Confirming reports that were doing the rounds during the last few weeks, the Indian cricket board announced on Monday that captain Virat Kohli will return home from Australia after the first of four Test matches in Adelaide.
India, holders of the Border Gavaskar Trophy, created history under Kohli’s captaincy in Australia last time around as they won the Test series: a first in Indian cricket history.
But this time around, Kohli will miss three out of the four Test matches in Australia to be with wife Anushka Sharma as the couple prepare to welcome their first child in early January.
“Kohli had informed the BCCI about his plans to return to India after the first Test in Adelaide. The BCCI has granted paternity leave to the Indian captain. He will return after the first Test against Australia in Adelaide,” Board secretary Jay Shah stated in a press release on Monday.
The centrally-contracted players are eligible for paternity leave and one that Rohit Sharma had availed of during the 2018 tour of Australia, reported PTI.
India’s tour of Australia comprises three ODIs, as many T20 Internationals and four Tests. The series begins November 27. The Tests start on December 17 in Adelaide with a highly-anticipated day-night Test match.
Kohli will miss the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne (December 26-30), New Year’s Test in Sydney (January 7-11) and the final game at the Gabba (January 15-19).
Now for starters, the obvious point is that India will miss a batsman of Kohli’s calibre in what promises to be a battle much tougher than the last time around. Australia are likely to have David Warner and Steve Smith back in the XI while Marnus Labuschagne is a batsman reborn since the time India faced him last time.
But looking beyond that, it is an important decision in Indian cricket because it sets the right precedent for a modern athlete who wants to put family first. Conventionally, not just in cricket, sportsmen are often hailed for putting country over family.
For one instance, MS Dhoni made a decision to stay back in Australia in 2015 and missed the birth of his daughter Ziva. “I have been blessed with a baby daughter. Mum and daughter both are good. But as of now, I am on national duties so I think everything else can wait. The World Cup is a very important campaign,” he had said back then.
That is often cited as an example of epitome of professionalism and of course, speaks well about Dhoni’s approach to national duties. The converse of this, however, not true. A decision such as the one Kohli has taken should, in an ideal world, not come under criticism.
Because one just has to pick any random Kohli interview in the past few years to find out how highly he rates Test cricket. So this is not an easy call for him by any means, but one that — especially in a year like 2020 — makes complete sense. The quarantine requirements also mean it is not easy to travel from one country to another at one’s will and minimise time away from the team, which would have played a part in Kohli’s decision-making process.
It should be actively encouraged going forward for sportspersons and knowing the cricket captain can do that, should make it easier for other cricketers to follow suit without worrying about their place in the squad. That should be the big takeaway of this decision.
And it is important to make the point very clear here that it is a personal decision of the athlete. As sports continue to evolve off-field, it is important to not criticise an athlete for putting family first even if it is at the expense of a series as important as the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.
Whether it be players taking leave to be with their partners for childbirth or Mitchell Starc flying out of a series back to Australia to attend the T20 World Cup final where his partner Alyssa Healy was in action, this is a welcome change in modern sport to see decisions like these being taken.