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Do Kohli’s strange captaincy decisions undermine his strengths?

The Roar logo The Roar 29-09-2016

Congrats Team India and Virat Kohli for a comprehensive win in the first Test of the Home series versus New Zealand. Virat has now won eight out of 15 Tests, with two losses and five draws.

Kohli first became Test captain due to Dhoni’s injury in the first Test of the Australian tour in December 2014.

Dhoni returned to captaincy for the next two Tests before abruptly retiring. Kohli took over as Test captain for the fourth Test and thereafter has continued as India’s regular captain. Under his captaincy India drew an away Test versus Bangladesh, won against Sri Lanka 2-1 (away), won 3-0 against South Africa 3-0(home) and won against west Indies 2-0 (away).

Now there will be an unprecedented 13 Tests in a row at home which is expected to further improve his Captaincy record, given India’s home strength.

Twin hundreds on captaincy debut in Australia marked Virat out as a player who will not let captaincy affect his batting.

Indeed in the second innings of that Adelaide Test, Virat played what many called the best fourth innings played at Australia. India needed 364 in 98 overs and never played for a draw.

Virat’s 141 in 175 balls could have taken India to a famous win, but it was not to be as Australia fought back to reduce India from 242/2 to 315 all out. India and Virat won hearts though and ensured that unlike other tours where one left with despair, now the tour will end with promise.

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Virat’s captaincy has been by and large applauded. He has been seen as a bold and decisive leader, in contrast to his predecessor Dhoni who was seen as defensive and often clueless. Yet, there have been some curious selection issues which need a closer look. 

Karn Sharma playing the first Test at Australia in the 2014 series ahead of Ashwin was baffling. He took 2-143 in 33 overs and 2-95 in 16 overs in both innings. He never played Test cricket again and has played only two ODIs and one International T20.

Now Karn has taken 66 wickets in 34 first class matches @28.87 with only two fivers. Does that merit selection in the Indian touring side. Once in the squad, does that merit selection in the playing 11. India lost that Test by only 39 runs. Was Karn’s selection too much of a gamble?

In his second Test as captain, which was at Sydney versus Australia, India played Suresh Raina at Number 6 and Raina, a delightful ODI cricketer otherwise, failed his captain with a pair of ducks.

For this Test, Rohit was promoted to No.3 and Pujara was dropped. The point is that Sydney is reputed for helping spin, so shouldn’t 2 spinners have been played? What was the point of bringing Raina back in the last Test of the series?

The enigmatic Rohit Sharma looks super when he bats well. The balance is classy and the unhurried time he gets to play the ball is just awesome. Unfortunately he has not shown consistency at all.

To be fair, he probably has not got a full series at a settled spot. He has batted at 6, then pushed up to 3, dropped, brought back at 5, dropped again and brought back at 6. Virat seems unsure where to play him. His selection has also brought in other complications like juggling the batting order and experimenting with Virat at 3, Rahane at 3 and Pujara as opener.

Then there’s the curious case of Cheteswar Pujara. For some time it seemed as if Pujara was India’s replacement for Rahul Dravid. However his place in batting line up too was experimented with. 

Pujara was dropped, then even asked to open (as India was injury-hit), scored a hundred as opener before going back to number 3. He was dropped again and is now back as number 3. One has the feeling that he should be given a long rope at number 3, especially since now he is playing only Test Matches.

Virat’s five bowler theory should also be considered. This theory was started by Virat in the one-off Test versus Bangladesh and continued in the India-Sri Lanka away series which followed.

However who will be the fifth bowler was the issue. It was Harbhajan, then Binny, then Mishra. With fanfare Ashwin was promoted to Number 6 and he obliged his captain with two Test tons and it seemed as if the five bowler theory will stay.

However suddenly India reverted back to 6 batsmen and four bowlers. The point is, why not simply say that the best 11 will be chosen depending on situation of series, ground conditions etc.

The dropping of Murali Vijay was also inexplicable. For a few years Vijay played only when either Sehwag or Gambhir were injured. He thereafter staked his independent claim on merit and became India’s consistent number one batsman. In the second Test versus west indies at Kingston he was dropped and Rahul grabbed the chance, scoring 158.

However in the next Test when Vijay was fit he was dropped. Logically if Rahul was to be persisted with on form, then Shikhar should have been dropped and not Vijay. In fact to compound the selection jigsaw puzzle even Pujara was dropped and the batting order went awry with Kohli at 3, Rahane at 4 and Sharma at 5.

Maybe Kohli is experimenting with different combinations before settling down to what he feels is the best. Horses for courses are an acceptable, rather probably an advisable selection policy. However it does seem that his methods of selection are the other extreme of Dhoni who preferred to go in with the same 11, irrespective of conditions.

Its still early days for Kohli as Test Skipper but he is here to stay and its only a matter of time before he becomes captain in all formats. it would be interesting to revisit this article after say three years.

Do you agree that he has made the above mistakes?

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