At exactly 17:53 hours on Thursday, Virat Kohli finally quashed all rumours with a post across his social media channels. Written in black across a coarse light grey background was – among many other words – the following fateful statement: “I have decided to step down as the T20 captain after this T20 World Cup in Dubai in October.”
And so there it was. Like his predecessor at the helm, MS Dhoni, the number 18 broke perhaps the biggest recent news in Indian cricket through posts across his social media handles. There were rumours over the past week that captain Kohli was contemplating this decision, which was then refuted by BCCI officials. Perhaps all parties knew of the eventuality, but sensitive news of this ilk should always be announced by the person himself.
The news thus, now officially public, has thrown up multiple questions and possibilities. While it may seem sudden, major decisions like these are mulled over time and the stakeholders of Indian cricket must have already predisposed a roadmap for the future. Till that roadmap is communicated through words or actions, there are certain unspoken or possible realities that must be explored and spoken about that may have led to this decision of Kohli.
Virat Kohli’s batting form
Kohli is unarguably the premier batsman of our generation. Irrespective of how the last couple of years have shaped, there is little debating that the career statistics and achievements of Kohli shines brighter than some of the greatest of the game ever. And that will always be the legacy of Virat Kohli. No matter how one perceives his persona or his leadership to be, Kohli is already among the cream of the crop.
However, and perhaps as a consequence of this lofty standard, the bar for him is unfairly high. Kohli is always compared to Kohli himself and no other. It is the curse that every magnum opus carries, across sport. Look at Mike Tyson, Michael Jordan, Michael Schumacher, Diego Maradona, Usain Bolt or any other you can think of. Virat Kohli rests in that category and that is why his performances in the last two years have been so glaringly brought to light.
Some scrutiny has even marked his performances as failure and the quiet whispers have grown into loud shouts with every passing innings without a century. It is strange to imagine a man with 70 international centuries – read that again, 70 international centuries – will be under pressure due to outside noise. However, the truth is, elite sport waits for no mortal. It travels with a furious pace and those who blink, they are cast aside. It is rude, but that is the only truth.
And so, to manage workload or to manage his batting form and refresh his mind, the skill that made Virat Kohli everything he is as a cricketer, will now need to be worked on to stay in that proverbial breakneck paced race.
Rohit Sharma and IPL success
A question often thrown as counter argument to potential replacement is – who then? The availability of a ready replacement who is not a downgrade in quality is a key aspect in stepping down. In this regard, the presence of Rohit Sharma has definitely made the decision of Virat Kohli and those accepting or instigation (if any) the same much easier.
Kohli’s T20 deputy is a five-time IPL champion as captain. That is two more than MS Dhoni, India’s three-time ICC trophy winning skipper. And IPL is perhaps the top T20 tournament in the format bar the T20 World Cup. The pressures and expectations in this tournament are no less than any international assignment. The money and eyeballs are perhaps greater than any other tournament in the world. And to have someone who has won this tournament as a captain has to be a major contributing factor in such a decision.
There is also a suggestion that the very presence of Rohit Sharma may have caused discussion regarding Indian captaincy even before Kohli thought of stepping down. Whoever initiated this eventuality, the truth is that the availability of the Mumbai Indians skipper has surely made the decision of Kohli easier.
Kohli and some glaring faults
Kohli has been the unquestionable superman of Indian cricket. The ultimate alpha male. There was no person at his level in terms of power, performance or say in Indian cricket when he took over captaincy in all formats. He was king of all he surveyed.
Cricket teams are anyway run by captains, but the extent of his influence was in full display during the Anil Kumble saga. This was a time when the BCCI was not as powerful or functional it is now because the Supreme Court recommended Lodha reforms was still to be put into effect.
This publicly played out saga coincided with the ICC Champions Trophy which India lost owing to a collapse in the final against Pakistan. And that was the beginning of many collapses for India in important games. ICC World Cup 2019 semi final, ICC World Test Championship final and thrice against New Zealand in the lead up to the former.
India also needed a number four batsman heading into the 2019 tournament and Kohli had two years to groom someone but was unable to give anyone a decent enough run to seal that slot. For all the wonderful traits he has brought into the team with his fitness standards and creating a fast bowling pack of world class athletes for the first time in Indian cricket history, his handling of batsmen has been a glaring fault.
And perhaps the first sign of change was the appointment of MS Dhoni as mentor for the upcoming T20 World Cup. Eventually, one must realise that people only fix what they perceive to be broken. So perhaps someone in the BCCI realised the need of another senior figure, who captained Kohli and someone Kohli respects as a leader, in that dressing room.
Call it what you may…
Kohli, leadership and inevitability of time
Every cricket fan in India is a cricket expert and all of them have strong opinions. These things never really matter as much to cricketers when things go smoothly but as a crack appears, the head that wears the crown grows uneasy. It is not just a saying, but also a reality. This has happened with everyone. The passing of time accompanies with it the winds of change, and there is only as much any mortal can do to tackle it.
Batting form, inability to get across the line in big games or Rohit Sharma, whatever be the reason, there is no doubting that everyone enjoys a phase. That is only temporary. Much like everything else in life, leadership also comes with a shelf life. That is represented by a mound-like curve with a peak, following which ideas begin to dwindle and the hairs begin to grey all too quickly.
Kohli is not the first and he will not be the last to quit captaincy. He is perhaps among the few who did it in his own time and on his own accord. At least largely. The soon to be former T20 captain has asserted in his recent past that there is more to life than cricket and he is slowly beginning to head into living it.
Kohli, today, has a family of his own and is no more than young man who took over leadership. Obsession, we know, is a young man’s game and perhaps the venerable in Kohli convinced the youth that you either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.
And so, as we head into the T20 World Cup via the IPL, it gives us an opportunity to reminisce Kohli as captain, across formats, and albeit he will still lead in two of them, it can be safely said if India’s number 18 called it quits tomorrow, he would still be remembered as one of the undisputed bests – player and captain.
Last Dance part 1 then. Captain Kohli, unfurl yourself and lap it up!