Who is at the helm: Captain Kohli, ‘commentator’ Shastri or ‘mentor’ Dhoni?

With Kohli’s exit as the T20 captain after the World Cup, who will lead both on and off the field is a pertinent question, one without a simple answer

 

Split captaincy after Virat Kohli’s last assignment as T20 leader would indeed not be new to India. Kohli and his predecessor Mahendra Singh Dhoni shared it in the past, and before them, Dhoni partnered with Anil Kumble. Yet, the idea of having two coaches or two mentors with Dhoni joining Ravi Shastri in the team management role has confused most cricket pundits about BCCI’s intention for the future. 

To put it straight, it is no longer a secret that the Indian Cricket Board has in one snip clipped the wings of Shastri and skipper Kohli following the recent imbroglio on the England tour where the final Test was called off due to the Corona-19 explosion in the dressing room. And not to forget Shastri’s book launch and Kohli’s decision to attend the function along with almost every player of the team outside the strict bio-bubble, for which they were reportedly blamed for such negligence in the inquiry report submitted before BCCI.

The big question now is how this will pan out for the team players?

Till now, there was hardly any resistance to any decision taken by Kohli from anyone including the head coach Shastri. Also, it was hardly a secret to anyone in the Board that Shastri was only a “motivator” and not a “coach”. The coaching part was taken care of by others in the support staff i.e., bowling coach Bharat Arun, fielding coach R. Sridhar and batting coach Vikram Rathour.

Though Dhoni’s entry as the team’s mentor would hardly impact the ongoing arrangements as the former India skipper’s main job would be to “mentor the team” during the T20 World Cup, it may, however, confuse the players in the dressing room because there would be two “motivators” instead of the earlier one.

Going by the record of all three, Kohli included, is strong-headed, opinionated and bullish about making decisions. It was a different situation when Dhoni used to take charge during crunch situations to bail out the “inexperienced skipper” during playing days, but to do the same from off the field could well strain the relationship between the two.

Kohli has no option but to exit the T20 scene on a high. And the man who can help him realise this dream is none other than Dhoni, under whom Team India won three major limited-overs trophies — ICC World T20 in 2007, the 2011 World Cup and the 2013 Champions Trophy. And that remains India’s last big international title.

Virat could hope that with Dhoni being part of the think-tank, he will finally lift his first ICC trophy as a captain.

 

Dhoni as a full-time coach?

There are few people inside the BCCI who want Dhoni as the future head coach of Team India. But that may not be the aim for Dhoni himself, given his commitment to Indian Premier League (IPL) team Chennai Super Kings. One thing, however, is clear that Shastri, who has been the coach since 2017, has packed his bags to avoid any embarrassment and informed the Board about his decision well in advance. The coach-in-waiting Rahul Dravid, who is everyone’s favourite to take up this job, is currently not keen till the old generation of players (read Rohit Sharma in particular) are in the team.

Dravid is in no hurry and happily making money sitting at home in Bengaluru. He may not even apply for the job after Shastri’s exit in a month. That leaves BCCI with few options like Kumble or VVS Laxman for this high-profile job of managing the big stars with big egos.

Coming back to Kohli’s last T20 leadership assignment, there may be a few challenging moments inside the dressing room for him to strike a fine balance between Shastri and Dhoni. Those who know Kohli well do understand that this Delhi player is known for throwing his weight over others inside the dressing room. Who has forgotten the ugly spat between him and chief coach Kumble in 2017, just before Shastri’s entry, which forced the entire Board — then led by Supreme Court-appointed committee chief Vinod Rai — to agree to his demand of axing the former skipper?

Kohli may be on a downward slide, but he still enjoys the backing of a powerful “north lobby” within the Board. It’s only a matter of hitting one big score with the willow and he is back to his original self again. And if that happens when Shastri is around, Kohli would use all his power to stop Kumble from coming into the fold.

 

Virat Kohli of India looks on from the dressing room during day one of the tour match between Australia A and India at Sydney Cricket Ground PHOTO: Getty

My way or highway

There is no difference of opinion that throughout his captaincy, Kohli has backed pacers more than spinners and that’s the reason why we saw the world’s top off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin warming up the benches during the recent England tour.

Whereas, Dhoni had always backed spinners like Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav, Amit Mishra and Yuzvendra Chahal. That’s how leggie Mishra was part of the Playing XI in all the matches during the 2014 T20 World Cup.

It was only after his departure as captain of Team India that performances of Chahal or Yadav dipped significantly under Kohli’s leadership. And no wonder both have now failed to make a cut to India’s 15-member squad for the T20 World Cup as well.

Dhoni’s mantra for success was constant chatting and plotting from behind the stumps, apart from coming good with the bat at crunch situations. That was the reason he was nicknamed “world’s top finisher” for his contributions.

Kohli, on the other hand, showed more aggression on the field. It is a different matter that Team India failed to win any major limited-overs title under his leadership. India lost in the final of the 2017 Champions Trophy to Pakistan and lost in the semi-finals of the 2019 50-over World Cup to New Zealand.

In the IPL too, Kohli, Royal Challengers Bangalore has not tasted success to date.

Kohli’s leadership, however, will be best remembered for two away series victories in Australia. One thing is for sure that regardless of what the record books suggest, Kohli would never accept any interference in his captaincy. He would never like to go down as a leader in the history books who was there on the field to take instructions from outside, just like what we are witnessing in Kolkata Knight Riders’ (KKR) dugout where the coaching staff is seen ordering bowling changes by sitting on the fence.

 

Who needs mentoring then?

With World T20 in the UAE hardly a month away, India should be focusing on getting its act together rather than dwelling on other issues of the next coach or a captain. There is no doubt that by tweeting his decision of quitting captaincy well in advance, Kohli has started an unnecessary debate over the next leader before such an important tournament. But there are players like Rishabh Pant or newcomers like Varun Chakravarthy, Rahul Chahar, Suryakumar Yadav and Ishan who are heading into their first big tournament and need constant patting on their shoulders

If there is anyone who can mould these new-exciting talents into a finished product, there could be no one better equipped to do so than Dhoni. But then what will be the role of Shastri there?

The answer may not be an easy one, but he is certainly not the one who can sit quietly in one corner and watch others run away with credit. He has ruled Indian cricket for over three years now and to ignore him just like that may not be that easy for BCCI or the new mentor.

Only time will tell!

 

(Cover: Getty images)
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Chander Shekhar Luthra
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