Virat Kohli chose to jump before being pushed

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#Indian cricket, #Indian Cricket Board (BCCI), #Indian cricket captain, #opinion, #Sports, #Test captain, #Virat Kohli

Virat Kohli and Ravi Shastri during a BCCI press conference on June 2, 2021.

It was certainly not the way he would have liked to go. But in the end he chose to jump before being pushed. As India’s most successful Test Cricket captain announced that he was stepping down from the captaincy of the team in the only format that he still had the job, there were hardly any voices asking him to continue. Virat Kohli had fallen out of favour with the powers that be, and in the end that was the only thing that mattered.

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After the series defeat against South Africa, a captain who had a better equation with the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) could easily have hung on. After all, a 1-2 series loss even against an average South African team on their soil is hardly a captaincy ending result. But Kohli was already a marked man. By ignominiously stripping him of the captaincy of the ODI team, and giving out a different version of events on his exit from the T20 captaincy, Saurav Ganguly and Co. had already hinted at the tensions between them and Virat.

For more than seven years, Kohli was the aggressive face of Indian cricket, pushy, never conceding an inch, ready to give as good as he got, and always giving, as he himself said, “120%”. As a captain he led the team to great success to emerge as the most-successful Test captain in Indian cricket history. However, the lack of an ICC trophy during his stint as captain, meant that he always had the long shadow of MS Dhoni’s 3 ICC trophies winning captaincy looming over him. After the recent T20 World Cup debacle, there was little doubt that he was on his way out as skipper.

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During his stint in the top job, he instilled a sense of ‘in your face’ aggression into Team India that perhaps only Ganguly did in recent times. Youngsters were backed, with the likes of Rishabh Pant being persisted with long after questions were raised about their consistency. The partnership that he formed with team coach Ravi Shastri gave India some of the most memorable overseas Test victories, including famously a series win against Australia down under. He also led India to the final of the ICC World Test Championships, to a 2-1 series lead in England (final match yet to be played) and ensured that India spent a whopping 42 months from October 2016 until early March 2020 at the top of the ICC Test Rankings. Under his captaincy India never lost a Test series at home (losing just three out of 31 Tests).

There were lows too. The team performed badly in New Zealand in 2020 losing two Tests in under three days each, and with it the series, and the recent poor run in South Africa was another low point. The defeat in the ICC Test Championship final to New Zealand after having been so dominant in the years that led to the final must surely been disappointing.

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His aggression more than occasionally crossed the line with the recent Dean Elgar LBW review incident being a striking case in point. Losing his cool on the field of play is deemed unbecoming of a captain, but Virat did not seem to think too hard of the consequences. His body language on the field was so expressive that his emotions could be read by not just his teammates but the rest of the cricketing world that watched on television. This, in the end, was not a good thing. Some of the words he said on the field should not have been spoken, and while he acknowledged it, he made little effort to change his style.

The reaction to his resignation has been expectedly muted. Most of the big names of Indian cricket know only too well which side of their bread is buttered, and chose to pay tributes to his captaincy and say little else. They knew the background to Kohli’s exit and what the consequences could be of speaking up too strongly in his support. With the BCCI, the more things change, the more they remain the same.

In many ways, Kohli’s decision to step down may have helped avert an even bigger confrontation with the BCCI in which there could have only been one winner. It will also help prolong his career in all formats of the game, something that could have been jeopardised had the strained relations with the BCCI been allowed to fester.

He still has plenty of cricket left in him — and more than one point to prove. After his dip in form over the last two years, being free of the burden of captaincy may just be the fillip that Virat Kohli needs to start yet another innings in what has been an outstanding career.

Sumanth Raman is a Chennai-based television anchor and political analyst. 

Views are personal and do not represent the stand of this publication.

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