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Virat Kohli: An outstanding T20I skipper whose legacy rests on the T20 World Cup

Last updated on 16 Sep 2021 | 04:39 PM
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Virat Kohli: An outstanding T20I skipper whose legacy rests on the T20 World Cup

India, under Kohli, have been quite a force in T20Is, but only a T20 World Cup will immortalize his legacy

For long the idea of Virat Kohli donning the Indian colours as an ordinary player, not as a captain, has remained inconceivable, but the unthinkable is all set to happen post the T20 World Cup. 

Hours ago, the incumbent all-format skipper took to social media to announce that he would be relinquishing T20I captaincy to manage his workload, and it is a decision that left the entire cricketing fraternity stumped - especially after the BCCI publicly rubbished media reports and reassured that Kohli would continue to lead the country across formats for the foreseeable future. 

The timing is certainly curious, but Kohli’s decision means that he has set an ultimatum for himself: it will be ‘boom or bust’ at the T20 World Cup next month, which will be his one and only shot at World Cup glory in the shortest format.  

The next two months will certainly decide Kohli’s T20I legacy, but as fans across the world still try to come to terms with the shock announcement, it is worth recapping what the golden boy of Indian cricket has actually done during his time at the helm.

India under Kohli: A team that has always found a way to win

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 32-year-old’s stint as skipper has been a huge success. 

In 45 T20Is under Kohli, India have won 27, lost just 14 and have boasted a W/L ratio of 1.92. In the history of T20I cricket, only three skippers - Graeme Smith, Sarfaraz Ahmed and Asghar Afghan - have boasted a better W/L ratio (min 25 matches as captain).

These already-enviable numbers shoot up in away games. In T20I history, no captain to have led their country in 15 or more away matches has boasted a better W/L ratio than Kohli. 

Under Kohli’s leadership, India have astonishingly lost just 5 matches outside home across four years, with the Men in Blue losing a solitary away match under his captaincy since the fag end of 2018.

In fact, under Kohli, India have 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. Since then, India, under the 32-year-old, have played 8 bilateral T20I series away from home and have remained unbeaten, despite playing in all 4 SENA countries.

Kohli’s subsequent numbers at home, however, are curious. In 23 matches under the leadership of Kohli, India have won 13 matches and lost 9. His W/L ratio at home of 1.66 is still the fifth best in history among those who have skippered 20 or more matches at home, but his record in India is a far cry from the dominance away, where he has won more matches while losing almost just half the number of games.

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

For under Kohli’s captaincy, India have 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

India have had quite a few ‘low-points’ under Kohli in ODI cricket - most notably the two ICC tournament heartbreaks - but, to be brutally honest, it has mostly been all merry for the Men in Blue under the Delhite in T20Is. Only twice have they ever lost back-to-back T20Is under his leadership.

Still, if we are to nit-pick, then it would be the 0-2 loss against Australia at home in 2019. Australia were, really, a team in disarray heading into the series, but in both matches the Kangaroos completely outplayed Kohli & Co. In the first they restricted India to a mere 126, and in the second they chased down 191 despite losing two early wickets. It was one of those series in which India underperformed in all three facets, proving to be a shadow of themselves. 

But that India have since lost only 5/24 T20Is under Kohli’s captaincy should tell you just how well he’s marshaled the side.

A comparison with Dhoni 

Understandably and inevitably, post the T20 World Cup, the comparisons will begin. The “who was the better captain - Kohli or Dhoni?” debate will start doing the rounds. 

As things stand, Kohli has captained India in almost 30 fewer T20Is than Dhoni so it is hard to make a ‘fair’ comparison. Still, purely taking numbers into account, it is the apprentice who has been more successful than his master in terms of win percentage. In terms of how the two skippers have fared away from home, there is no comparison: Kohli is head and shoulders above, having a W/L ratio (2.400) far better than that of Dhoni (1.300).

But it must be acknowledged such a comparison is a bit disingenuous in nature, for the team Dhoni had at his disposal was significantly weaker than the one that Kohli currently has. Kohli has had the luxury of skippering the best Indian T20I side ever, if not simply the best T20I side ever.

Dhoni also has something that Kohli, at least till now, does not have next to his name: a T20 World Cup title, granted he had six shots at glory. Kohli, in comparison, will just have one.

A legacy at stake

While it goes without saying that Kohli the T20I skipper has been a huge success, his legacy will be defined by the next couple of months. Kohli the ODI skipper has arguably been more dominant than Kohli the T20I skipper and yet an empty trophy cabinet has seen his achievements be devalued. 

It is not rocket science that his tenure as a T20I captain, too, will be seen as a ‘miss’, rather than a hit, should India not clinch silverware in the UAE.

The good thing for Kohli, though, is that his destiny and his legacy are in his own hands. 

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