World Cup 2019: An evaluation of Virat Kohli's World Cup captaincy debut
We have now reached that point in Virat Kohli's career where his absolute paramountcy as a batsman of the present era has surpassed just general consensus and is beginning to resemble the unanimous mythification reserved for the pantheon of the game's true greats, such as his predecessor Sachin Tendulkar.
However, unlike the Master Blaster, Kohli is looking to seek canonization in Indian cricket on another front: for his captaincy.
Kohli has had a decent record as captain so far and going purely by the numbers, he is a better captain than both Dhoni and Ganguly, the predecessors that effectively act as his benchmark.
His Test captaincy has already given as good a yield if not better, than that of Dhoni. An overseas Test series victory Down Under is the highlight of a captaincy tenure spanning 46 Tests out of which he has overseen 26 wins, a far better win-draw-loss ratio than his predecessors.
However, his captaincy will never truly be compared with Ganguly's considering the stark difference in the two eras, and while he will in all probability end up as the statistically better captain than Dhoni, he will never be able to claim the tag of being India's best captain with Dhoni having marshaled the team to each of the three major honors in One-Day cricket: the two World Cups and the Champions Trophy.
This World Cup, therefore, is Kohli's acid test as a captain. After the failure in the final of the Champions Trophy against bitter rivals Pakistan, Kohli will need no less than the cup returning to India to even begin making the claim to the status of the best Indian skipper.
And his World Cup debut as a captain could not have gotten off to a better start with India securing a clinical win in their very first game against one of the tournament's big-names: South Africa. Here are some of his impactful decisions from today's game:
Kohli's playing XI had one interesting feature and a more curious omission. Going with two wrist spinners seemed a tad controversial as noted by several pundits, who seemed to favor the inclusion of Shami as a third seamer, or at any rate, as the new ball partner to Bumrah.
However, Kohli kept in mind the good form Bhuvneshwar Kumar had displayed against the Proteas on India's tour to South Africa over a year ago.
Kuldeep Yadav's inclusion too caused an eyebrow or two to be displaced. However, considering the left-hand heavy middle order of the opposition, the inclusion of Kuldeep's left arm wrist spin made more sense, and the two wrist spinners emerged the game changers in the middle phase of the South African innings.
Bowling changes in the middle overs
After a dream start set up by Bumrah's magical opening spell, the Proteas regrouped and got to 78/2. However, the introduction of Chahal just as the two batsmen were settling in rocked them back to the back foot.
Following this, Kohli quickly brought in Kuldeep for a second time after a short disappointing first spell, to bowl to the two left-handed batsmen, yielding the scalp of JP Duminy.
After this second shower of wickets, Kohli brought on his part-timer Kedhar Jadhav and bowled him in tandem with his two strike pacers in Kumar and Bumrah.
This ensured that the partnership could not get off to a good start and the part-timer's overs could be snuck in quickly while the threat of wicket-taking still loomed.
The period between overs 27 and 35 yielded only 24 runs. This built up the pressure and led to Chahal getting two more quick wickets once he was brought back in.
3 overs each for the two pacers were reserved for the death, and they repaid him by conceding only 37 in the last 6 overs despite a set partnership in place.
Kohli is known to have an attacking and positive mindset in his approach to the game, and it has never been a secret that this rubs off massively on his captaincy.
It showed again in an inspired move today when, noticing the rippers that Bumrah was sending past the South African openers, Kohli brought himself into the slip cauldron in third slip and almost immediately got the reward when De Kock reached for a wider one and found the hands of the Indian skipper who safely pouched Bumrah's second scalp.
In addition to this, Kohli also seemed to have a wily system of substitutions in place, with the best fielders in the side, Rahul, Shankar and of course Jadeja, coming on at various junctures in the innings and providing fielding reinforcements to what is in any case one of the better fielding sides of the tournament.
Having Dhoni's experience and wisdom at the center of the wicket also allows Kohli to place himself in the more crucial catch-yielding regions of the field away from the bowler, and this bore fruit when Chris Morris holed out to him at long on in the death overs.
All in all, it has been a tidy and mature outing as skipper for Kohli on his World Cup debut meriting not much criticism and a whole lot of cautious praise.
It's one W done, and Kohli knows more than anyone the importance of taking it one day at a time, but an Indian fan cannot but help think of the day when he might lift the coveted World Cup trophy for India.
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