Perhaps, for the first time in his captaincy career, Virat Kohli is feeling the heat. He is astute enough to see the writing on the wall where the backing for the captain by the powerful BCCI officials have diminished considerably in the last couple of months. Even though, the top brass did try to paint a different picture, sending out the typical ‘all is well in Indian cricket’ vibe, refuting the murmurs as media speculations. However, Kohli himself chose a public platform (interestingly no BCCI press conference or a press release for such an important decision; since Sachin Tendulkar’s ODI retirement and Dhoni’s Test captaincy retirement were announced by the board’s press release) and explained the reasons behind quitting T20I captaincy. And largely you get his point, however, a deep look and putting it in the context of a power struggle in Indian cricket, there are many contradictions in his statement and it does appear that more than anything else, Kohli is trying his best to safeguard his own position as a dominant force in Indian cricket.
Workload Management in the lightest of formats?
“Understanding workload is a very important thing and considering my immense workload over the last 8-9 years playing all 3 formats and captaining regularly for last 5-6 years, I feel I need to give myself space to be fully ready to lead the Indian team in Test and ODI Cricket.”
Is this workload behind the real reason for stepping down from T20I captaincy? Really? In the last decade, Kohli has played just 90 T20Is which is roughly 9 matches per year in the shortest format of the game. Definitely, not a huge workload if you consider that he plays around 15 matches of IPL every season inside two months, which, goes without saying the toughest on the body for any cricketer and all the more taxing for a captain. So, if someone who wants to keep himself fresh and fit, shouldn’t he be willing to give up his franchise’s captaincy (that he has not been able to lift a trophy in eight years for Royal Challengers Bangalore is a different story altogether) and sustain his India captaincy career in that format?
Further split in split captaincy!
By saying that he wants to lead in ODIs besides Test (which is fine and no one will question that as he has great accomplishments even if he lost out on winning a global trophy in the World Test Championship in June earlier this year) Kohli is arguing for ‘a further split in split captaincy’! There is no precedent in international cricket and that sounds logically flawed with one captain just leading few games of T20Is (India plays an average of 10 games each year) and the other one leading in ODI and Test cricket. Generally, ODI team and T20 teams are not as different as a red ball team and white ball team so it makes little sense that white ball captaincy duties should be split into two formats just to accommodate the red ball captain. It will only create more confusion and power centres in the dressing room.
Why not just move away from T20I altogether?
“I have given everything to the Team during my time as T20 Captain and I will continue to do so for the T20 Team as a batsman moving forward.”
If Kohli has decided to move away from the T20I format as a captain then what is the point of continuing as a batsman in this format? One is not suggesting that Kohli’s prowess has diminished a bit in this format (in fact it has never been as good in the last two years. While his Test and ODI average has come down significantly since November 2019, his T20 batting has elevated to a different level) but India’s major international assignments still consist of Test cricket and ODIs primarily (from 2018 to 2020, every year India has played just 10 T20Is) and wouldn’t it be better if Kohli quits the format altogether like Dhoni did with Test cricket or Anil Kumble did with the white-ball cricket? Dhoni could have continued as a player in Test as well but he thought about grooming the likes of Wriddhiman Saha and Rishabh Pant for future. Kohli is a formidable batsman in T20 but India doesn’t lack batting talents in this format so if there is an opportunity to try out fresher faces for the national side, it is the shortest format.
Leadership Group – where is Rahane?
“After a lot of contemplation and discussions with my close people, Ravi bhai and also Rohit, who have been an essential part of the leadership group, I’ve decided to step down as the T20 Captain after this T20 World Cup in Dubai in October.”
Now, suddenly Rohit is has become an essential part of the leadership group! The same Rohit was castigated publicly by captain Kohli just ahead of the Australia tour of 2020-21. Kohli didn’t hide his displeasure that Rohit had prioritised his IPL commitments over Test duties (as he stretched himself and his shoulder injury got aggravated and he missed the first two Tests of the tour due to rehabilitation). With Rohit establishing himself as an all-format player (especially after his stunning outing against England in the recent Test series) and selectors and BCCI finally acknowledged his candidature as a future white-ball captain, Kohli had no option left but to accept (even grudgingly since he is reported to have approached the selectors to remove Rohit from vice-captaincy duties as he was not young enough for future leadership role!) Rohit as an essential part of the leadership group. Interestingly, not a word on Test vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane who too can argue for his inclusion in that ‘essential part of the leadership group’ after his awe-inspiring series win in Australia!
“I have been in discussions with Virat and the leadership group for the last six months and the decision has been thought through. Virat will continue to contribute as a player and as a senior member of the side in shaping the future course of Indian cricket.”
The BCCI secretary’s choice of word (senior member and not captain) tells a different tale altogether. It is not difficult to understand that Kohli who enjoyed his time as an undisputed leader in the dressing room as well outside is no longer enjoys the same backing. In past, this has happened with powerful captains like Sourav Ganguly and even Dhoni (when N Srinivasan era was over) and the same has now happened or is happening with Kohli. It is business as usual in for BCCI as far as the captaincy of the national team is concerned.