Barely 24 hours after Team India’s failure to conquer the Final Frontier, Virat Kohli relinquished his Test captaincy. The timing of the decision may have been shocking for many observers, and yet there was a sense of inevitability attached to it. ‘He who lives by the sword dies by the sword’ once again has been exemplified by Kohli’s seemingly sudden decision to walk away from India’s leadership in red-ball cricket. Of course, it is an emotional decision but at the same time, it’s a practical one as well. That may sound contradictory but that is how it is. It is indeed a bit of both. Emotional as well as practical.
One can always argue that Kohli could have waited for the tour to get over and then maybe could have discussed his future plan with the selectors and the BCCI since he already had indicated that he was keen to continue in Test format as well as the ODI. However, having lost the Test series, Kohli clearly knew that his days as captain were numbered. Kohli had taken on the BCCI President Sourav Ganguly publicly (though without naming him directly) and only a historic series win in South Africa could have provided him a lifeline. Once that option was no longer available, Kohli chose to go on his own terms – once bitten twice shy, as they say. He had taken such a decision earlier as well, in advance just before the T20 World Cup in UAE last year because he had realized that nothing short of World Cup trophy would have saved his job. He has done the same thing now with the Test format, the only difference is that he has taken this decision after the result of the series and went he perhaps knew what was coming.
Going by the reactions of the BCCI officials not everyone is too perturbed by this move. In fact, most of them are welcoming the decision! Every captain has a shelf life and after a long stint of seven years, perhaps it is not a bad time to move on. Remember, neither Sourav Ganguly nor MS Dhoni-led for as many years despite being very successful captains themselves like Kohli has been. Since there aren’t too many challenging Test assignments in 2022, it is only fair that a new leader gets the opportunity against Sri Lanka at home to start with and then a solitary Test match abroad (England in July). India’s real Test challenge will only start from 2023 and it should provide the selectors enough time to groom a new Test leader. Moreover, Team India perhaps needs Virat the batsman more than the Virat the captain.
What will be the legacy of Kohli the Test captain? Definitely far richer than his white-ball leadership where he failed to win a single trophy. Statistically speaking, no Indian captain comes close to Kohli as far winning percentage in Test cricket is concerned but that would also be a flawed assessment. Yes, Kohli did win more Test matches than anyone else and his intent to win every time was perhaps an unmatched quality and of course his intensity was extraordinary. However, that alone is not enough to make you an all-time great captain. The fact is, for majority of his tenure Kohli was blessed to have an extraordinary pace attack at his disposal, yet he could just manage one series win in SENA countries. The first-ever series win in Australia (2019) is the only thing that Kohli can proudly boast of. Critics will always point out to his back-to-back to failures in South Africa and series loss in England (2018) and New Zealand (2020). Ultimately, modern Asian captains are judged on how their team fare in SENA countries. Sadly, Kohli also faltered in the inaugural World Test Championship final as well.
One of the reasons that Kohli is not universally applauded as captain is lack of enough instances where his tactical moves can become part of the folklore. Ajinkya Rahane earned plaudits from the likes of Ian Chappell in Australia for his tactical moves. Naseer Hussain went on to suggest in his commentary that tactical inputs came from Rohit Sharma during the tour of England last year. And yet, no one ever belittled the immeasurable passion factor which makes Kohli a unique captain. The intensity and willingness to fight from the first ball of the day to the last ball with equal ferocity was staggering. Even the best of the bowlers do lose some intensity during the closing hours of the play and even the finest batters lose concentration after batting for a day; but Kohli the captain could never be seen as inactive at any point of the play. That will remain his enduring image and appeal.
The era of Kohli as captain is now over. What is next for Kohli the batsman? Can he rediscover his mojo which made him such an irresistible force in cricket? Like Sachin Tendulkar and Ganguly in past, can Kohli find a second wind as a batter after quitting the captaincy? Of course, it won’t be easy since circumstances and motivation is not the same for Kohli. However, one thing is certain that if Kohli can once again channelize his anger and frustration in his batting form, it will not only do him a whole lot of good, but Indian cricket will only get richer.