There could not have been a greater coincidence in how the first two matches of IPL 2021, phase II panned out in the UAE. And, the results of the two matches only reaffirmed BCCI’s appointment of Mahendra Singh Dhoni as the mentor of the Virat Kohli-led Indian team for next month’s ICC T20 World Cup in the Emirates.
As IPL 2021 resumed after more than four-and-a-half months, Dhoni’s Chennai Super Kings bounced back tremendously from 24 for four to not only post a healthy 156/6 but also defend it successfully to win by 20 runs against defending champions Mumbai Indians, thanks largely to Dhoni’s shrewd captaincy, field placements and having the faith in his bowlers and bringing them at the right time.
On the second day of IPL resumption, Kohli’s Royal Challengers Bangalore were in a similar situation, though starting better than CSK but suffering a batting collapse to be bowled out for 92 and lose to Kolkata Knight Riders by nine wickets. No doubt, Dhoni’s CSK personnel are made of a different mettle from RCB’s.
In defending only 92, Kohli could not have done much. But if he found himself in a similar situation when leading India at the T20 World Cup, the additional inputs from Dhoni would make the incumbent skipper act with a lot more ideas to attack.
It may be argued that if Dhoni were to lead RCB on Monday against KKR after posting 92, he may have done things differently, may have had field placements in attacking positions that may have made the batsmen do the unthinkable, and in the process pick up wickets. Dhoni may have led his team to win or not.
It is not for nothing that Dhoni has won the titles that he has, be it the 2007 ICC T20 World Cup in its inaugural edition and the 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup for Team India or the IPL and Champions League titles for Chennai Super Kings. Kohli was not as lucky as a skipper in the 2019 Cricket World Cup or in the ICC World Test Championship final in June this year. Neither was Kohli able to lead RCB to an IPL triumph since taking over as captain from Daniel Vettori in 2013.
The only thing common between Dhoni and Kohli in terms of achievements as India captain is leading India to No. 1 Test rank in their respective tenure and holding proudly the ICC mace to mark the feats – Dhoni in 2009 and Kohli in 2018. Besides, of course, their swift running between the wickets, trust in each other’s abilities and mutual respect for one another’s accomplishments.
Dhoni’s cricketing acumen is something that has kept him and his team ahead of the opposition on most occasions. His reading of the game from outside the boundary line is as sharp as it is when he is donning the wicket-keeping gloves or has swapped them for the batting gloves and calculating precisely the run chase and targeting the bowlers in pursuit of victory.
Of course, there have been occasions when Dhoni’s tactics have not worked but in the present circumstances, especially with luck not favouring Kohli in ICC events, Dhoni’s inputs as mentor will certainly boost India’s chances. Dhoni has seen it all and done it all, both as India and CSK captain.
Even after giving up the Team India captaincy in 2017, Dhoni was in charge of the game from behind the wickets and his successor has let him change the field placements while manning the boundary, even if it means Dhoni signalling Kohli to move slightly to the left or right of his position.
Both Dhoni and Kohli are different in their captaincy styles. No doubt. Of course, no two captains are the same in their styles of functioning. But luck also plays an important role, taking decisions at the spur of the moment that have often worked for Dhoni and not quite so for Kohli.
Kohli has performed his best as a batsman since taking over the captaincy reins from Dhoni, first in Tests in 2015 and then in white-ball cricket at the start of 2017. Perhaps, playing all the three formats regularly has taken a toll on his own batting that he has gone 21 Test and 15 ODI innings without a three-figure score. Now that Kohli has decided to relinquish both Team India and RCB T20 captaincy – the decision coming within a gap of four days of each other – should do him a world of good as he can bat freely without the captaincy burdening him any further.
What if Kohli had stepped down from T20 captaincy – both Team India’s and RCB – with immediate effect and not waited until the end of the T20 World Cup and IPL, respectively? The additional burden may have been off his shoulders straightaway and he would certainly have batted freely on Monday and in the remaining IPL matches this season, and for India in the T20 World Cup. It is not that Kohli has not tried and India were not able to win an ICC title under him. Perhaps, luck was not favouring him or some of his tactics may not have worked.
It is not that captaincy has not changed hands halfway through an IPL edition in the past. IPL’s most successful captain, Rohit Sharma, got the captaincy reins from Ricky Ponting after IPL 2013 started. And, the team’s fortunes have changed for the better. Rohit is among the front-runners for India’s T20 captaincy after the World Cup, and his captaincy is different from both Dhoni and Kohli.
Rohit has not let the burden of captaincy affect his batting – neither in the IPL nor in the limited opportunities that he has led India in ODIs and T20Is.
It is also possible that Kohli could lead RCB and India to title wins and step down from captaincy on a high – both titles that have eluded him as skipper so far. That would be an ideal scenario.
And, to have Dhoni’s inputs as a mentor, could you have asked for a better set up? Kohli’s aggression, head coach’s Ravi Shastri’s confidence and Dhoni’s cool and calm mind – this could be Team India’s perfect recipe for success in the T20 World Cup.