Why the Test Series Against Australia is the Most Important Series for Kohli’s Captaincy Legacy
Virat Kohli is the best batsman of the current generation, that also boasts of some extraordinary batsmen in Joe Root, Steve Smith, Kane Williamson and AB de Villiers. This debate probably has been settled, with Virat Kohli’s astounding batsmanship in the England series, where he emphatically buried the ghosts of 2014.
Even if he retires right now, as a batsman, he will be ranked among the very best of all time in all formats of the game. The fact that he still has at least 6 -7 years of top notch cricket in him points at a record-breaking spree of all kinds, as a batsman. If at all anyone is going to break Sachin Tendulkar’s seemingly unsurmountable batting records, it is this tenacious cricketer from Delhi.
As a batsman, Virat Kohli’s legacy is a settled matter. But what about his captaincy? It has often been noticed that historically the greatest players of their generations have rarely been great captains. Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara, two of the very best batsmen of all time, were abject failures as captains of their respective teams.
Neither Clive Lloyd of the all-conquering West Indies of the late seventies and eighties, nor Steve Waugh of the world-beating Australian side of the nineties, was the best batsman of their team. Though Ricky Ponting, the best batsman of his time, was quite a successful one, that was largely due to the squad that he had – especially having the luxury of having by his side the best spinner of all time in Shane Warne and one of the great fast bowlers of all time, Glen McGrath. He was never an astute tactician as a captain.
So, would Virat Kohli buck the trend and become a great captain, and not just a great batsman? Critics opine that much of his legacy as a Captain depends on how his team fares overseas. He has already got off to a poor start, with loses in both South Africa and England, even though his team did put on a fight, with the captain himself unsurprisingly at the forefront of the fight.
With those two away series losses, some of the sheen from his captaincy has already worn off. However, he has a golden chance to redeem his captaincy in the forthcoming Australia series. I would argue that a Test series victory in Australia is a much more momentous event than a victory in any other country.
India have won 4 test series in the West Indies, 3 times in England, twice in New Zealand. But they have never won a Test Series in Australia. Their best result so far has been a 1-1 draw in the 2003-04 series. India have never won in South Africa too, but then they have played very few test series there because of South Africa being barred from international cricket for a long time. But India have toured Australia many times, and have suffered humiliation after humiliation, time and time again. None of our great cricketers from previous generations have been part of a victorious Indian team to Australia – ever. Virat Kohli’s team has a golden chance to change all that.
In fact, everything points at India as the slight favourites to clinch the series, however incredulous that may sound for a team that has NEVER won a Test series in Australia. But the fact is this Indian side has a chance, a very good one at that. In Bumrah and Co, they have a pace battery that is inferior to none in the world. Despite the batting woes in overseas conditions, in Kohli, Pujara and Rahane they have three of the best Test batsmen in the world, whereas Australia is without its two best batsmen in Smith and Warner.
But cricket is not played on paper. History will weigh heavily on the shoulders of Kohli, whether he admits it or not. There is little doubt that Kohli, the batsman will be up for challenge. But it’s Kohli, the Captain who will need to reinvent himself. He will need to understand that others do not possess the same amount of skills that he has. He needs to inspire his team to perform, and not make them feel burdened by his own expectations. If he can do that, he can come back from Australia as the first Victorious Indian captain – his legacy sealed for ever as one of the greatest Captains of India. But if he misses this opportunity of a life time to win in Australia, it would be time to give the reigns to someone else.