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Captain Kohli must raise the bar in Australia

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Virat_Kohli_India_Australia_Captaincy_Test_CricketVirat Kohli has reinvented himself as one of the best batsmen that the modern generation has seen, but his captaincy has often left much to be desired. When he took over the reins from the rather defensive skipper MS Dhoni in the Test format, much was expected from the Delhiite, who had been known for approaching his game with aggression and passion.

Though he is currently the second most successful Indian Test skipper with 24 wins, overtaking the 21 Test wins that Sourav Ganguly registered as leader, Kohli’s flawed and confused mindset, especially in the recent overseas tours to South Africa and England, has led to his team’s downfall.

Though the Indian side pitched in with phenomenal bowling performances in both tours, the inability of the unit to grasp the game in crucial moments and their tendency to allow the opposition off the hook resulted in losing both series in South Africa and England. It is safe to say that Kohli played a major role in these slip-ups.

Before the year began, only one question was doing the rounds: Can India’s premier batsman beat the demons of England from 2014 and conquer the nagging line and length of James Anderson? Will he be able to continue his brilliant form in the challenging conditions of South Africa as well? With 286 runs in the Rainbow Nation, including 1 hundred and a fifty, and with 593 runs at a stunning average of 59.30 in England including two tons, Kohli emphatically silenced everyone who had questioned his abilities with the bat.

He stood out from the pack by handling the swing and pace in both countries with ease. However, it was his underwhelming captaincy that overshadowed his heroics with the willow. With his contradicting strategies, bizarre selections, an inability to read the game situation and the conditions, all coming together to hand India a 1-2 loss in South Africa and a 1-4 defeat in England.

His confused approach

Kohli the skipper instantly made an impact in his first Test as leader - when he led the team in the absence of Dhoni four years ago at Adelaide. Set a challenging target of 363 to chase down in the fourth innings, the skipper decided to go for the target and impressed viewers with his positive approach before India eventually lost by 48 runs.

The same was expected from Kohli’s Indian side in the Oval Test earlier this year, after the duo of KL Rahul and Rishabh Pant struck a 204-run stand to get close to the target of 464. With 166 runs needed in 33 overs, many hoped that the unit would go for the kill but Kohli decided against it. India eventually went down by 118 runs, losing the plot after Pant was dismissed.

Throughout the series in England, the Indian skipper’s handling of his troops and the way he marshalled them was the talk of the cricketing realm. At Edgbaston in the first Test, India had a real chance of getting into the game after they had the rivals on the ropes at 87 for 7.

Just when India needed to go all out for the kill, Kohli removed Ishant Sharma and Ravichandran Ashwin from the bowling attack after young Sam Curran had hit them for a few boundaries. The off-spinner in particular had troubled the left-handers throughout the innings, and with the batsman looking comfortable against the remaining seamers, this ploy left many baffled. Curran went on to make 63 as England reached 180, thus setting India a target of 194 runs. India lost by 31 runs in the end.

"England were 87/7 with Curran and Adil Rashid at the crease and for some reason Ravichandran Ashwin went out of the game for an hour. India lost control then -- he needs to look back on his captaincy and say 'When I've got a bloke who averages 19 against left-handers and a 20-year-old left-hander on strike, why did I take him off?'" Nasser Hussain had said after the blunder.

In the next game at Lord’s, Kohli picked Kuldeep Yadav even as the opposition went in with an all-seam attack. The heavy loss by an innings and 159 runs, with Kuldeep bowling just 9 overs for 44 runs, only emphasized Kohli’s inability to read the conditions and pick a team according to them.

This baffling selection is not the only one that Kohli has committed this year. Against South Africa, he picked Rohit Sharma over Ajinkya Rahane for the first two Tests, even though Rohit had been in dismal form in red-ball cricket. He dropped Bhuvneshwar Kumar from the second game, after Bhuvi had troubled the Proteas with his tight lines in the first game.

He committed another blunder by not picking Cheteshwar Pujara in the first Test at Edgbaston, even though he is India’s best Test player in tough conditions. He dropped Shikhar Dhawan from the last Test in South Africa but picked him for the first game in England after his T20 performances in India.

Most egregiously, he picked an injured and half-fit Ashwin at Southampton - a match where he got just three wickets compared to his counterpart Moeen Ali’s nine-wicket match-haul - over Ravindra Jadeja, who took 7 wickets in the next game The Oval. Kohli’s decisions have cost India time and again. It is imperative that he improves his captaincy skills in Australia if India are aiming for their first series win Down Under.

The choice of the lead spinner and the dilemma of playing with an extra batter or bowler are the crucial questions heading into the series. With the pitches in Australia helping batsmen, picking 20 wickets will not be an easy feat and Kohli could look at fielding 5 bowlers, which will help manage the workload of the bowlers as well. The other crucial decision will be which player to pick in the side between Hanuma Vihari and Rohit Sharma.

Rohit, who was selected due to his back foot play, has been in dismal form in First Class cricket. Vihari had a decent outing in his maiden game in England, where he scored 56 runs in the fifth Test. He appears more composed and is a better player of the seaming ball too, but considering the history of Kohli’s shocking selections, one should not be surprised if he goes with the former.

If Kohli is making these decisions himself, someone from the Indian team’s management needs to speak with him. If the management is playing their part in making these selections, the backroom staff and selectors need to be given a blunt assessment of the consequences their decisions.

Kohli the player has already stamped his presence in the sporting arena with his superhuman efforts with the bat, but it is now time for Captain Kohli to raise the bar as well.



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