Everyone has been talking about it for a while now. Virat Kohli’s T20 captaincy record for India has been great but many have wondered, for at least two years if not longer, whether Rohit Sharma could do an even better job.
But perhaps earlier, Kohli was untouchable. No one dared suggest it. Kohli, himself, didn’t dare think it. The times, however, have changed now. Life in the bubble hasn’t been easy and the packed schedules have meant that a captain rarely has any time to himself.
So in a way, Kohli’s decision to step down as India’s T20 captain comes down to him perhaps just wanting some space for himself. He works hard, he parties hard and he celebrates with a zeal that is perhaps matched only by Imran Tahir but clearly, he felt the need to take more than the occasional break.
Kohli’s poor run with the bat would have been a huge contributing factor to his latest decision. He averages over 50 in Tests, ODIs and T20s – his class isn’t in doubt. But over the last year or so, cracks have appeared in a bat that had seemed to be far too wide for the bowlers in the years gone by. In 10 matches played over the last 12 months, Kohli has averaged just 30.88 – a far cry from his career average of 51.08.
In ODIs, he has averaged 50.33 (six matches) and in T20Is, he has averaged 73.00 (eight matches) in the same period. So his form in the shorter formats is not an issue but for a man who looks at Test cricket as the ultimate challenge, the slump in the longer format must hurt. The mode of dismissals would have hurt. But perhaps not being able to completely focus on his batting alone would have hurt the most.
The slump in form, at the age of 32, will concern him. If it isn’t arrested now, then it can go badly as we saw with Virender Sehwag or even a Vivian Richards. The aura diminishes a little, the bowlers come at you that little bit harder... they feel they can get you. So from Kohli’s and India’s perspectives, this is the right way forward.
India want him around for as long as possible and this should help in that sense too.
India doesn’t play too many T20Is in a year. In this year, they have played eight. In 2020, they played 11. In 2019, they played 16. In 2018, they played 19. It is a number that is much lower than the ODIs the team plays. But just being able to step back during those matches means that Kohli can breathe easy – he can take his foot off the pedal and not have to continuously pump up the boys.
And perhaps that is all he needs. Mahendra Singh Dhoni showed that it is possible to remain part of the team and to keep contributing. Sachin Tendulkar before him did the same. As did Rahul Dravid in the Test arena.
It also helps that India have a captain who has been waiting in the wings for a long time. Rohit Sharma has done the job for India in white-ball cricket before, he has also done it for the Mumbai Indians with great success and if anything, his presence would have made Kohli’s decision even easier.
Some will argue that the decision has been poorly timed. He could have perhaps announced it after the T20 World Cup. But it really doesn’t matter. From Kohli’s point of view, this is a weight off his shoulders. From the Indian cricket team’s point of view, everybody would have already known that this conversation was happening, so it clears the air. For the fans, it is nothing more than the passing of the baton.
With Ravi Shastri and the team management also set to end their tenure after the T20 World Cup, one might argue this is also the best time to go. Rohit Sharma will get to make a fresh start in every sense. It will be interesting to see how differently he will approach the game but one can confidently say, he will do his own thing.
But, at the end of the day, this comes down to just one thing – workload management. There is a shelf life when it comes to captaincy, mainly due to the demands it places on the individual, and stepping away from one format will allow Kohli to see what kind of impact it has on him.
We have seen greats across various sports prioritise events and focus on the means that will allow them to achieve their goals. Kohli, in that sense, is no different. He isn’t getting any younger and the body and the mind will appreciate the extra rest. In a way, the time out is little more than a plan to spend some more time in the middle.
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