CHENNAI: In the end, there are no ICC titles to show for captain Virat Kohli. They are not the yardsticks to measure a good captain. And even if he did, for a major part of his captaincy tenure, Kohli never came across as an astute captain. Yet, he walks away as the most successful Indian Test captain, and with a rich legacy that will be hard to match for his successors.
Great captains are not just judged on the team's on-field performances alone. It transcends beyond that. The last seven years has seen Indian cricket move only forward, taking gigantic strides in terms of redefining fitness culture, forever searching for victory even at the cost of losing, taking bold decisions in team selections, developing a core of fast bowlers who will keep Indian cricket healthy for the next five years, making conditions irrelevant, picking five bowlers because it gives more chances to win a Test.
Along the way, there have been instances where Kohli's reign has divided opinions like never before. Be it not willing to work with the greatest Indian bowler of all time Anil Kumble as coach or making yo-yo tests mandatory. These decisions not only invited criticism from outside, there were even voices against it in the team. Yet, everyone knew, they had no choice but to follow.
It felt autocratic, especially how Kohli never had a deputy who challenged his stature as captain and Ravi Shastri, a head coach who was more than willing to follow the culture that his captain laid out.
Through all of it, what is undeniable is India became a genuine force to reckon with both home and abroad. There were frustrations in 2018, but for all of it, the team made amends in 2021.
More than the results, these are by no means easy for the incoming captain to match. There has been a huge shift in the culture that has now put India on par with other teams. If Sourav Ganguly started it and MS Dhoni developed it, Kohli has completed it. He is leaving behind what is truly the best Indian team of all time.
There were indications that India would enter a transition period soon with reinforcements in place to give the middle-order a new look. The selectors were hoping Kohli would make the transition smooth in the Tests, more so because there is a lot to do in the limited-overs. Now, India are forced to look at other options.
And here is where it gets tricky for Test captaincy. While Rohit Sharma remains the obvious choice, there are concerns over his fitness and there is a need to manage his workload. The BCCI, it is understood, are not keen on overburdening Rohit as their prime focus is on winning the 20-over and 50-over World Cups.
The other option is KL Rahul. Although over the last couple of series he has established as their first-choice opener, he is still at a stage where he needs to work on his batting. While he does have experience of leading an IPL franchise, Rahul has never been considered a captaincy material at any age-group level. In the two seasons he led Punjab Kings, he didn't come across as an astute captain. If he is indeed handed over the captaincy, head coach Rahul Dravid will have a lot to do, and to do in Tests will be a huge challenge especially for a team that enters transition.
While Rishabh Pant, too, is being spoken of as a potential candidate, BCCI officials reckon it is still early for him. While he did lead Delhi to Ranji Trophy final, with Delhi Capitals, Pant has shown he can handle big names. But, like Rahul, he needs support from the coach. R Ashwin too remains a contender, especially if selectors feel the time is suited for a short-term captain, as it would allow one of Pant or Rahul to groom into the role.
All said and done, these are huge shoes to fill. The challenge is to take forward what Kohli has achieved and for that the team needs an inspirational captain, not just a marketable face.