Virat Kohli relinquishing India’s T20 captaincy has been like a gong whose echoes have traveled far into the mountain peaks. And the reverberations haven’t died yet. More than the decision, it was the statements which promised otherwise, and consequently the contrasting opinions from people under the same umbrella, that have become the talk of the town.
Calls for Rohit Sharma, a five-time IPL champion with the Mumbai Indians (MI), to take over India’s captaincy in the shortest format have been doing the rounds for quite some time now. But a media report last week suggesting a similar move gave a voice to what Kohli and the Indian team like to term “outside noise”.
However, it was only a matter of time until the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) officials rubbished the news. Until Kohli himself put all the speculation to bed with a social media post at 5:53 pm on Thursday (September 16), confirming he will step down from the role after the forthcoming T20 World Cup 2021 starting October 17 in Oman and the UAE.
But instead of conducting a post-mortem of the move, people’s first reaction was to highlight the lack of communication in BCCI corridors. And that's what rankles former India wicketkeeper-batsman Deep Dasgupta.
“I don’t think there is any communication gap, I don’t know why we are going there. Why are we trying to prove that there is a communication gap, that X is wrong and Y is wrong? There is no wrong or right, we don’t live in a utopian world, you don’t have a manual, there is no hard-and-fast rule. These are situations which are fluid and you got to treat it as it is,” Dasgupta said in an exclusive interview with Sportskeeda.
Three days later, on the day IPL 2021 resumed after four-and-a-half months, Kohli decided to let go of the last bit of T20 leadership. If a new Indian T20I captain was a bitter pill to swallow, imagining Virat Kohli not leading the Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) was like being diagnosed with an incurable disease.
In a COVID-ravaged world of bio-bubbles coupled with cramped schedules, workload management needs to be a player's top priority. While Kohli has reasoned the same, the timing of his announcement has been put under the scanner.
It has come when he hasn’t scored an international hundred for 22 months; when the fifth India-England Test was controversially suspended, thus resulting in blamegames; when RCB haven’t won an IPL title in Kohli's nine years at the helm; and finally, with four ICC events lined up in the next two years.
“There are so much of assumptions, presumptions, trying to read between lines - we don’t know, we are not Virat. We don’t know what he is thinking. Someone like me, I don’t speculate. I’ll go by what Virat has said because I am not going to sit and speculate. I have read it and I am going to move on,” Dasgupta exhorted.
But the ex-Bengal skipper did concede that it would aid Virat Kohli in finding his batting mojo, now that he has two fewer events to strategize for.
“When Virat’s mentioned about workload, one of the reasons could have been the fact he wants to cut down on his other commitments. Because when you are the captain of India, there are a lot of commitments – both on and off the field, it’s a full-time job. So maybe he felt that it’s affecting his batting.
“But again going by his statement, I feel yeah, it was a decision to enhance the performance. And now that he’s going to let go of that, would help him bat more freely, with more freedom and fearlessness,” he elaborated.
Though he has not delivered a senior ICC trophy yet, Virat Kohli enjoys a superior win percentage than all previous Indian captains, across all formats. Notably, he is already the country’s most successful Test captain – not just in terms of the number of wins, but also by virtue of being Asia’s first captain to win a Test series in Australia and all but sealing India’s first series win in England since 2007.
Passing on the baton in white-ball formats
Indian cricket hasn’t quite been a fan of split captaincy.
Yes, MS Dhoni won the inaugural World T20 in 2007 in his maiden assignment as captain, while Anil Kumble was leading the Test setup. Seven years later, Dhoni himself decided to quit the longest format and handed over the reigns to Virat Kohli, while still being in charge of the ODI and T20I teams.
But Deep Dasgupta believes split captaincy works between white-ball and red-ball cricket rather than individual formats.
“That’s how split captaincy goes, it is white ball and red ball. Unless the plan is not to change at all – not even T20I captaincy – then it’s a different ball game altogether. But if you are looking to change in T20Is, then I think it’s fair – looking at the time span left before the World Cups,” Dasgupta, who played 8 Tests and 5 ODIs, remarked.
While Kohli's successor hasn't been announced yet, Rohit Sharma is tipped to take over from him. Dasgupta reasoned that the MI skipper should be placed at the helm of the ODI team, along with the T20I captaincy, to give him adequate time to get into the groove.
“I think if it has to happen, it has to happen. I don’t see any reason why not. Because he’s got two years, and because of the T20 World Cup, while we are playing a lot of T20Is, we might not be playing a lot of ODIs before the next T20 World Cup. So if that change has to be there or needs to be there, it has to happen at the same time.
“Because it’s only fair that he gets decent amount of time to build his own team. There’s a difference between a full-time captain and an interim one. So if somebody comes in as a full-time captain, it’s only fair that person is given some time to mould the team according to his way of captaincy, because every captain is different,” he explained.
But while both Dhoni and Kohli had time on their side when they were first appointed national captains, Rohit Sharma is already 34. Even if he is made the T20I captain, it won’t be a long run and someone from the next generation ought to be groomed during his tenure.
“You have KL, who is a go-to guy in white-ball cricket, and now he’s good enough to be an all-format player. We have someone like Rishabh, he is a wicketkeeper and someone who has what it takes to be a leader. Maybe Shreyas as well – obviously after he got injured and all that, we don’t know where he stands. It’s way too early for Shubman, he needs to establish himself, but he is somebody who comes across as a leader,” Dasgupta opined.
Well, given the trend of young guns shining as leaders in India’s premier T20 competition, it should come as no surprise if Virat Kohli is replaced by someone from the latest crop.
Virat Kohli's final hurrah
Click here for the T20 World Cup fixtures for all the individual teams.
MS Dhoni might never walk out to bat in the Indian jersey again, but there was unbridled joy among cricket lovers the world over when the 40-year-old was appointed India’s mentor for next month's showpiece event.
Deep Dasgupta hailed the move, saying the legendary captain’s tactical acumen will be of great help in the marquee event. He added that the dynamics of the thinktank would also remain the same since Dhoni played the role of an unofficial mentor in his final years as a player.
“I don’t think anyone understands this format better than MS himself. And that understanding will improve with time and maturity and experience. Maybe his actual prowess as a batter might have come down, but the brain has only got sharper. So when you have that resort available, then why not? And it’s not that it’s going to be something very different, because he was in that change-room as recent as 2019.
“And they were all part of the leadership group – MS Dhoni, Virat, Rohit, Ravi Shastri and all the others. So they know how to get things done, together. Those dynamics are still the same. Virat was the captain in 2019, MSD was a player but he was also looked upon as a mentor. In the last 2-3 years, Virat Kohli would be fielding in the deep and MS Dhoni would be running the show,” Deep Dasgupta told Sportskeeda.
India can now avail the services of MS Dhoni, the first T20 World Cup winning captain. And they also have at their disposal Virat Kohli - a batsman desperate to bounce back from a cornered position and a captain yearning for a fairytale ending to his T20 leadership.