Captaincy rubs off differently on different men. It made former England skipper Nasser Hussain, usually reticent, demonstrative. The unrestrained Mahendra Singh Dhoni embraced circumspection. Some were so weighed down by the responsibilities that they crumbled. For some like Michael Clarke, it’s a curative to their travails.
Leaders like Steve Waugh, Michael Vaughan and Graeme Smith hardly changed their approach. Though still in his incipient days, Virat Kohli too conforms to this pattern.
Little has changed in him — there’s still that uber-aggression, look-at-me machismo. He is spunky, pep-talks his bowlers, lunges around the field and applauds every effort of his squadron. This is not captaincy-induced pseudo-dynamism. This is Kohli as he his. Brash and belligerent, authoritative and feisty. His approach is based on one premise: trying to win the match.
This has been a welcome change to Dhoni’s inexplicably retrograde tactics of late and has impressed critics. “His body language gives an impression that his captaincy would be similar to his batting – proactive and authoritative. He doesn’t seem to have a fear of failure,” opined former all-rounder Mohinder Amarnath.
Some of his strategies in the Asia Cup, thus far, have been progressive and not knee-jerk. His decision to include leg-spinner Amit Mishra reaped the desired result. Drafting in an extra-spinner was fraught with risk, for Pakistan’s batsmen are generally proficient against spin and Mishra, being slower through the air, stood the risk of being tethered. But the logic behind including him might have been that the dew would hardly affect a wrist spinner as opposed to finger spinners who generally find it tough to grip the ball in such conditions.
There is enough common sense in his bowling changes. Like, he knows who among his bowlers are good against left-handers and who are not. Even giving R Ashwin the last over was a shrewd decision, though it miscarried. The idea was to take the pace off the ball and, moreover, Ashwin had bowled outstandingly until then.
“The way he has used his bowlers deserves credit. The field settings too have been aggressive,” reckoned former medium pacer Venkatesh Prasad.
Sometimes, though, he seems restless as he changes the field for almost every ball, giving the impression that he is fidgety. This can at times turn counter-productive. Opener Shikhar Dhawan, though, reckons otherwise. “He keeps changing the field around because he is always trying to attack and take wickets. He is a very aggressive guy and likes to lead from front,” he said. That he kept a slip in the death overs against Sri Lanka and Pakistan reflects his mindset.
Like most good captains, he has shown that he is a quick-learner. The first-time he led India — when Dhoni was injured in the tri-series in the West Indies — he seemed slightly caught unawares by the moment. He seemed desolate but by the time the team reached Port of Spain, he returned to his usual self on the field. He cracked a special hundred and took India to the final.
Likewise, he has reeled off tons in every series he has skippered the team. In 11 matches as captain, he aggregates 65.12 with a century in every four matches. Hence, Kohli has ticked most boxes. However, he is still a study in progress and his apprenticeship will continue, at least until the next World Cup. “He must serve the apprenticeship period. Dhoni still is a wonderful captain,” reckons former captain Ajit Wadekar.
In sport, some are born to lead. Some achieve it. Some have it thrust upon then. Kohli seems to fall into the first.