Virat Kohli’s decision to quit as captain of India’s T20 outfit after next month’s World Cup will occupy a part of captaincy folklore in Indian cricket history. Although this was not as dramatic as in the case of India having four captains in the five-Test series of 1958-59 against the West Indies, it’s no ordinary case of giving up on leadership for one of the three forms of the game either. For, Kohli has been a successful captain across all formats.
The decision to stop being captain in the T20 sphere after a major event reminded one of Sunil Gavaskar deciding to quit as captain before the 1985 World Championship of Cricket in Australia. Gavaskar revealed in One Day Wonders (his book on India’s triumph in that tournament) that he decided to quit as captain at the start of the 1984-85 series against England. He informed chairman of selectors Chandu Borde after the last Test in Kanpur and his resignation letter was handed over to the BCCI secretary, AW Kanmadikar, before the team’s departure to Australia. Even president NKP Salve was told then.
It turned out to be a fairy tale end to Gavaskar’s captaincy, with India winning all their five games in the tournament—two victories over Pakistan and one each against England, Australia and New Zealand. This caused great delight to Indian cricket fans because David Gower’s English team had just won the Test and one-day series in India. Kapil Dev took over and won the Rothmans Cup in Sharjah, which also featured Pakistan, Australia and England.
If Borde thought he had seen the last of captaincy surrenders with Gavaskar, he was mistaken. Fifteen years later, Sachin Tendulkar quit as captain with Borde as chief selector, after India’s disastrous 1999-2000 tour of Australia. Like Kohli and Gavaskar, the batting genius’ announcement was not with immediate effect. Tendulkar would cease to be captain only after the two-Test home series against South Africa.
Tendulkar spoke to me on the night (February 20, 2000) of his decision becoming public. “There came a stage when I was just not enjoying my cricket,” he said on the terrace of Hotel Pritam, Dadar, where he was, to release umpire Marcus Couto’s book on umpiring.
His announcement coincided with Mohammed Azharuddin’s return to the squad after being dropped for the Australia tour. “No, this has nothing to do with Azhar’s selection. I have said it before and I am saying it again, I have no hang-ups with anyone,” Tendulkar insisted.
Fourteen Septembers ago, Rahul Dravid stunned the cricket establishment by deciding to quit the captaincy before the Australians came over for a one-day series in 2007-08. Then chairman of selectors Dilip Vengsarkar was so surprised that he was lost for words when asked to react to the news as he watched the India ‘A’ v South Africa ‘A’ unofficial Test at New Delhi. “I enjoyed the captaincy, I loved it, but it can get tough after a while and some of the enjoyment can go away. So I thought it was the right time to step aside,” Dravid told the BBC. The Bangalore man had led India to Test series wins in West Indies and England, apart from being in charge when India won their first-ever Test in South Africa—at Johannesburg—in December 2006.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni started leading India in limited overs cricket, a masterstroke by Vengsarkar & Co while Anil Kumble got the Test captaincy, only to end his career when injuries plagued him in the home Test series against Australia in 2007-08.
Dhoni’s inexplicable decision to quit Test cricket before the completion of the 2014-15 Border-Gavaskar Trophy in Australia gave Kohli the hot seat in the traditional form of the game. Two years later, Dhoni bid goodbye to the limited-overs leadership role. Indian cricket hasn’t witnessed a case of a captain being sacked since 2005 and that is some tribute to the leadership material the setup has had. That said, it is disappointing to see major announcements being made by Dhoni and Kohli on social media platforms. It is the Board that has to make key announcements—whether the players like it or not, the BCCI are their employers.
Like in most captaincy-related issues, there are a clutch of insider stories. Already there is talk that Kohli may have been forced to quit the T20 captaincy and him not continuing as ODI captain is imminent. Dhoni’s appointment as mentor for the T20 World Cup has also set tongues wagging and with good reason. For, why would a team need a mentor when it has an experienced captain who has won more games than he has lost?
Rohit Sharma may be set to take on the limited overs torch from Kohli, but the BCCI/selectors would do no harm to deliberate on whether it would be prudent to give the T20 reins to a younger man—maybe Rishabh Pant or KL Rahul (both lead their franchises in IPL cricket)—and let Rohit be captain of the ODI team till the 2023 World Cup. Now, that would mean three captains for three formats, but who is to say it won’t work if things are handled well? Interesting times ahead for Indian cricket!
mid-day’s group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello
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