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Virat Kohli: The Captaincy Breakdown

ankitj

Hall of Fame Member
Time calls on every captain, no matter how successful, no matter how much of a superstar and no matter how many instagram followers one may have, time remains undefeated. For Virat Kohli it has been 2599 days of captaincy, 7 + years, 68 test matches, that is a lot of time. During that near decade, the Indian team has been surrounded by myth and legend, by hyperbole, courted and despised in equal measure by their captain, so it is about time we break through the hyperbole and take a dive into just how good of a captain Virat Kohli truly was.

First off, let's look at Kohli the batsman in that time period - 68 matches, averaging 54 with 20 centuries and 18 half centuries, with a high score of 254*. These are not just great numbers, these are career high numbers. Kohli batted at his absolute peak as a captain, playing some of the best test innings of the 2010s. Who can forget his back-to-back test hundreds while debuting as captain. Apart from the contribution of Murali Vijay, Kohli was the lone ranger against a Nathan Lyon who was bowling absolute cobras on a dusty Adelaide pitch. It was a sign of things to come. There was the exceptional half century in the first innings of the final test of the 2018 tour of South Africa, just enough to keep India in the game, a match they would go on to win. This was the culmination of a series of centuries and double centuries against England, New Zealand and the West Indies in the years prior. Kohli did not just get big runs but crucial runs (an accusation often labeled against Tendulkar was that he got "soft" runs). There were serious discussions on whether or not Kohli was the greatest ever Indian batsman.

All this, and Kohli also captained India in 145 limited overs games, averaging a whopping 73 in ODIs and striking at almost a 100. Whatever the debate may have been about test cricket, Kohli was certainly being labeled as the greatest ever limited overs batsman, and why not? He had all the batting shots one could dream of. This however, is where the first albatross can be found - not a single ICC tournament trophy under the Kohli reign. During this time, India was consistently regarded as the best limited overs team on the planet, often discussed as the best ever, with a heavyweight batting unit and a smart, ever improving bowling unit, bolstered for the first time ever with a spearheading quick. Yet, time and time again they faltered, first in the Asia Cup, then in the Champion's Trophy with a humiliating and record setting defeat in the final and ultimately in the 50 over Cricket World Cup and the later T20 edition.

There were suggestions that Kohli's aggressive on field persona was not backed up behind the scenes and that if a team got a hold of the game, it was difficult for him and by extension his players to get back in the game. Accusations of arrogance and ineptitude were made often, those same accusations which has been pointed at Dhoni's increasingly defensive ODI captaincy, something which Kohli clearly adopted. At times he looked clueless captaining in crunch tournament games. That never really changed. Of course, wins and losses are never solely down to the captain but he is a barometer of what is happening on the field and Kohli cut an erratic figure, unsure of who he was, prominent macho man or meek, hugging smiling, loser.

The same could be said of Kohli the test captain, yet he was buoyed by winning more often than not, including two wins down under (the second id not have Kohli as captain or player, but he was largely the team he had built) and an almost test win in England. These have often been regarded as the barometer for Indian greatness, and obviously Kohli scores highly here. It is important to note the quality of opposition however, and against a slightly better than current England side, India lost emphatically once before under Kohli, ditto Australia. There is also the New Zealand series to contend with and ultimately the meek succumbing in the WTC final. India was said to have the better team, stands outs who were all time greats yet they lost when it mattered most...again.

The numbers are also intriguing, Kohli has captained in 68 test matches and yet only 16 of those have resulted in away wins...yes, including Asia. Minus the lower ranked test sides of SL and WI, and the wins drop to a measely 7 test matches and one away test win (Australia 2018). This however hsould not discount fortress India, which had been breached by England under Dhoni's watch, had yet to be breached under Kohli's guard. India became, under his astute understanding of the Indian game and pitches, an unstoppable team at home, one of the best ever home sides but there's a reason even the Indian fandom promotes away test victories, because they matter that much more. It is what made Lloyd, Khan and Waugh so special. Kohli it seems is a captain bred for the modern internet age, all numbers but the sunbstance does not always match.

Kohli has been a great batsman, maybe he will again but he was not a great captain. A very good one, top three or five in India's pantheon but not as ground breaking as say, a Ganguly. He falls far short of the standards set by Lloyd, Khan, Jardine, Waugh or Smith. Kohli's own legacy of building a brash, aggressive team has not settled well, when that brashness turns to indignation at every lost opportunity. It's like the Mourinho syndrome, and much like that other stalwart of different game, Kohli was never quite there.
ok
 

subshakerz

International Regular
Yup, Kohli was a good captain but wouldnt call him a great one.

