Virat Kohli: Captain Or Leader?

In the hustle and bustle of the hectic T20 season, it is easy to forget about the pressing issues that currently plague Indian cricket. 

Effective bowlers are at a premium, with guys like Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron surfacing only during the IPL to disappear with injuries and rehabilitation for the rest of the year. Dhawan is still out of form and Rohit has been inconsistent, while somebody is yet to fill Yuvraj’s spot in ODI cricket (and now, T20 cricket). 

Many will immediately agree that Virat Kohli is the lone bright spot—a shining jewel of sorts—amidst the ruins of modern-day Indian cricket. Controversies explode off the field with allegations and resignations, but the boy has quickly transformed into an intimidating figure feared by bowlers world over. His consistency is extraordinary, and he is even finding his feet in Test Cricket—scoring a century in South Africa, Australia as well as New Zealand. With the England and Australia tours beckoning again, Kohli’s is a reputation to be proud of for Indian fans, because he rarely ever lets his passion rub him the wrong way anymore.

But Kohli, contrary to public perception, is still a boy. 

A brilliant boy, but not yet a man. 
Probably the best boy in world cricket, but not yet the guiding figure required of him.
 
A glaring example of his premature rise to superstardom is his ability to lead on the field. Much like Michael Clarke when he hit the scene running back in 2004, Kohli was immediately touted as leader-in-waiting in an Indian team run by stable, occasionally unimaginative minds. Why not, too? Kohli was the Under19 World-Cup winning captain for this side back in 2007, and he led with such great determination and inevitability that experts swore by his hot-headedness. A young Ganguly, perhaps what the national team needs after the ice-cool Dhoni. Moreover, after a rocky first year, he made a successful rare transition to the senior ranks—even playing a crucial role in the World Cup final in 2011. It was only a matter of time, depending on when Dhoni decided to hang his captaincy boots. Kohli soon became the best young batsman in world cricket, and he is now one of the two best batsmen in cricket. His rise has been meteoric and astounding as a skilful player, one who understood his limitations and whipped them into a bin. While some boys are born to lead (Ganguly, Dhoni, Steve Waugh), some boys are born to bat. Tendulkar, and now Kohli, are those boys who refuse to grow up. 
 
Because growing up would require the ability to lead.
Not necessarily by example, but by instinct. It would require a roaring strand of selflessness in leadership, not only to be a captain, but to guide a group of different souls in the same direction. Tendulkar, as we discovered, wasn’t that man—his refusal to grow up and be the best boy came at a price. India would never be able to garner his cricketing acumen and knowledge under the garb of leadership. Behind the scenes, as the messiah and boy with a billion hopes on his shoulders—that job, he relished. To come from behind in a team barely standing, and push them to greater heights. To not be responsible for failures, to be out of the glaring harsh limelight (one that he was always in)—was a decision made by everybody to further his status as living legend. 
 
Kohli, at age 25, is at those crossroads. Tendulkar was the same age when captaincy was thrust upon him—why can’t our best player lead? He leads by example, anyway. But it wasn’t so simple. Rarely is a team’s best player their captain; Brian Lara had no choice, there was nobody deemed worthy enough to take a fall for failures. That explains by captains like Smith, Ganguly, Waugh, Taylor, Strauss and Ranatunga were successful—they accepted their playing mortality by bearing a cross for their team. In return, they were given longer ropes. 
 
Kohli, for some reason, isn’t looked at as the same batsman when he leads the team. He is on the screen too much, and is gesturing and thinking too often. He is not that run-monster waiting quietly in the sheds to walk in at 3, to pull off yet another improbable chase while others stutter around him. He becomes those others, because he is in the limelight and he cannot rise like a phoenix. He has already risen, and is at the top, and whatever he accomplishes from here on will be taken for granted. As Captain and leader though, he has a lot more to lose. 
His leadership hasn’t exactly inspired his teams to greater success either. Captaining Bangalore for his second full year, he is yet to reach the knockouts with arguably the most fiery batting line-up in the history of cricket. While his field placements have been aggressive and thoughtful, the batting order often defies logic. He has faced more disappointment as their captain, as he did when he led Team India in the recent Asia Cup. He wasn’t necessarily at a loss of ideas, but he had to face to brutal reality of the scant resources at hand. How did Dhoni ever manage such bowlers, he would think. His batting wasn’t affected too much, but his clarity of thought was. As a result, his team failed to reach the final. This, after winning 5 ODI games on the trot in Zimbabwe to falsely boost popular claims of Kohli as the next Sarkaar. 
 
It isn’t too early anymore to decipher the boy’s potential as captain. He has been playing for five years now, and is almost a senior figure at 25 in the lineup. So far, the evidence points to the latter. There is no magic touch or inspired bursts of aggression. He has been okay—as okay as, say, a Dravid was when he was just filling in for the sake of his country. 
My point is: Virat Kohli isn’t the best captain-in-waiting. He is the best player, and possibly the best judge of techniques of batsmanship, but this is limited to his understanding of himself. As a batsman without the pressures of leadership, he can be a far more effective unofficial captain—a mentor, for those who refuse to acknowledge the post. More so, Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma make better leaders; they don’t inspire confidence, but they don’t need to. All they need to do is understand and man-manage, something they have proved they are good at. Rohit’s run as MI captain has hit a rough patch, but not due to his leadership. His team has been stifled and shot, but that can’t take away from his achievements last year. Under him, MI won the IPL and CL—and T20 captaincy is often the best indication of a player’s ability to act instinctively and be quick. ODI cricket is only an extension of the same, easier at that, and Test Cricket requires a further refining of the same mindset. 
It would be in India’s best interests to let Virat continue as future captain throughout his career, till he ends. In between, guys like Shikhar, Rohit and even Ashwin would make good alter boys. To men.

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