Editorial: When strength is a weakness

Resignations are rarely what they are dressed up to be. And this cannot be truer of Virat Kohli’s sudden decision to step down as the captain of India’s Test cricket team.
Editorial: When strength is a weakness
Virat Kohli

New Delhi

Resignations are rarely what they are dressed up to be. And this cannot be truer of Virat Kohli’s sudden decision to step down as the captain of India’s Test cricket team. The less-than-pleasant circumstances that preceded his announcement, before India’s loss to South Africa in the 3-match Test series, suggest he was increasingly forced into a corner by an overbearing BCCI. When he resigned as T-20 cricket captain after the ICC World Cup, it was clear that the decision was related to issues such as the appointment of a mentor (MS Dhoni) and the impending change in the cricket team’s coach (from Ravi Shastri to Rahul Dravid).
While it is the BCCI’s prerogative to ring in changes, the chain of further events raised the question – was the most powerful organising body in world cricket trying to cut Virat Kohli down to size? For instance, there has been no satisfactory explanation why the BCCI decided to drop him as the ODI captain, a job he had not resigned from. The official justification is that it wanted one captain for white ball cricket. It would have been a reasonable explanation had the BCCI decided to inform Kohli of this as soon as he quit as T-20 captain instead of springing this on him as a cruel surprise later. But this is a body that has had a history of reshuffling captains in the most graceless and opaque ways.
As a captain, Kohli had his faults. He was blunt, sometimes to a degree that could offend both officials and teammates. On the counts of overall popularity and acceptability, he was never – and this is to wildly understate the point – top of the pops. But there is no doubting that he invigorated Indian cricket, infusing it with a sense of aggressive and passionate urgency, a will to win at any cost. His record as the Test captain, with victories in 40 out of 68 Tests, is easily the best so far. A good deal of this was achieved by his willingness to allow members of the team the latitude to flourish, even if that meant a spell of experimentation. The growth of Rishabh Pant is just one example. But it was the pack of medium-fast bowlers that came to life under his leadership, delivering India crucial victories.
His successor has not been formally named, but it seems almost certain that it is going to be Rohit Sharma, Kohli’s deputy. Sharma is not a bad tactician, but he has big shoes to fill. It remains to be seen whether India retains that aggressive hunger to win that it exhibited under Kohli’s leadership. Of course, victories can be achieved through less flamboyant ways as well. New Zealand has shown this time and again, and so did South Africa recently in their win against India. Different captains have different characters and often it is the attitude at the top that shapes that of the team, and Sharma, or whoever else is chosen, needs to be allowed to reign in their own way. But having said this, the BCCI needs to introspect the manner in which it dealt with Kohli. All in all, he seemed punished because he was strong, forthright, and unwilling to compromise. In a captain, these are not bad attributes when they are coupled with a Test record that is unmatched in the history of the Indian game.

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