Bringing up number of victories, etc in judging a captain is irrelevant. Ranatunga and Fleming were excellent captains without stellar records.
 

cricketsavant

U19 12th Man
9 of them against SL and WI though

It's not ATG buy an stretch but not that bad either. Plenty of captains with worse.

Steve Smith had 5 away Test wins as captain out of 14 (1 v Bangladesh)
Kane Williamson has won just 3 games as captain away out of 12 and all v minnows (2 x Zim,1 x SL)

unless I'm statsguruing wrong KW hasn't won a single away Test as captain against a top 6 side
Exactly the point any sane person who understands English would recognise in my post. Btw, I don't think Steve S. nor Williamson are ATG captains, although historically, Williamson is a great NZ captain, in particular for masterminding the WTC win and almost a CWC win.
 

cricketsavant

U19 12th Man
Yup, Kohli was a good captain but wouldnt call him a great one.

Bringing up number of victories, etc in judging a captain is irrelevant. Ranatunga and Fleming were excellent captains without stellar records.
I agree! But I only used the number victories/losses as part of my argument because it would be nonsensical for me to label Kohli a good captain and not the greatest because his stats are nearing greatest levels BUT stats with context and we see that he did not win crunch moments, so I repeat, lack of WTC final win and a pretty poor 4th innings where India succumbed without a fight, beaten by NZ in the CWC 2019, an uninspired and meek final in CT 2017, an uninspired team in Asia Cup 2014 and possibly an even worse World T20. Also, India's greatest test victory, imo of the last half a decade or so is down under in 2018 and Kohli wasn't even captain for part of tha tseries, but he deserves certain levels of credit for winning part of the series.

That's a wealth of arguments for Kohli being just a step below the absolute best captains. I guess Indian fans (it's been the same here for years, it's teh same toxicity on other internet forums, i'm sure you've heard of a famous Pakistani forum with lots of Indian trolls on there) only want to hear "ALL TING INDIA NUMBER WAN YAAR".
 
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cricketsavant

U19 12th Man
Here's something better - the supposed special Captain Khan (presumably Imran Khan) who Kohli was unfortunately not able to match has a grand total of 5 away test victories, 1 of them being against SL.
Well, let's look at those numbers.

Imran Khan captained in 26 away tests, Virat Kohli in 36.

Kohli's away wins, 7 of which came against the top opposition, only resulted in one test series win (Aus, obviously the Eng series is currently in dispute).

Imran's minimal test wins actually came in series win in England, series win in India and draw in the Windies which most observers believe should have been a series victory for Pakistan if not for awful officiating. In the modern era it likely would have been a win. That too against an all time great team. Remember, all this in an era of a lot of drawn tests, which is not the case now.

But you should know, and you do (if we were discussing anything other than India you'd be all over it)that captaincy is more than just numbers. Imran built a team which could win a World Cup and compete in the semis and the final of the next two tournaments. He left a legacy that defined international cricket, primarily improved fitness and neutral umpires. Khan was seen as a leader of the highest esteem, Kohli is seen as a jumping jack in the box who whinges about DRS.
 

srbhkshk

International Vice-Captain
Well, let's look at those numbers.

Imran Khan captained in 26 away tests, Virat Kohli in 36.

Kohli's away wins, 7 of which came against the top opposition, only resulted in one test series win (Aus, obviously the Eng series is currently in dispute).

Imran's minimal test wins actually came in series win in England, series win in India and draw in the Windies which most observers believe should have been a series victory for Pakistan if not for awful officiating. In the modern era it likely would have been a win. That too against an all time great team. Remember, all this in an era of a lot of drawn tests, which is not the case now.

But you should know, and you do (if we were discussing anything other than India you'd be all over it)that captaincy is more than just numbers. Imran built a team which could win a World Cup and compete in the semis and the final of the next two tournaments. He left a legacy that defined international cricket, primarily improved fitness and neutral umpires. Khan was seen as a leader of the highest esteem, Kohli is seen as a jumping jack in the box who whinges about DRS.
ok
 

h_hurricane

International Regular
Well, let's look at those numbers.

Imran Khan captained in 26 away tests, Virat Kohli in 36.

