Where Virat Kohli the captain needs to step up?
Kohli is not the best tactician on the field but has been getting better in that aspect.
Updated - Jan 4, 2020 10:08 pm
Champions Trophy 2017. World Cup 2019. Two big heart-breaks for Indian fans since Virat Kohli took over the charge of the Men in Blue. In his first stint as a skipper in an ICC tournament, India qualified for the finals and were high on confidence. All the enthusiasm of Indian fans was shattered as India’s arch-rivals Pakistan completely outplayed India. A forgettable day for the Indian team and the entire nation. Kohli was new to captaincy in the limited-overs cricket at the international stage and would have surely learnt a lesson or two and the preparations began for the World Cup 2019.
India were one of the hot favourites to win the World Cup trophy before the tournament. Team India lived up to the billing and dominated the group stages which saw the expectations of Indian fans rise, rightly so. However, the Kohli-led team lost to New Zealand in the semi-finals. India failed to chase a target of 240 runs, courtesy a top-order collapse and a fragile middle-order. India had middle-order issues before the big tournament and it haunted them in the knock-out game.
The Indian management had a time of about two years to build a rock-solid middle-order but they couldn’t. And, Kohli who is at the helm has to be held accountable for that. While Kohli the batsman is an all-time great, the same can’t be said about Kohli the captain. Kohli is aggressive, passionate, determined, and always charged up – be it batting or his captaincy. All these attributes are good, but he needs to be a bit smarter as far as captaincy is concerned. Whilst one may feel reaching final and semi-final is enough, India are blessed with the players to have a team, capable of winning trophies.
Team selection is the foremost step before playing a match. Every time an Indian squad is announced for any series or tournament, there are thousands of opinions from fans. It does not work from a fan’s perspective but India have failed to get their squad spot on more often than not. There is a dedicated selection committee to perform that job. However, team management along with the captain has a role to play in squad selection. And, they have complete authority to select the playing XI.
After the World Cup 2019, India have been needlessly playing Kedar Jadhav in One Day Internationals. Yes, needlessly – Jadhav is not the future and India need to groom youngsters. Let’s take a look at England. They seem to have discarded Liam Plunkett from their future plans. Yes, it is hard on players, but that’s how it goes. And, India do have a vast pool of young talent to look on the future.
India do not have a great team in the shortest format despite having IPL as their domestic T20 tournament. The Indian T20 team can be great but they need to make the right calls in the selections. India played Mohammed Shami in their T20 squad on the basis of form in Test cricket. Under the captaincy of Kohli, India have been mixing the formats and taking wrong selection calls. The Indian management has failed to assess the conditions well and field an XI accordingly.
One classic example of India’s inability to assess the conditions properly is also from World Cup 2019. Mohammed Shami was in red-hot form but did not play the semi-final against the Blackcaps. Shami is a seamer and the pitch suited the seam bowling on that day. The right-arm pacer had troubled the Kiwi batsmen in a bilateral series in the same year, earlier. India managed to pick up only one wicket in the powerplay while Shami could have done more damage in favourable conditions. On the other hand, New Zealand’s bowlers ran through India’s top order in similar conditions and had done incurable damage.
One of the reasons behind India not being able to solve most of the issues is not backing the players. Constant changing and chopping in the playing XI do not allow players to feel secure. Under the captaincy of Kohli in Test cricket, India did not field the same XI in two consecutive games for 38 matches (3 years and 216 days). A player assured about his place in the team is more likely to play for the sake of the team. While a player who is concerned about his place might put the team’s interest aside, and play to cement his place.
Kohli the captain is impatient and has been found of wanting to reap the positive results very early. Rishabh Pant was dropped in the Test series against South Africa in October this year. Pant’s form was questionable but he had a good record in the longest format before that series. He scored centuries in England and Australia – the only Indian wicketkeeper-batsman to do so. He simply deserved backing at that point of time.
Kohli hailed Wriddhiman Saha as the best wicketkeeper in the world, probably as a clarification for playing Saha ahead of Pant. Well, Saha was available during the Test series in the West Indies in August but India chose Pant. The 35-year-old would have been the best wicketkeeper in the Caribbean too but didn’t play. The form of Pant certainly had an effect and Kohli didn’t back the youngster. Saha was brilliant behind the wickets in India’s home season but scored just 74 runs in four innings.
There have been several incidents where Kohli did not back players. India have often dropped players after only a few failures under Kohli. He does the same in IPL when captains Royal Challengers Bangalore. Shimron Hetmyer, Shivam Dube and Washington Sundar were not backed enough in IPL 2019. Therefore, the Indian skipper needs to back players and give them more security.
When Kohli was made the captain of India’s Test team, he had an aim – to build a solid pace attack. During India’s tour to Australia in 2012, Kohli was impressed with the fitness of Australian players. In an interview with Times of India, Kohli revealed that he wanted to bring the same fitness culture in the Indian team. That’s clarity of thought. Now, India’s pace attack is arguably the best in the longest format, and the fitness culture deserves a lot of credit.
But Kohli lacked the same clarity while building India’s middle-order in ODIs. India tried more than a dozen players to solve their middle-order woes but they couldn’t. The Indian captain declared Ambati Rayudu as India’s #4 before the World Cup. However, Rayudu was dropped from the squad for the World Cup. The debate is not about whether the decision was correct or not. It’s about the clarity of thought.
After the slaughter of Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja in the Champion Trophy 2017 finals, Kohli wanted wrist spinners in India’s white-ball squad. The reason was simple: wrist spinners are more aggressive and are more capable of picking wickets on any given surface compared to finger spinners. It worked very well for India as the duo Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal broke the game for India in the middle overs more often than not.
However, now, Kohli has been focusing to have the luxury of the batting depth in the T20 team of India. But that compromises the wicket-taking options as India have not been playing Chahal and Kuldeep together now. The aggressive mindset of Kohli to pick up wickets in the middle overs is somewhere lost again. It highlights the lack of clarity of thought yet again. And, will India be able to utilise the batting depth properly?
Kohli is not the best tactician on the field either but has been getting better in that aspect. The selections, however, are not getting better and Kohli needs to work on that. A new selection committee will be appointed as the duration of MSK Prasad-led selection committee is over. The Indian fans will hope that the selection group appointed learns from the mistakes done previously and rectify them. It will be extremely unfortunate if this Indian team does not bag ICC trophies because of selection issues.