn’t scored a ton across formats. The last ton came nearly two years ago against Bangladesh in Kolkata and, since then, Kohli has been a shadow of himself not only in Test cricket but, at times, even in the one-day format, where he seems to have lost his ruthlessness.
Maybe the way out of this rut for him is to give up captaincy. Maybe all the burden he shouldered over the years is finally starting to take its toll.
Only time will tell if he is indeed ready to make the big call. Perhaps we’ll get all the answers immediately after the T20 World Cup.