Kohli's away wins, 7 of which came against the top opposition, only resulted in one test series win (Aus, obviously the Eng series is currently in dispute).

Imran's minimal test wins actually came in series win in England, series win in India and draw in the Windies which most observers believe should have been a series victory for Pakistan if not for awful officiating. In the modern era it likely would have been a win. That too against an all time great team. Remember, all this in an era of a lot of drawn tests, which is not the case now.

But you should know, and you do (if we were discussing anything other than India you'd be all over it)that captaincy is more than just numbers. Imran built a team which could win a World Cup and compete in the semis and the final of the next two tournaments. He left a legacy that defined international cricket, primarily improved fitness and neutral umpires. Khan was seen as a leader of the highest esteem, Kohli is seen as a jumping jack in the box who whinges about DRS.
Since you are getting down to individual tests and series, it is worthwhile to look at the test which Imran won in WI. Viv and Marshall, only true ATGs at that time in the team were missing. Ambrose was a greenhorn, and it wasn't until the following season that he went on to become the Ambrose we all know. Greenidge was past it at that stage as well. So it was several steps down the team that you think you are talking about.

Which were the other Imran victories abroad ? Piss poor SL(1), mediocre England(2), mediocre India missing a single world class spinner at home(1). That's it ?
 

srbhkshk

International Vice-Captain
Since you are getting down to individual tests and series, it is worthwhile to look at the test which Imran won in WI. Viv and Marshall, only true ATGs at that time in the team were missing. Ambrose was a greenhorn, and it wasn't until the following season that he went on to become the Ambrose we all know. Greenidge was past it at that stage as well. So it was several steps down the team that you think you are talking about.

Which were the other Imran victories abroad ? Piss poor SL(1), mediocre England(2), mediocre India missing a single world class spinner at home(1). That's it ?

troll.png
 

TheJediBrah

Cricket Web: All-Time Legend
For KW though, he does have 2 victories against Pak in UAE and 1 against India in England and at least the former 2 should count as away for all practical purposes.
Yeah true, the game against India definitely doesn't count though. Might as well have been a home game
 

Xix2565

State Vice-Captain
I agree! But I only used the number victories/losses as part of my argument because it would be nonsensical for me to label Kohli a good captain and not the greatest because his stats are nearing greatest levels BUT stats with context and we see that he did not win crunch moments, so I repeat, lack of WTC final win and a pretty poor 4th innings where India succumbed without a fight, beaten by NZ in the CWC 2019, an uninspired and meek final in CT 2017, an uninspired team in Asia Cup 2014 and possibly an even worse World T20. Also, India's greatest test victory, imo of the last half a decade or so is down under in 2018 and Kohli wasn't even captain for part of tha tseries, but he deserves certain levels of credit for winning part of the series.

That's a wealth of arguments for Kohli being just a step below the absolute best captains. I guess Indian fans (it's been the same here for years, it's teh same toxicity on other internet forums, i'm sure you've heard of a famous Pakistani forum with lots of Indian trolls on there) only want to hear "ALL TING INDIA NUMBER WAN YAAR".
Well, let's look at those numbers.

Imran Khan captained in 26 away tests, Virat Kohli in 36.

Kohli's away wins, 7 of which came against the top opposition, only resulted in one test series win (Aus, obviously the Eng series is currently in dispute).

Imran's minimal test wins actually came in series win in England, series win in India and draw in the Windies which most observers believe should have been a series victory for Pakistan if not for awful officiating. In the modern era it likely would have been a win. That too against an all time great team. Remember, all this in an era of a lot of drawn tests, which is not the case now.

But you should know, and you do (if we were discussing anything other than India you'd be all over it)that captaincy is more than just numbers. Imran built a team which could win a World Cup and compete in the semis and the final of the next two tournaments. He left a legacy that defined international cricket, primarily improved fitness and neutral umpires. Khan was seen as a leader of the highest esteem, Kohli is seen as a jumping jack in the box who whinges about DRS.
So again, where's the actual breakdown? Would be nice of you to reply someday.
 
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Daemon

Request Your Custom Title Now!
Yeah true, the game against India definitely doesn't count though. Might as well have been a home game
Don’t think it’s as good as home game but it’s a bit unfair to label that as away for NZ when it was the sort of wicket that the opposition regularly performs its worst on.

UAE should count for sure.
 

