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India vs England: Virat Kohli Excels as India Test Captain But What's His Legacy?

Doubtless, Virat Kohli is one of the greatest batsmen of all time but the same can’t be said about his captaincy.

India vs England: Virat Kohli Excels as India Test Captain But What's His Legacy?

No Indian captain has won more Test matches (22) at home than Virat Kohli which he accomplished in the last match in Ahmadabad’s pink ball game. In fact, the most successful Test captain before Kohli took over the rein in 2014; Mahendra Singh Dhoni only managed 27 wins in his illustrious career while Kohli has 35 victories so far.

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Going by his team’s juggernaut in the current series against England, the Indian captain is all set to equal Clive Llyod’s 36 wins in Test history which is the 4th most by any captain in the game. Remarkably, Kohli would be reaching there by leading in just 60 matches as compared to Lloyd’s 74. Purely on statistical evidence, the 32 year old Kohli not only is the most successful Indian captain but one of the best of all-time in Test history.

“The Captain Class”

60 Tests as captain, is not an ordinary feat since only Dhoni has led in as many matches for India. And, the last match of the four match series against England is going to witness that record is also being equaled by Kohli. It is indeed an exceptional club since only five captains in Test cricket’s 144 year history has led in more matches more and none of them is an Indian. However, we all know that stats only reveal as much as we want them to and even those stunning numbers don’t make Kohli arguably one of the best of all-time. And one is reminded of a famous paragraph from the much acclaimed book “The Captain Class” by Sam Walker whose compelling argument on the best teams across all sports is based on the notion that the most crucial ingredient in a team that achieves and sustains historic greatness is the character of the player who leads it.

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“To make a case to be one of the greatest in history, a team must have put together some exceptionally long or concentrated burst of success that can be defined by cumulative wins or titles, and that goes beyond the accomplishments of every other team that has played the same genre of sport. In other words, its achievements have to have been unique.” From that point of view, Kohli is yet not better than Dhoni as a captain.

There is more to it than just winning a Test series by a margin of 3-1 against England in the current series. Team India needs to ensure that they don’t lose the fourth match of the series which starts from Thursday. Perhaps, it would be just a fitting finale for Kohli if India manages to play in the final of the World Test Championship against New Zealand in Lord’s in June 2021. And, if they win the final of the first-ever Test championship; it will also be a first-ever global trophy in any format for Kohli.

However, it is highly unlikely that Kohli will retire from Test captaincy after reaching such a pinnacle. Contrary, he may just want and try to start afresh. There is a tour of England immediately after the WTC and Kohli has some old scores to settle. Then, there is a tour of South Africa at the end of the year where he is yet to win a series.

Captains do have shelf life.

Sourav Ganguly led India in 49 matches just one short of Sachin Tendukar and Rahul Dravid combined (both led in 25 matches each). Among the modern Indian captains in the new century, none has led a Test team for as many years (7) as Kohli has. Despite being hugely successful and popular, Dhoni captained for six years. One of the most charismatic captains of all-time, Ganguly too lasted for just five years (2000-05) and Dravid only for a couple of years (2005-07). When cricket is being played almost 365 days in a year across formats, a four year cycle or even five or six years’ sustained rein at the most coveted job in world cricket looks like a huge achievement. For Kohli this was seemingly easier and also possible partly because there were not too many stronger options earlier as opposed to now with Ajinkya Rahane and R Ashwin in Test who are far secure as player.

What is Kohli’s legacy?

The missing link in Kohli’s captaincy is the creation of a dynasty. If Graeme Smith(led in record 103 matches) revolutionized the fortunes of South African team then former Australian captain Allan Border led in 93 matches which is second most)is hailed as the renaissance man of Australian cricket. Stephan Fleming’s Kiwi side were no world beaters but they always punched above their weight (didn’t allow Australia to win a series in Australia in 2001 and won in England in 1999). Ricky Ponting and Llyod’s sides were ruthless winning machines. Even Dhoni will always be known as someone who took India to the number 1 in ICC Test rankings for the first time and his team stayed there for a decent enough time. And, Dhoni could always bask in the glory with his numerous achievements in white-ball cricket. Most prominent among them is the three global ICC trophies (T20 World cup, ODI World Cup and Champions Trophy) which no captain has managed to win.

What is Kohli’s legacy? He was supposed to change the way India looked hopeless in overseas Test matches in South Africa, England, New Zealand and Australia (the SENA countries). That is where Dhoni’s only blemish of captaincy which was his last phase of an otherwise magnificent career. For record, Kohli has managed to win more (13) matches than Dhoni’s (6), away from home but the more realistic and perhaps a fair assessment can be done on what they have achieved in the SENA countries. Both won four matches each in SENA nations. Had (stand-in-captain) Rahane not won in Australia with a far depleted team against a much superior Australian squad in 2021, Kohli’s Test series win in Australia could have elevated him above Dhoni.

Doubtless, Kohli is one of the greatest batsmen of all time but the same can’t be said about his captaincy. Walker in the same book “The Captain class” has a fine observation in one of the chapters which seems so apt at this stage of Kohli’s captaincy. “It’s also clear that the presence of a GOAT doesn’t guarantee success at the team level.” Kohli may end up as a GOAT in batting when he finishes his career but can he be the same (GOAT) in captaincy?

Team Rankings

1 New Zealand 3198 118
2 Australia 3028 116
3 India 3085 114
4 England 4326 106
5 South Africa 2499 96
FULL Ranking
1 England 5405 123
2 India 6102 117
3 New Zealand 3716 116
4 Australia 4344 111
5 South Africa 3345 108
FULL Ranking
1 England 6877 275
2 Australia 6800 272
3 India 10186 268
4 Pakistan 7516 259
5 South Africa 5047 252
FULL Ranking