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Why the next Indian Test captain is set to have it really tough

Last updated on 18 Jan 2022 | 08:03 AM
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Why the next Indian Test captain is set to have it really tough

Stepping into Kohli’s shoes in Test cricket might just be the toughest thing in the sport

Not just Rohit Sharma, pretty much the entire world was ‘shocked’ when Virat Kohli, out of the blue, on January 15, took to social media to announce that he was relinquishing Test captaincy. While Kohli giving up T20I captaincy and being sacked as ODI captain was a surprise, it was far from a shock. Under his leadership India did not win a single trophy and with a successful leader like Rohit lurking, the writing was on the wall.

But Kohli was ‘The Guy’ in Tests, the most successful captain in the country’s history. The resignation was an even bigger shock as the general feeling was that he’d given up T20I captaincy in order to keep going longer in whites. 

Nobody knows what prompted the sudden decision, but what we do know is that these are testing times for the team. Handing Rohit the captaincy in white-ball cricket was a simple and straightforward decision, but that is far from the case in Tests. 

But regardless of who succeeds Kohli, the next Indian Test captain is guaranteed to have it really, really tough. We explore why that is going to be the case.

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Kohli has set the bar ridiculously high

Kohli was thrown in at the deep end when he was required to take over as the Indian Test captain mid-way through the Australia tour in 2014/15, but one thing that worked in his favour was that the bar was low. 

As good a captain as Dhoni was in limited-overs cricket, he did not cover himself in glory as a leader in Tests. Dhoni won just 27 of the 60 Tests he captained, and between 2011 and 2014, team India’s W/L/D (win-loss-draw) record was 13/15/9. They barely competed in SENA countries in the said period, flabbergastingly winning 1 out of 19 Tests. The team was in tatters when Kohli took over, yes, but it was nearly impossible to go any lower.

Compare this to what the next Indian Test skipper will be walking into.

India, under Kohli, won 40 of the 68 Tests played, boasting a W/L ratio of 2.352. They are currently the number one ranked side in the world and now are not just expected to compete in SENA countries, but win. 

Needless to mention, under Kohli India were untouchable at home, remarkably not losing a single series. In fact, team India lost just two home Tests under the leadership of Kohli, boasting a mind-boggling W/L ratio of 12.000. 

The bar is extremely high and the person taking over Test captaincy will be under pressure to at least get close to the same standards, if not maintain it. Easier said than done.

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The new skipper will have to oversee multiple transitions

Team India, when Kohli took over as captain, were producing results that were borderline unacceptable, but a then 26-year-old Kohli inherited a side that had already overseen transition and was set for the future. 

By the time Kohli took over as skipper, Pujara and Rahane were in their mid-20s and were already mainstays in the side. There was experience and stability at the top in the form of Dhawan and Vijay, and he had at his disposal a 28-year-old Ashwin and a 26-year-old Jadeja. The core was there and he was pretty much set for the long haul.

This will not be the case with the next full-time skipper, who will have to oversee multiple transitions.

Immediately the new skipper will have to ensure that the team replaces Pujara and Rahane (both 33). Even though there is no paucity of options, there is no guarantee that the transition will be smooth. 

Kohli and Rohit, too, two years down the line, will be 35 and 36 respectively, while Ashwin is already 35. There is a good chance that, by 2024, none of these three might be playing Tests.

Sooner or later, the core of the Test side will be disrupted, and it will be the duty of the next Test skipper to ensure that multiple transitions happen smoothly. 

A far from an easy task. 

The need to maintain high standards - with bat or ball 

Forget winning matches. Forget overseeing transitions. Whoever the new skipper is, the person is guaranteed to be under immense pressure to ensure that his standards (with bat or ball) are higher than usual.

We talk so much about Virat Kohli the captain’s results, but Virat Kohli the captain’s personal returns were outrageous. In 68 Tests as captain, he averaged 54.80, scoring 20 tons. He led from the front and set an example.

But not just Kohli, Test cricket, currently, has captains who inspire the team through their performances. Pat Cummins, Joe Root, Dean Elgar, Dimuth Karunaratne, Kane Williamson, to name a few, are not simply captains but close to being the best players in the respective sides, if not comfortably the best.

Results, without a doubt, are primary, but the last thing a newly-appointed skipper needs is to underperform on a personal front, or be unsure about his place in the starting lineup. 

In a country like India where there are dozens of players constantly knocking on the door, it might not take long for your place to be questioned or come under jeopardy if you’re not living up to expected standards.

Carry forward Kohli’s legacy of being a great ambassador for the format

The world might have varying opinions on Kohli the character, but one thing that’s been unanimously acknowledged by everyone is just how good an ambassador he was for the Test format. Kohli constantly put the format over, spoke about its importance and made five-day matches feel important and special. Former Australian skipper Ian Chappell, last year, even said that Kohli needed to be appointed the official spokesperson for the format.

Kohli even reignited Indian fans’ love and enthusiasm for the format. Not too long ago, Indian fans dreaded the thought of the team playing in whites, especially away from home. That is no longer the case. No person is lying when they say that Adelaide 2014 was a turning point for them even as a fan.

The challenge for the new Test skipper will be to ensure that he carries forward this legacy left by Kohli and continue to put Test cricket over like it's the pinnacle. The new captain’s words, granted, might not have the same impact as Kohli’s, but there is nothing stopping the individual from keeping the same enthusiasm going amongst the fans. 

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