Virat Kohli is still India’s Test captain – at least for the upcoming South Africa series – even after he was sacked as skipper of the One-day International (ODI) team and voluntarily gave up the role in Twenty20 Internationals (T20Is). The 33-year-old, however, hasn’t been India’s best Test batsman for the past couple of years. In 13 Tests since the beginning of 2020, Virat Kohli has scored 599 runs in 23 innings at a poor average of 26.04, with a highest score of 74.
Compare that to the performances of England’s Joe Root, New Zealand’s Kane Williamson, Australia’s Steve Smith and Pakistan’s Babar Azam during the same period and Virat Kohli’s run of form goes from poor to horror (see table below). He averages below 30, while the rest above 40, with Williamson and Root leading the pack.
|Virat Kohli||India||13 (23)||599||26.04|
|Joe Root||England||22 (39)||2,013||57.51|
|Kane Williamson||New Zealand||8 (13)||893||74.42|
|Steve Smith||Australia||7 (11)||481||48.1|
|Babar Azam||Pakistan||12 (19)||754||44.35|
The current fabulous five of international cricket are batting mainstays for their teams and all but one (Steve Smith) captain their respective sides in Tests.
India’s Batting woes
While Virat Kohli may be low on the pecking order compared to his peers from other teams, what is likely to have helped him save his captaincy and spot in the playing 11 is an equally poor showing by teammates Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara. Former Test vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane has scored 683 runs in 16 Tests (29 innings) at an average of 24.39 in the past two years, while India’s No. 3 Cheteshwar Pujara has 849 runs in 17 matches (32 innings) at an average of 27.39.
The trio form India’s batting core in Tests and with all three out of touch, the team’s fortunes have relied heavily on either the openers or the lower-order batsmen. The team’s bowling unit has been superlative and India’s Test success over the past couple of years – at home and abroad – can be mainly credited to the pacers and spinners.
The Rohit Factor
Rohit Sharma, who will miss the Tests owing to a hamstring injury, has already taken over the ODI and T20I captaincy from Virat Kohli, and is the most successful batsman in the longest format over the past two years for India. The opener has scored 906 runs in 11 matches (21 innings) at an average of 47.68 – most runs and the highest average among all the Indian batsmen since 2020. Rohit Sharma is also the only one from the team to score two Test centuries during this period.
With Rohit Sharma knocking on the captaincy door, too, the three-match series in South Africa beginning December 26 (Boxing Day) at Centurion is expected to be a litmus test for Virat Kohli. He will not only have to preserve his authority as a leader by winning India’s first-ever series in South Africa, but also score big runs to avoid the ignominy of being dropped from the Test team in future.
What may, however, still make matters complicated for Virat Kohli is the explosive press conference he addressed before leaving India. Not many captains have taken on the all-powerful Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and survived. Virat Kohli took the board and its chief, former India captain Sourav Ganguly, head-on. There are bound to be repercussions.
Irrespective of the South Africa series result, Virat Kohli may end up losing the Test captaincy. One only hopes he finds form and retains his place in the Test side – on run-scoring merit and not past laurels. That’s the Virat Kohli cricket fans across the globe love to watch.