“Virat as captain is a work in progress,” West Indies great Clive Loyd said on the sidelines of the ongoing second Test between India and England at Lord’s.
If the first Test in Edgbaston was spent regaling at the 29-year-old’s batting chops, the first few days in the second Test have gone in assessing Kohli’s acumen as captain.
On Saturday, as England came out to bat, the task was cut out for India. The cloud cover that had caused considerable damage to India’s fortunes with the bat a day ago had disappeared. With a modest first innings total of 107 on board, India did not have much to work with. However, a terrific spell from pacer Mohammad Shami gave India a chance of staging a fightback.
But, India were guilty of letting the game slip as Jonny Bairstow and Chris Woakes shared a 189-run stand for the sixth wicket to steer England towards a commanding lead.
The field turned defensive the moment England got off to a steady start. India had momentum on their side just towards end of the morning session but could not maintain the pressure post-lunch since Kohli chose to revert to a conservative field the moment Bairstow and Woakes got going.
The problems had started with the team selection itself. The decision to include two spinners even after seeing a whole day getting washed out due to rain was a call that not many other skippers would have made.
And Kohli’s captaincy was found wanting for most part of the day. While his decision to play two spinners in the playing XI backfired, it was the marshalling of the troops available in the middle that was clearly below-par.
Star spinner R Ashwin came into bowl as late as the 39th over. But, when he did it was from the pavilion end and not from the nursery end that could have allowed him to gain assistance from the famous Lord’s slope.
Ashwin had shown a lot of effectiveness against left-handers. The off-spinner had Alastair Cook’s number in Birmingham. While the England opener fell early in the innings there was no reason to believe Ashwin could not provide a breakthrough as England got off to a steady start.
Even in Edgbaston, Kohli had come for some criticism from former England skipper Nasser Hussain for removing Ashwin out of the attack even as left-handed Sam Curran came into bat during England’s second innings, thereby letting slip the momentum. Curran went onto play a match-winning 63-run knock.
On Saturday, the decision to not use Ashwin early seemed bizarre. In fact, Kohli introduced Kuldeep early but the young chinaman bowler seemed overawed by the occasion. He failed to turn up.
The act of handing the ball to Kuldeep ahead of Ashwin proved that the left-arm spinner was part of the team’s strategy. We are not privy to information of who concocted the plan but Kohli is the captain and takes the blame.
Need a more inclusive approach
Over the past few months, experts and former players have wondered whether Kohli takes any advice from seniors in his team. At face value, it appears not many question his calls even if they are not ideal.
In the post-match analysis show, former India skipper Sourav Ganguly and Sanjay Manjrekar felt Kohli was missing team-mates who speak their minds.
Ganguly was critical of the way Kohli went about his day and felt the Indian skipper did not provide his bowlers with ideal field placings.
He lamented on the fact that the team lacked characters who could go up to Kohli and speak their mind. He reflected on his side that included the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble, among others.
Other than MS Dhoni not many have the standing to question Kohli. Ashwin comes close but not many others. Dhoni not being part of the Test set up means Kohli is on his own. His insistence on controlling even who will coach the side has already made it clear that he calls the shots.
There is no doubt that Kohli, the batsman, is peerless and needs little to prove. The same can’t be said of Kohli, the captain. In Tests, most of his success has come at home. The series against England is one of the key moments in his career that’ll be looked back upon as a landmark event.
So far, though, the India skipper has been behind the eight ball when it comes to captaincy.
With two days left in the Lord’s Test, India have a mountain to climb if they are to get a favourable result from this game. Kohli, the batsman will be key to making this a reality and he will hopefully steer clear of inputs from Kohli, the captain.