Prince EWS

Global Moderator
Memes aside for a second I do think it's kind of weird how we rate captaincy by team results so much. It seems to really elevate the importance of good captaincy on how a team performs over batting/bowling/fielding. I guess it's because we're so used to having statistics to evaluate performances in cricket and it's pretty much all we've got for captaincy, but it's still weird.

All we really have to judge captaincy on is field placements, press conferences and post-retirement anecdotes from players, and these are:
a) subjective
b) still miss heaps of what makes a good captain
c) in the case of #3, not fully available until years later

It's really hard to judge, which can make it fun to judge for those of us who all already agree on 99.97% of the things that are relatively easy to judge, but wheeling out win/loss stats or worse still major tournament/series wins is a massive ugh.
 

Prince EWS

Global Moderator
Memes aside for a second I do think it's kind of weird how we rate captaincy be team results so much. It seems to really elevate the importance of good captaincy on how a team performance over batting/bowling/fielding. I guess it's because we're so used to having statistics to evaluate performances in cricket and it's pretty much all we've got for captaincy, but it's still weird.

All we really have to judge captaincy on is field placements, press conferences and post-retirement anecdotes from players, and these are:
a) subjective
b) still miss heaps of what makes a good captain
c) in the case of #3, not fully available until years later

It's really hard to judge, which can make it fun to judge for those of us who all already agree on 99.97% of the things that are relatively easy to judge, but wheeling out win/loss stats or worse still major tournament/series wins is a massive ugh.
Ok.
 

Xix2565

State Vice-Captain
Memes aside for a second I do think it's kind of weird how we rate captaincy be team results so much. It seems to really elevate the importance of good captaincy on how a team performance over batting/bowling/fielding. I guess it's because we're so used to having statistics to evaluate performances in cricket and it's pretty much all we've got for captaincy, but it's still weird.

All we really have to judge captaincy on is field placements, press conferences and post-retirement anecdotes from players, and these are:
a) subjective
b) still miss heaps of what makes a good captain
c) in the case of #3, not fully available until years later

It's really hard to judge, which can make it fun to judge for those of us who all already agree on 99.97% of the things that are relatively easy to judge, but wheeling out win/loss stats or worse still major tournament/series wins is a massive ugh.
I read this recently from Kartikeya Date when briefly touching on Kohli's captaincy:

Apart from the fact that Kohli has been captain of India during this great period, what is it that he actually did (apart from batting)? You’ll hear a lot of guff about “leadership”, which I don’t understand. I know nothing about Kohli’s personality. And I don’t know how personality shapes Test cricket. Neither does anybody else, for what its worth. It is a folly to paint definitive character sketches of complete strangers based on watching them in Test cricket and reading their press interviews.

But there is a cricketing point. All Test teams want to have a plausible plan to take 20 wickets. The brutal truth is that most teams don’t have the bowlers to achieve this. And so most teams, sooner rather than later, start compromising. They play four bowlers, one of whom is picked for his batting rather than his wicket taking ability. They pick wicketkeepers for their batting. Packing the batting is the surest sign that a team is pursuing respectability rather than competitiveness. It is to Kohli’s great credit that he resisted this urge, even when India were losing in 2018 in South Africa and then in England. The temptation to compromise the pursuit of 20 wickets by playing the extra batter must have been significant. We have seen other teams fall prey to this pursuit. Just look at England in these Ashes. The quality of the bowling options - pace and spin - which have been cultivated as a consequence make India sustainably competitive.

This way of thinking about Test cricket is alien to Indian observers of the game who covet the respectability of 350 all out far more than they recognize the hopelessness of conceding 400 because the 3rd, 4th and 5th bowlers are not really serious wicket taking options because at least two of them have been picked for their batting.

The fact that India have won more Tests in the last 2 years of the Kohli era with an out of form middle order and three genuine number elevens than they did with line ups filled to the brim with runs ought to make us reconsider what a good Test team is. (I doubt that most of us will). The Kohli era has provided the evidence. That is perhaps its most profound contribution after the actual results.

Kohli’s resignation from the captaincy is a milestone. Will India keep winning? As long as they have the bowling, they will. Will they always have the bowling? Almost certainly not. Great bowlers don’t grow on trees.
Full essay is here: https://cricketingview.substack.com/p/the-kohli-era
 

Spark

Global Moderator
I can't stand Date or his theories, most of which reek of engineer syndrome applied to cricket.
 

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