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Emotionally charged Virat Kohli, a product of the times, chose courage to stand apart as India captain

Virat Kohli chose to walk away from Test captaincy role with dignity rather than be surprised by Board officials and selectors in the foreseeable future. After all, he is India’s most successful Test captain, having been at the helm of 40 victories. When you consider the fact that only five cricketers have led India in 40 or more Tests, the enormity of his captaincy will sink in.

Over the past seven years, Kohli has been the force driving the Indian team to produce such memorable results, making it believe that it could turn the tide and stun the opposition even when the chips were down. And, perhaps asked to march by a Board that tied both his boot laces together, he decided it would be better to focus on regaining his mojo with the bat.

Virat Kohli is India's most successful Test captain with the team winning 40 matches under his leadership. AFP

Virat Kohli is India’s most successful Test captain with the team winning 40 matches under his leadership. AFP

It is not often that Indian cricket has enjoyed the honour of having the best bat being installed as captain. That he did not let the responsibilities of captaincy affect his individual performances – at least until he fell to single-digit scores in eight of his 15 innings since scoring his last Test century in November 2019 – is reflected well by the stats.

He has scored more runs per innings and at a faster clip in the 68 Tests in which he has led the team than in the 31 earlier games. Even after scoring just three half-centuries in the last 15 innings, Kohli’s batting average has remained above 50 runs an innings and his strike-rate has been above 54.80 runs per 100 deliveries.

We will not know if a change in temperature in the dressing room in the past few weeks rearranged the team chemistry enough to make Kohli believe that it was no longer possible for him to give ‘120 per cent’ to the task of leading the team. No matter what the provocation or the stimulus was for him to decide he had enough of captaincy, he has been a fine skipper.

Clearly, while it may be true that a captain is only as good as his team, there can be no arguing Kohli played no mean role in laying down his vision and giving the players the right impetus to achieve those lofty goals. Even the players will acknowledge that they were the beneficiaries of his encouragement and appreciation.

He insisted on a supremely fit squad turning up at the park each time he led an XI. It was a non-negotiable in his term as captain. He could convey his intentions to the others while the respect he earned from all his teammates may not have matched his undeniable batting skills. It did not appear to matter too much to him so long as the team was delivering quality results.

While his captaincy has many qualities – and lacked some – there were two things about his captaincy that struck me as qualities that were his veritable trademarks. The first was his overt show of emotion and the other was his courage to stand apart. These combined to fuel his successful stint as the skipper of the Test team.

Quite obviously, coming in the wake of Mahendra Singh ‘Captain Cool’ Dhoni, Kohli was a stark contrast with his public display of emotion and aggression. Times without number, he teased the thin line between aggression and hostility on the field. And he chose not to reach for the ‘kill switch’ to regulate, if not entirely stop, his emotions from spilling over.

This adrenalin flow made him come across as a flawed leader to some, but he envisioned the way up for the Test side when he was thrust in the role of its captain quite suddenly in 2014. Of course, there were some troughs and bitter pills to swallow but his penchant to retain his own persona despite the many pulls and pressures led the team to the top of the ICC rankings.

Had he been schooled in diplomacy and learnt to please everyone, we may not have seen the Indian Test team pull off so many victories, especially overseas, or his premature exit from the hotseat after the defeat by South Africa in Cape Town. He has never shirked from taking ownership of the team’s failures.

Unlike Sourav Ganguly and Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who both enjoyed the uninhibited and unconditional backing of the Boardroom when Jagmohan Dalmiya and N Srinivasan controlled Indian cricket fortunes, Kohli may have had to deal with a less-than-friendly employer in the past few months.

Some may infer that Kohli’s decision to quit captaincy ahead of his 100th Test match is his way of getting even with selectors who chose to remove him from the leadership role in one-day internationals. But he is not the sort who will cut his nose to spite the face. He has decided to find comfort without the strains of captaincy that tend to bob up despite his successful stint.

These are strange times, not the least because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and yet everyone expected the best show of character from the Indian captain. He did not exactly endear himself to many who swore by good behaviour, but this sizable constituency of advocates of ideal conduct seem to ignore that Kohli is but a product of the times we live in.

Now that he no longer has to be concerned about the preparation and performance of 10 others in the XI, Kohli can finally go about finding a solution to the delivery wide outside the off-stump which has challenged him of late. And enjoy his tryst with the big score all over again. Kohli, him of the churning emotions, owes it to himself to continue courageously standing out.

G Rajaraman is a sports journalist with 38 years standing and prides himself as a student of sport.

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