How he develops from this series will greatly impact the way he is judged as a leader.
There has now been a lot of criticism, from Geoffrey Boycott’s allegations of complacency and pride to former India captains’ rage at the team’s assumed failure to train hard barely. Virat Kohli will have supposed some of it but that will not make it any easier to take. India’s loss at Lord’s was Kohli’s 1st innings defeat as captain. Situations are hard, his batsmen are out of sorts, and there are still three Tests left. Keeping team confidence high cannot be a simple task.
Virat Kohli will have realised in January that this year was going to be his hardest yet as a leader, with tours of South Africa, England and Australia to deal with. Before 2018, his only full Test series as captain outside India was in the West Indies. He now finds himself embattled and under stress; how Kohli develops from this series will greatly influence how he is judged as a captain in the years ahead.
Virat Kohli’s batting has not been in the issue: as a captain, he averages 65, as opposed to the 41 he does differently. What has come under analysis, however, is his leadership. Kohli’s team selection has been at times puzzling.
In South Africa, India chose Rohit Sharma before of Ajinkya Rahane for the first two Tests and dropped Bhuvneshwar Kumar for the second when he had exceeded in the first.
“Overseas, you go on contemporary form, you go on conditions. You see which player can accommodate to certain conditions quicker than the other,” head trainer Ravi Shastri had said in Johannesburg.
Virat Kohli himself had raged at any criticism of his selections. “What’s the best XI? You tell me and I will play that,” he told a reporter during a press interview in Centurion.
Before of the first Test in Birmingham, Virat Kohli conversed about going by his ‘gut feel’ to make decisions. “It all boils down to your gut feeling. If five people on the table agree that this is the right duty to do for the team, then we go forward with that, there are no ifs and no buts. There’s no looking back,” he said.
Cheteshwar Pujara was dropped from the side, with Shikhar Dhawan preferred as an opener while K.L. Rahul batted at three.
“You can have gut feelings of all sorts and you can be completely right or wrong,” Mike Brearley said at Edgbaston. “So the gut feeling is neither here nor there.”
At Lord’s, India fielded a second spinner in Kuldeep Yadav, while sacrificing a frontline pace bowler against Umesh Yadav.
There had been the talk of the surface being dry in the lead-up to the game but as he walked out for the toss on the second morning, with all the rain around and the dark clouds overhead, Kohli should have reconsidered choosing the left-arm spinner. It was a move that challenged logic.
Kuldeep finished, having gone at nearly five an over. R. Ashwin too had a hard time, in conditions that gave him no help. England’s one spinner, Adil Rashid, was not needed to bowl a single over in the whole match.
At least this time, Virat Kohli told he was wrong, saying at the presentation that India got the combination “a bit off”. There will always be changes for Trent Bridge and it will again be put to the captain — much to his trouble — that over the 37 Tests he has led the side in, the same 11 has never been fielded in consecutive matches.
It certainly cannot help the morale of batsmen like K.L. Rahul, Rahane and Pujara to know that their point is perennially under threat.
Virat Kohli is arguably the excellent batsman in the world today. Whether he will come to be viewed as a great captain too persists to be seen.