Millennium Post

Spotlight shifts to Kohli

Three days after India captain MS Dhoni surprised the cricket world with his sudden retirement from Test cricket, Virat Kohli is hogging all the limelight ahead of the fourth and final Test starting January 6.

Dhoni opted to stay away from not only the cricket field but also off it, as he didn’t attend the high-tea organised by the Australia prime minister Tony Abbott recently for both the teams. Dhoni’s retirement technically means he is no longer a part of the Test squad, but he was invited nevertheless.

But even before Dhoni’s retirement, Kohli was the centre of attention in Australia, not because the manner in which he led in the first Test at Adelaide, but for his aggressive run-ins with the Aussie players in the last two Tests.

The coming of Gen Next, aggressive players like Kohli, Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and Varun Aaron, has changed the dynamics of the team. These cricketers fight fire with fire and not buckle down under the barrage of verbal spats. They like to look at their opponents in the eye and stand strong.

The Indian team was begging for a firebrand leader. The uber cool attitude of Dhoni stopped working sometime back, at least in the longest format of the game. The Indian team last won a Test series away from home back in 2011 against the West Indies and there was a need for a change, a different game plan, a different approach and a different attitude. The likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Virender Sehwag and VVS Laxman all added to the ‘coolness’ that Dhoni brought to the table. These were not players who would mouth-off against marauding fast bowlers, they would rather go about their way quietly and let the bat do the talking. And that is exactly the sort of captain Dhoni was.

With the exit of such stalwarts and the coming of fresh faces in the Tests, the team cried out for a new leader. Dhoni in 2012 had hinted he would soon quit Tests to concentrate on the shorter formats, especially the 2015 WOrld Cup to be played in Australia and New Zealand. But that call may have come a tad too late and the suddenness of it took everyone by surprise. It wasn’t the decision so much as the timing that left people grasping for answers.

“Virat Kohli is a fascinating personality. He is very aggressive and looks to get under the opposition’s skin. At the same time, he also doesn’t mind when they talk back to him. In fact he thrives on it and relishes when they sledge him. I wouldn’t sledge Kohli if I were bowling to him. He will only use it to fire himself up and use it against you,” said former Australian fast bowler Damien Fleming.

Kohli scored two centuries in the first Test at the Adelaide Oval, leading India to an almost improbable win. The former Australian international believes the new captain will be an improvement on the one who exited the scene. “Dhoni isn’t too volatile on the field and he doesn’t sledge. When there is hostility in the field, he is a very calming influence, which is good. But he also let the game drift away and didn’t adapt quickly in Test cricket.

“Kohli will be a reactive captain if not better and his batting traits will help him. He stands out of the crease, taking LBW out of the equation. It is a small example how Kohli is a thinking player and he evolves as the game progresses, which is how a captain should be,” Fleming said.

Fleming added the fact that Kohli is reactive, may be good for the game. “Kohli is different from someone like Sachin Tendulkar or Adam Gilchrist, who never reacted to anything anyone said to them. More often, no one said anything. But even if they did get a few words, they wouldn’t show what they were feeling. Tendulkar might be burning up in anger inside, yet his face wouldn’t bat an eyelid. He was unflinching. Kohli is a different personality and it is only good for the game that we have such personalities,” Fleming insisted.

Dhoni’s Test record has sometimes been overshadowed and neglected by his success in the shorter formats. The team might have climbed to the top of the Test rankings under his leadership but the most successful Indian captain has had a torrid time abroad. Overall, Dhoni played 90 Tests in a career that began in 2005 and scored 4,876 runs at an average of 38, with a high score of 224 against Australia in Chennai in 2013. As a wicketkeeper, he effected 294 dismissals, the fifth highest in Test cricket. However, out of 30 Tests overseas under Dhoni’s captaincy, India lost 15. Since the 2011 World Cup victory, India lost 13 out of 22 Tests played abroad, winning just two and drawing six. Outside Asia, Dhoni’s highest score is 92 and averages just 29.79.

Kohli, though, takes over the responsilbility with a severe disadvantage. While Dhoni was surrounded with senior and experienced players when he took over, Kohli takes charge of a new look team lacking in experience. When Dhoni is removed from the equation, 26-year-old pacer Ishant Sharma becomes the most experienced player in the side, having played 61 Tests while Kohli himself has played just 32.
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