The England series is just around the corner. And the reins of the Indian team have been handed back to Virat Kohli as captain, now that he is back from paternity leave. Which is such a pity. This was just the right aperture in the history of Indian cricket to do something the BCCI should have done much earlier: split the captaincy into three, give the Test helmsmanship to Ajinkya Rahane; let Virat Kohli continue to be the ODI captain; and get Rohit Sharma to lead the T20 side. Heretical? Maybe. Maybe not.
I am not saying that Virat Kohli is a bad captain. He has had some excellent outings as skipper of the Indian side. But when India folded up for 42 all out in England in 1974 at Lord’s, the then captain Ajit Wadekar not only lost his captaincy, but also lost his position in the Indian team (he was even sacked from the West Zone team). Sure, Virat Kohli had decided much much earlier to proceed on paternity leave before the 36 all out collapse. But after the biggest ever disaster in Indian Test history, he could surely have cancelled his immediate departure, and stayed back to help the team stage a come-back in the next Test? The BCCI would certainly not have grudged paying for the postponement of his return tickets. And this is the same Virat Kohli who came in the morning to play his Ranji match after the death of his father the previous night. Kohli, in his current famous avatar, despite India hitting the nadir, proceeded on leave. Team India was in tatters. Humiliated. Devastated. Dejected. As a responsible captain, Kohli needed to put the country before self; he didn’t. Wonder why.
I am also not saying that Virat Kohli is a bad T20 captain. But it is a known fact that Rohit Sharma as Mumbai Indians captain has led his franchise to five titles in the IPL; Virat Kohli has not had even a single gold finish at the podium with Royal Challengers. There must surely be something that Sharma must be doing well to win the trophy time and over again; and there must really be something that Kohli is not doing right not to be able to lift the trophy even once. No? What is wrong then with getting Sharma to lead India in T20s? Maybe he will deliver superior results.
Now to Ajinkya Rahane as a captaincy candidate. Rahane had Mount Everest to climb when he had to stand in for Kohli post Adelaide. Rahane as captain transcended courage, character and calm; demonstrated resolve, grit, determination and team spirit in out-thinking and out maneuvering Australia on the field to mount an impossible fightback. His sharp tactical moves were bold and astute. His strategies focused on the imperative. And it won’t be an exaggeration to say that in Melbourne and Sydney, Rahane out-captained Tim Paine by a big margin. Virat Kohli is too excitable, too abrasive and too aggressive mostimes. Even coach Ravi Shastri acknowledged that “Virat Kohli is passionate and in the face”. If he had stayed onto lead India, a 4-0 score in Australia’s favour looked a near certainty. There would have been the usual Kohli bluster and bombast. But the 2-1 win that Rahane cemented may just not have happened. Shastri said of Rahane, “Ajinkya Rahane is a shrewd leader, has a good understanding of the game. He was a calming influence for the debutants and the bowlers. Ajinkya is prepared to sit back in a calm and composed manner. Deep inside, he knows what he wants”.
But poor Rahane has now quietly retreated back to his deputy status in the Indian team, praising his boss Kohli as a great leader, and settled into willing subservience. Ajinkya Rahane knows full well that Virat Kohli is too big a star to pit himself against for the captaincy. How I wish it were not so.
On the advertising endorsements front, Virat Kohli’s captaincy has earned him over two dozen current endorsements, possibly more. Ajinkya Rahane has nearly zero solus endorsements. Rohit Sharma does have a few brands under his belt but both quantitatively and qualitatively, they are no comparison to the top flight names that Virat Kohli endorses.
In my last column I had written about how captains have historically taken the lion’s share of endorsements. Were Kohli to have to share the captaincy with Rahane and Sharma, his top dog position in brand ambassadorships could well be diluted significantly. Brands would have more options … gravitas, solidity, sincerity of purpose, Rahane, good for financial, tech and educational products as also tyres and automobiles; mature, understated, authentic, straightforward, Sharma, ideal for banks, credit cards, payment gateways, telecom, handsets, e-commerce; leaving all the younger, fizzier, excitable product lines for Kohli.
The argument in favour of a split captaincy is really simple. Choose the best man for a given job. Don’t just go by the aura surrounding a single superstar player. He maybe the best-est player in the side but not necessarily the best man to lead the team. It happened with Sachin Tendulkar; it happened with Nawab of Pataudi. Maybe Virat Kohli too needs to be given a breather. No more, no less. Sure, Virat Kohli has been a good captain, a winning captain. But does that mean that he is best captain for every format? Also, does leaving the team in the deep dumps in Australia reflect well on Captain Kohli? Sure being a good husband and a proud father is important but being Captain of the Indian cricket team is a big job: some say the second most important job in the country after the Prime Minister! Surely that eminence and importance does call for a few sacrifices. What say you, Captain Kohli?
Dr. Sandeep Goyal has worked with almost all Indian captains in his 36-years long innings in advertising & media.