India may be Number One in Tests, but let’s not celebrate Virat’s captaincy just yet
In the end, it was all too easy. Almost predictably boring. As Ravichandran Ashwin ended Trent Boult’s 27-ball vigil in the third and final Test match with an easy caught-and-bowled, the Indian team finally perched themselves firmly at the top of the Test rankings. And at the centre of it all was the new Prince of Indian Cricket.
Virat Kohli – World-class batsman.
Virat Kohli – Master entertainer.
Virat Kohli – A passionate cricketer who gives the game everything he has.
Virat Kohli – Great Test captain? I’m not so sure about that. At least not at the moment.
Going beyond the statistics
Don’t get me wrong. This is no reflection on his ability or talent; it’s just that he simply hasn’t been challenged yet. And, let’s be perfectly honest, Lady Luck has been smiling upon him ever since he was given the mantle of leading the Test side.
Let’s take a quick glance at his statistics as captain. He’s been at the helm since 6th January 2015, starting off with a draw against Australia in Australia.
Since then, he’s lost only one Test match (vs. Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka) and has won all four series he’s led India (we won’t count the one-off Test in Bangladesh), including overseas tours at Sri Lanka and West Indies, one home series against South Africa and, of course, the latest series against New Zealand.
With a record like that, one would believe that he has been more than a competent leader and there should be no questioning his capability as a captain. But in some cases, statistics tend to be misleading without the right context.
Let’s consider a few factors that have assisted Virat since he was appointed as the rightful heir to MS Dhoni.
Weakened opposition (well, of course!)
Yes, this one is the most obvious and self-explanatory. Until we make our mark on the fiery pitches of New Zealand, England, South Africa and Australia, the Number 1 ranking means little more than a temporary title for bragging rights.
While there’s no doubt that India has been dominating Tests over the last year or so, we have to take into account the strength of the sides we have competed against.
Sri Lanka – Even the most devout Indian fan would agree that the Sri Lankan Test side that we faced off against was easily one of the weakest teams they’ve fielded in a long, long time. Barring an ageing Sangakkara and Herath and the explosive Mathews and Chandimal, there was literally no other player that was a threat. In fact, the one loss India faced was an aberration, and came as a shock.
West Indies – I can’t remember the last time the West Indies were worthy challengers in Test cricket. Sure, they have the best T20 players in the world, but all that talent comes to naught in Tests, due to lack of play time, internal politics and overall dissatisfaction of the players. Let’s be honest, the result was a foregone conclusion even before India landed on their shores.
South Africa and New Zealand – Two teams, similar weaknesses. India’s strength at home has only grown over the years, and when two countries who have limited experience playing spin are made to face some of the best spinners in the world in hostile conditions…it’s all too obvious where this is going.
Both teams looked rather listless as Ashwin and Co. predictably spun a web around even the best opposition batsmen, while the Indian batsmen plundered runs like they were going out of style. To put it bluntly, India dominated both sides and, at times, made them look like amateurs. Which brings us to the second point.
The best Indian Test squad since, well, forever.
Take a look at that team! It almost makes me swell up with pride. If you include Jadeja, we have nine proper batsmen who can perform on any given day. Well, eight batsmen and Rohit Sharma (I only joke!)
But on a serious note, the last time I remember a team batting so deep was the great Australian team of the early 2000s, which is saying something. Moreover, for the first time ever, we have four quality pacers (Shami, Bhuvi, Umesh and, yes, the much-derided Ishant), and easily the best spinners in the world.
To add to that, every player has chipped in equally (even Rohit!) and has eased the pressure off the others. I can’t remember the last time I saw such a balanced Indian squad (please correct me if I’m wrong.)
Even if you don’t consider Ashwin, whose current patch is a deep, deep shade of purple, the rest of the bowlers have been more than competent, playing the ideal foil to the off-spinner.
And who brought all these players into the team? No, it was not Virat Kohli. It was the man we all love and hate in equal measure – MS Dhoni.
While the squad may be performing well under Kohli, we cannot forget the contribution of Dhoni in setting it up for Kohli (which is something that Dhoni has never been given enough credit for). But it’s not just the players that determine the results on the pitch. It’s also the coach. Which brings us to the next point.
In what was probably the best decision by the BCCI since appointing Gary Kirsten, every Indian cricket fan rejoiced when Jumbo was announced as the head coach of the Indian cricket team. A legend in every sense of the word, Kumble’s experience and cool head has been the X-factor for the side, especially the bowling department (India’s Achilles’ heel), which is evident in the team’s performances.
Kumble’s calm demeanour perfectly balances out Virat’s passionate and fiery nature, and the former’s role in helping the Indian side attain top ranking cannot be understated.
I know I come off as harsh, but in no way am I belittling Kohli’s achievements. On the contrary, I think he has all the ingredients to be the greatest Indian captain and batsman (yes, even better than Sachin) of all time. It’s just that Indian fans tend to get ahead of themselves, which tends to add unnecessary pressure on the players.
So, let’s bask in the glory, let’s celebrate India’s ascent to the top and let’s dream to be better than we ever were. But for Virat’s sake, let’s not turn him into a legendary captain. Not yet, anyway. He has a long way to go. And he needs us to keep him grounded till he attains the level of greatness he truly deserves.