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Playing to Win

 

Image Courtesy: Zee News

 

 

By Shannon Ridge Court

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Bangalore, 07 Feb: The baton passed to Virat Kohli gave him leadership of the Indian team in all three formats of the game. It would be a challenge of anybody, made particularly difficult by his predecessor Mahindra Singh Dhoni’s stellar record. Dhoni is the only Indian captain who has led India to victory in three major ICC events.

From winning the maiden T20 World Cup in 2007 on his captaincy debut to helping India win the World Cup on home soil in 2011 after 27 years, the former captain has also giftedIndia the ICC Champions Trophy in 2013.The achievements don’t stop there: Dhoni is the only Indian captain to take India to the No. 1 spot in ICC Test Rankings in 2009.

Speaking to the media, India coach Anil Kumble complimented Dhoni saying, “10 years of captaincy is phenomenal. It goes to show the capabilities of MS as a leader and also what he has been able to achieve during the transition phase and also when the seniors left, it is not easy coming into the team as captain and having so many senior players. He managed them very well.”

Kohli is not new to leadership. In 2008, he captained the Indian Under-19 side to win the trophy in Malaysia. He showed maturity beyond his years, displaying a fearlessnessand clarity that is essential to succeed at the highest level of the game. As a skipper, it is important that a leader is capable of serving in order to lead, to play the part asked of him. Virat Kohli has earned his place through his commitment and his ability to deliver on the big stage. When Dhoni abruptly pulled the plug on his Test career in the midst of 2014-15 tour Down Under, the morale and confidence of the Indian squad was shakend. Kohli, however,was sensational on the tour, with runs flowing like water every time he went out to bat with his positive energy rubbing off and influencing the entire team. There was no doubt about Dhoni’s successor.

Especially after a string of overseas series defeats under Dhoni’s leadership, the team needed a fighter like Kohli. More often than not Kohli digs India out of the hole and remains intimidating even in the face of adversity, earning him the respect of the opposition but most importantly, the trust of his team-mates. Any team requires a captain who can lead from the front, and Kohli’s contributions with the batalways reflect on India’s overall performance. Dhonihas a reputation for being as cool as a cucumber whereas Kohli looks like a cracker waiting to go off. Where Dhoni is patient and unflappable, Kohli gestures, claps, hollers and offers verbal encouragement to his team all the time.

Kohli has used the craft of Ravichandran Ashwin as his trump card. Image Source: Zee News

The newly appointed skipper is what the Test side needs for the long haul, the first requirement being the ability to adapt to situations and put together a winning squad. Kohli fields the best possible line-up depending on the playing conditions rather than just relying on aproven winning combination. Another change Kohli has brought to the game is making pacers (not often India’s strongest card) a core part of his team. He has also uses ace spinner Ravichandran Ashwin to attack the batsman, even at the cost of a few runs while the job Dhoni gave Ashwin was to prevent runs. Post Dhoni’s retirement in 2014, India has done rather well in Test cricket, losing just one Test series while bouncing back to win five series back to back under Kohli. The highlight of those victories came against England at home that helped Indiareclaim the crown as the No.1 test team in the world.

Kohli’s intensity was mirrored by the team’s proficiency, planning and execution. Kohli is undoubtedly suited for the job, just as Dhoni was before India toured abroad. Only time will tell how India under Kohli will fare overseas. Once labelled as being ridiculously self-confident, Kohli allows his numbers and statistics to speak for themselves with Test, ODI and T20 averages all above 50.Kohli has a wealth of knowledge about the game and a keen awareness of his ability as a player, even if his captaincy isn’t fully developed.

As captain of the Royal Challengers Bangalore, Kohli handles pressure in every situation and helps his team perform to the peak of their ability. In 16 IPL matches last year, Kohli was the top scorer, amassing 943 runs in a team which boasts power hitters such as Chris Gayle, AB De Villiers, Shane Watson and KL Rahul. He bagged 4 centuries in one IPL season! The enthusiastic captain maintained his composure to routinely score in match after match and helped RCB reach the final.

Kohli plays cricket to win and his laser-like focus is the secret to his amazing consistency. That sense of wilfulness, the air of stubbornness he exudes doesn’t change whatever the format of the game he’s playing. Speaking to the press Kohl irecently said, “I think we’ve become more resolute, patient and mentally stronger than our opponents in terms of difficult situations where we test them to the limit of them making mistakes rather than us committing (them)”. He added “It’s been a gradual process to get to that level in Test cricket. The squad trains well, practices hard and everyone takes equal ownership of the results we achieve. And that’s the only way to stay on top in international cricket nowadays” “The added responsibility of being captain has always worked for me because I don’t have room to be complacent. And, that’s why in the IPL, it’s very easy for me to throw away my wicket after scoring 60-70 runs, but the fact that I push even after that is because I need to lead from the front and set an example for my team. I have to make that effort myself first,” Kohli explained.

Kohli has stressed on the importance of having seniors like Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh around him. Image Source: Indian Express

The level of consistency that Kohli has displayed in ODIs, T20’s and especially the IPL, has contributed to his self-belief and the confidence that he can read different situations well and can adapt as needed. But Kohli isn’t alone even if captaincy must sometimesfeel like that. He still has the presence of Dhoni on the field, to help him learn how conditions and circumstances should be approached, what strategies are to be explored and how to read the rhythm of the game. Without the pressure of captaincy, Dhoni’s has the liberty to rewind the clock to the old days with Yuvraj Singh, to score freely like they did in the second ODI against England, stitching together a 200-plus-run partnership.

Kohli’s versatility will come in handy in limited-overs cricket. One day and T20 cricket present their ownchallenges, where the intensity of gamecreates situations and the players who can take away the game from the opposition in a blink of an eye. Kohli, no stranger tosnatching victory from the jaws of defeat, realizes that such formats require a different mental frame to succeed. In the first ODI of the recently- concluded one-day series against England, India at one stage was tottering at 63/4. KohlidecidedIndia would win so he set about building an extraordinary innings of 122 while mentoring and motivating newcomer KedarJadhav to score a 78-ball century in pursuit of the 350 needed. India won the match and gave Kohli his first ODI series victory as captain.

With the Champions Trophy just around the corner, Kohli’s objective will be to identify players for particular positions and roles. This will be tricky, considering India has excellent bench strength with new talent knocking on the door. With Kohli at the helm, India is truly spoilt for choice.

 

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