For the past five years, Virat Kohli has been a part of every team meeting, every leadership brainstorming, every coin toss, every huddle, every pitchside conversation, every DRS referral, every post-match presentation and endless press conferences. He has been answerable for everything that went wrong, moving to plan the next assignment before he could take a while to enjoy everything that went right.
For the past five years, Virat Kohli led every team he played for. Within three days, he has announced to cut it down by half in two months’ time. Following up his announcement to step down as India’s skipper in T20s after the World Cup, he announced to relinquish the captaincy of Royal Challengers Bangalore after the 2021 IPL.
We live in an era in which our leaders avoid trivial things like gathering the media for a conference for major announcements and choose to go for shock and awe instead. One cannot blame them, especially the cricketers, after what they are subjected to at times. Every move is scanned under a microscope, every loss termed as a tragedy and sometimes even tips are offered on technique after a hard day’s work.
Cricket in India is an obsession, inflated by a humongous population and limited success in other sports to distract our minds. We are also a country that always has time for good gossip. So when Kohli stepped down as India’s T20 skipper, it presented a perfect opportunity for the rumour mill to come up with their own conspiracy theories. There had to be someone behind the decision for a player as successful and dedicated as Kohli will never realize what is best for him (and the team) on his own. There is a ready-made captain waiting in the wings but people somehow were more worried about who after the next one. If only we were so far-sighted about our own lives. But hey, what is there to life if not for cricket.
Kohli’s decision to step down as the RCB skipper now puts things in perspective. Unlike India, RCB does not even have a skilled captain waiting in the wings, breathing down Kohli’s neck and having the management’s backing to pip him. If at all, RCB will have to either groom a youngster or buy someone in the mega-auction to lead the side next year.
It is all but clear that stepping aside has been Kohli’s decision through and through. He had made up his mind to give up T20 captaincy altogether. Him making the announcement for India first and through a formal statement shows the respect that he has towards the role.
More importantly, no matter what the speculations are, Kohli’s decisions are not just due to the team’s success or lack of it but are rather about his own workload. Stepping down from India’s role did put some question marks about the actual effect on workload given T20Is being the least taxing in terms of matches since 2017. However, moving away from RCB’s captaincy - a role he has served for the longest duration - should bury the questions over the intent of Kohli’s decision. Now he will have two full months of no leadership duty with complete freedom to rather focus on those minor adjustments he needs for his next assignment.
The past month or so saw Kohli’s technique - the angle of his back toe and the position of his hips - go through endless analysis. While a lot of these might be correct but most of it may be driven by his lack of mental bandwidth to focus on his game. A century often becomes the only parameter to judge someone’s batting form, but in reality, Kohli's form in the last few years has seen a considerable dip only in the longest format of the game.
In some ways, Kohli has ditched the shortest format to focus more on his legacy in the longest one. Despite all that is being said, Kohli has deprioritized the glitz of T20 for the grind of Tests. In three days he has made it clear that if at all he needs to step aside from a format completely to lengthen his career, which one will get the axe. He has lived up to his words of Test cricket being the pinnacle of all formats and has taken another step towards his pursuit of making the current Indian side one of the best-ever in the format.
This brings us to the format that is losing its relevance exponentially. Why has Kohli not stepped down as the ODI skipper? First, even with his reverence for Test cricket, it is a given that ODI remains his favourite format. While there are solid contenders to challenge his place as the best batsman of the generation in Tests, he is Usain Bolt in a 100-meter dash in ODIs. Such has been his comfort with the 50-over format that at times it affects his gameplay in the other two, where he might seem too conservative for T20Is or too fidgety to get on with it in Tests.
Moreover, as deprioritized as ODIs are, there is no big-ticket event up next till before the 2023 World Cup, which might be the last of his captaincy in the white-ball game. One might wonder, why wait till then?
The question takes us to another step of understanding Kohli the player. In no measured words, he has always put more focus on cricket being played on instinct and belief and not on data and statistics. At times to the frustration of the fans who support the teams he leads. As a captain, he might be chasing the ball at times but is never short of emotions and getting the crowd going. He feeds off it.
And thus, he understands the heightened emotion of the crowd and his teammates when they take the field knowing this will be his last dance as a skipper. Even those RCB fans who have never forgiven him for bowling Corey Anderson at the death will be behind him in his last hurrah. As part of a team, Kohli tasted success very early in his career. He of all people would understand the atmosphere within the group when almost everyone is playing for one person in his final attempt to achieve his heart's wish.