The Adelaide Oval is my favourite cricket ground in Australia. One has to be there to understand how beautiful it is. The trees, the garden and the St. Peter’s cathedral indeed make the Adelaide Oval a very picturesque ground. However, on 9 December 2014, at this very ground, the picture looked very grim for the Indian team as they played their first test at Adelaide. The Indian captain, MS Dhoni, picked up an injury which meant that Virat Kohli had to suddenly come in as the skipper. India had an inexperienced bowling line up and by the time Australia finished its first innings, they had three centurions in David Warner, Michael Clarke and Steve Smith. The most economical bowler for India in that innings was its opener Murli Vijay who bowled 13 overs for 30-odd runs. All the main bowlers were punished and Australia ended with a mammoth 517.
This situation could have deflated any first-time captain, but not Virat Kohli. In reply to Australia’s big first innings score, India made a gallant 444 led by its new skipper who himself made a brilliant 115. Few test captains in the history of cricket would have scored such a confident century in their first match as a last-minute stand-in skipper. One can imagine how weak a bowling attack Kohli had at his disposal when in the second innings both Rohit Sharma and Murli Vijay got to bowl. Chasing 364 to win on a track that assisted both pace and spin, Virat scored an unbelievable 141 in the second innings. It was not the skipper’s fault that India eventually lost by 48 runs. Few skippers have made such a gallant start to their test captaincy. India lost the series 2-0, but a lion-hearted leader was born.
The seeds were sown, and four years down the line, when India toured Australia in 2018-2019, the venue again was the picturesque Adelaide Oval. Virat did not do much with the bat but he led brilliantly and Indian won the test by a slim margin of 30-odd runs. By the time the second test came, Virat was back at his best with a brilliant century but Australia squared the series 1-1. It was at the MCG in the third test that Virat scored a brilliant 82 in the first innings and India eventually went on to take a 2-1 lead. By the time the fourth test was played, Virat had led with such confidence that India out-batted Australia in the match and the unthinkable happened. India won a test series in Australia.
To beat Australia in two consecutive away test series and to get the better of England in England is no mean achievement. Virat could achieve it because he was a rare Indian skipper who firmly believed in going all out with pace. It is under his captaincy that the Indian pace attack became the most feared in world cricket. We must bear in mind that Virat did not have the luxury of a swashbuckling opener averaging over 50 in tests nor a solid middle order of great players. Yet he turned around India’s performance in test cricket overseas.
The Kohli era
To understand Virat Kohli’s captaincy we have to go back to the era leading to the tied test at the Gabba in 1960-1961 series between Australia and West Indies. During the second half of the 1950s, there had been some dull draws and it seemed that test cricket needed a revival in terms of positive cricket. The great captains Richie Benaud and Frank Worrell decided to play positive cricket and go for a win that resulted in an exhilarating tie. It is with the same spirit that Virat captained his side. Few captains have led with such passion as Virat, and the energy that he has brought to the job of a skipper will be hard to emulate. While it is true that test cricket captaincy is the art of getting the tactics right but it is also the art of lifting the team with passion. There cannot be a better example of ‘sincere passion’ than Virat Kohli.
One of the greatest mindsets any test captain can have is not to have the fear of failure. Virat always took the game forward with the intention to win without worrying about defeat. This was the most endearing part of his captaincy in which he emulated the great Ian Chappell.
Now that the Kohli era as a captain has ended, it’s a good time to analyse where he stands.
He possesses the record for not only the most test appearances as India captain but also for the most test wins by an Indian captain. There are only three captains in the history of test cricket that have more wins than Virat. Had he wanted he could have continued as skipper in a couple of home series and bettered the record of Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting for sure and maybe also Graeme Smith, but it was never about statistics for Virat. For him, the cricket ground was a theatre to exhibit sincerity and passion and every ounce of emotion that he possessed. Perhaps no future Indian captain would celebrate the fall of a wicket of the rival team as joyously as Kohli.
Goodbye skipper, you gave it your all and in doing so, you gave us so much joy.
Kush Singh @singhkb is founder, The Cricket Curry Tour Company. Views are personal.
(Edited by Neera Majumdar)