No World Cup, but Kohli leaves behind a T20I legacy he should be proud of

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08 Nov 2021 | 07:20 PM
authorAnirudh Suresh

No World Cup, but Kohli leaves behind a T20I legacy he should be proud of

Kohli’s overall numbers as a T20I captain could very well end up standing the test of time

After having carried India for the best part of six years in T20 cricket, including in two World Cups, it would have been fitting for Virat Kohli to sign off from T20I captaincy by hitting the winning runs against Namibia. And when Rohit Sharma, his supposed successor, walked back to the pavilion in the tenth over, it was hard to not think that the stars had aligned. 

But as the famous saying from American author Susanna Kaysen goes, “Not everything has a happy ending, and not everything has an ending. Some things just kind of dribble away.”

Those words hit hard when Suryakumar Yadav walked in at No.3 and saw the side over the line.

Because at that moment, you realized that Kohli’s stint as T20I captain just….dribbled away. No happy ending, no fitting farewell. An anti-climactic punch down the ground against an associate side marked the end of an era. An era that was supposed to have been so much more.

The world would have branded Kohli’s term as T20I captain a failure even if India had fallen short in the final, so there are no prizes for guessing the grade he’s been granted now. This Golden Generation, much like Belgium in Football, did not even make the semi-finals. 

But putting recency bias aside, it is still worth looking back on Kohli’s tenure as T20I skipper in order to understand and appreciate the fine job he did with the side. The climax, which we’ve just finished witnessing in the UAE, was a disaster, but his direction prior to the Shaheen Shah Afridi yorker that nailed Rohit was pretty much flawless. 

India under Kohli: a side which was close to unbeatable for three years

It was in January 2017 that Kohli took over from MS Dhoni after the latter decided to completely step away from captaincy duties, and in terms of pure numbers, the 33-year-old’s stint as skipper was in fact a success. 

In 50 T20Is under the leadership of Kohli, India won 30 games and had a win/loss ratio of 1.87. In the history of T20I cricket, among players to have captained their country in 30 or more matches, only three skippers - Asghar Afghan, Sarfaraz Ahmed and Babar Azam - have boasted a better W/L ratio. 

Now, it goes without saying that Kohli’s legacy as T20I skipper has been severely dented by India’s horror-show in the 2021 T20 World Cup. But that still won’t - and should not - erase just how dominant the Men in Blue were in the four years that preceded the World Cup, particularly in conditions that were alien to them.

From the time Kohli took over as captain till prior to this World Cup, India lost just 5 matches outside home across four years. 

In fact, under Kohli, India lost only one bilateral series away from home, a one-off T20I against the Windies in 2017 which was his first assignment outside India as skipper in the shortest format. Post that, India, under the 33-year-old, played 8 bilateral T20I series away from home and remained unbeaten, despite playing in all 4 SENA countries.

In the history of T20I cricket, no other captain has been so dominant in T20Is in away games.

Curiously, under Kohli, India did not display the same kind of ruthlessness at home. They lost nearly twice as many matches (W13, L9) and had to scramble many a time for wins. 

But while the team’s record at home, under Kohli, was not as ‘assertive’ as their numbers away, they still were near-unbeatable. In 8 bilateral T20I series at home under Kohli, India lost at least one match on 7 occasions. However, despite the obligatory blip, they still always found a way to trump their opponents.

Under Kohli’s captaincy, India just lost one bilateral series at home - against Australia in 2019, prior to the 50-over World Cup - with them emerging victorious on five occasions (two series’ ending as a draw).

The highest point of Kohli’s T20I captaincy

In terms of pure numbers, 2020 will undoubtedly serve as Kohli’s best year as a T20 skipper. India were one match away from finishing the entire calendar year unbeaten, and at one point it felt like they could simply not even lose matches if they tried. Kohli had a 8-1 record as a skipper in T20Is that year.

Still, despite the dominance they displayed in 2020, it is hard not to pick 2018 as the highest point of Kohli’s T20I captaincy. That year, India played bilateral series in South Africa, England and Australia, and remarkably did not lose a single series.

They first thoroughly outplayed the Proteas but their conquering of the Eoin Morgan-led England side remains one of the more memorable results for the country in the shortest format in recent times. 

Needing to chase 199 in the series decider in Bristol to conquer English soil, India did so handsomely, without breaking a sweat, courtesy a Rohit Sharma century. In three years since, no other side has managed to register a T20I series win in England. 

The lowest point of Kohli’s T20I captaincy

Without a modicum of doubt, this T20 World Cup. Not because India failed to emerge victorious, but the manner in which they crashed out.

India entered the competition as heavy favorites, knew the ins and outs of UAE conditions thanks to IPL practice and looked untouchable in the warm-up games. And yet, come the actual event, they did not turn up when it mattered the most. 

The Men in Blue were blown away by Pakistan, and were then steamrolled by New Zealand, a match in which the team showed none of that intensity Kohli-led sides are famous for. By the time the team decided to wake up, it was too late. The bus had already left the stop. 

Kohli, prior to this World Cup, almost had no ‘low-points’ as a T20I skipper, but he endured his lowest point as T20I captain when the BlackCaps, without breaking a sweat, dusted India off as if they were an associate side.

A comparison with Dhoni

Should at all a Dhoni comparison arise, there are high chances that Kohli will be belittled owing to the fact that he did not win a T20 World Cup. 

But it is worth remembering that under Dhoni, India did not make the knockouts thrice, and only won one title in six attempts. Kohli, in comparison, had just one bite at the cherry, that too arguably in the toughest of all eras. 

The obvious, glaring trophy drought means that there is no way Kohli can be branded a better T20 skipper than Dhoni, especially when you factor in IPL records as well. But let’s just say this: despite missing a title, Kohli’s record as a T20I skipper matches up pretty well with that of Dhoni.

Kohli’s successor will have his work cut out

There is every chance that Kohli, years on, might be remembered as the captain who did not land a title despite inheriting one of the strongest squads in T20 history. But, regardless, his successor will have his work cut out. 

Whoever among Rohit or Rahul that takes over will not only have to ensure that the side finally wins a T20 World Cup in the ‘IPL era’, but also make sure that the team continues showcasing dominance outside of World Cups. 

India’s near-invincible bilateral record under Kohli’s leadership might have unfortunately become a meme by now, but it would be dishonest to pretend that the countless wins the team racked up week after week did not play a significant hand in creating the aura around the side. 

Kohli did not have the end to his stint he would have hoped for, but he has done everything within his powers to ensure that his successor will have the kind of start every captain dreams of. 

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ICC World Twenty20, 2021IndiaVirat KohliMS DhoniRohit SharmaKL Rahul

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