New Delhi: Going for the win at the risk of losing and playing five bowlers were two non-negotiables for Virat Kohli, India’s most successful Test captain.
Having taken up Test captaincy from M S Dhoni in the middle of a series in Australia back in 2014, Kohi changed the way India played the five-day game.
Filling in for the injured Dhoni in the Adelaide Test, Kohli not for once thought about a draw with India needing 364 runs in 98 overs on day five. His aggressive approach rubbed off on to the entire team as the visitors got agonisingly close to a famous win before losing the game by 48 runs.
“At no point did we not think about chasing the score down. We have come here to play positive cricket. No sort of negativity is welcome in this group. That’s the kind of belief we have come here with,” Kohli said after the loss that sowed the seeds of many famous wins overseas during his seven-year tenure as captain.
“This has been one of our strongest performances overseas in the past two-three years, and I am really proud the way the boys played in this game.”
‘Lions at home, lambs abroad’ was the tag associated with past teams but Kohli ensured India became the team for all conditions, he took out the place and pitch out of the equation.
Five-bowler theory that reaped rich rewards:
Before Kohli, winning a Test overseas was considered a big deal but when he shocked the cricketing world by stepping down from captaincy on Saturday, his rich legacy included a team mentality which did not settle for anything less than a series victory.
What enabled Kohli to win Test matches overseas regularly was the fast bowling resources he had at his disposal. The likes of Mohammad Shami, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav and Jasprit Bumrah flourished under his leadership, turning into India’s most fearsome bowling attack of all times.
Former chief selector MSK Prasad, whose majority of the tenure coincided with Kohli’s reign as captain in all three formats, explained how the champion batter contributed to India’s stellar success across formats.
“First of all I feel he built a wining culture in the side, especially away from home. He introduced the five bowler theory and fitness culture he had helped change before that,” Prasad, who thought Kohli had another three four years of captaincy left in him, told PTI.
“He brought aggression into the side. Kohli along with the rest of the stakeholders created a bench strength of fast bowlers which helped us take 20 wickets when we were travelling.”
Fast-tracking Bumrah’s Test debut:
Kohli had managed to build a strong pace attack for all conditions but the x-factor was missing, which was eventually provided by Jasprit Bumrah, who since making his Test debut in South Africa four years ago, has become of the one of the best bowlers in the world.
“I still remember in 2017 we had decided to groom Bumrah for an away series. We gave him rest from limited overs cricket and told him to focus on his red ball cricket. He took a six wicket haul in the Ranji semifinal that year and that convinced Virat and all of us that he could excel in Test cricket,” recalled Prasad.
Rohit Sharma the opener proved to be a masterstroke:
Though the decision to push Rohit at the top of the order to resurrect his Test career was suggested by head coach Ravi Shastri, Kohli bought into that idea completely.
It not only revived Rohit’s Test career and also gave the team the strokemaker, the team was looking for at the top of the order. Kohli wanted his bowlers to take 20 wickets and his batters to go for runs and not just survive.
The bowlers delivered on that promise more often that not but the batting remains a work in progress with star studded line-up coming a cropper overseas on multiple occasions, most recently in South Africa.
‘One of the best captains of all times’:
Former India captain and chief selector Dilip Vengsarkar, who gave his Kohli his big break in international cricket after tracking his career since the U-16 level, feels it would be difficult to match Kohli’s exemplary record as captain.
“40 wins in 68 Tests (fourth highest in overall wins category). The records speak highly of his captaincy. His positive outlook to the game, he always looked to play five bowlers which sometimes could backfire but that is the way he played the game. In the end, the team won many matches with that approach,” said Vengsarkar.
Kohli endured his fair share of lows along with the historic highs. He led the team to Test wins in England and South Africa besides the series win in Australia but could not get his hands on the ICC World Test Championship trophy despite being the best team in that two-year cycle.
India won a series in Australia for the first time ever in 2018-19 besides scaling new heights in limited overs cricket.
“The success rate under him across formats is outstanding. We were number one in all formats of the game. We beat every side in their own backyard in limited overs cricket.
“However, one low point would certainly be is not being able to win series in South Africa and England in 2018. Both series were closely fought but we ended up on the wrong side,” lamented Prasad.