MS Dhoni and Sourav Ganguly have been considered the two greatest Indian captains to date. While Dhoni won India three major ICC titles, apart from taking them to the position of the no. 1 Test team in the world, Ganguly, as a captain, improved India’s overseas performances by leaps and bounds. It was during Ganguly’s era that India started challenging for world titles as well. Virat Kohli has already surpassed both Dhoni and Ganguly in terms of the no. of Test matches that he has won. Kohli’s win percentage as a captain in limited-overs cricket is also very good, but India have struggled to perform well in big knock-out games under Kohli.
While the men in blue were beaten by Pakistan in the final of the Champions Trophy 2017, they lost the semi-final match of the ODI World Cup last year against New Zealand. India went into both those games as favorites and eventually came second.
There was a similarity in the way India lost against Pakistan in 2017 and against New Zealand in 2019. On both occasions, the top order was removed early by the opposition’s new-ball bowlers and the middle order failed to come to the fore.
So, why is it that India have struggled to have a steady middle-order under Kohli?
Kohli is someone who gives the players all the freedom to express themselves on the ground which is one of his good qualities as captain. The only little blip in his captaincy is that he loses his patience very easily with the middle order players. He had identified Ambati Rayudu as India’s potential no. 4 for the World Cup 2019 and gave him a go for about a year at that position. However, just as Rayudu had a couple of bad series, he got dropped from the World Cup squad altogether and it was Vijay Shankar who was designated as India’s new no. 4.
But, to everybody’s surprise, even Vijay Shankar didn’t bat at no. 4 for India in the World Cup and Kohli went with KL Rahul at no. 4, a batsman who had actually been picked as the reserve opener in the Indian World Cup squad. Eventually in India’s most important game of the World Cup, which was the semi-final against New Zealand, it was Rishabh Pant who batted at no. 4 for India and Pant was the player who was not even picked in the original World Cup squad.
Is Kohli’s impatience with the middle order players not allowing them to find their feet and is it, therefore, preventing the team from having a settled middle order? It certainly seems so at this stage. And, that’s where Kohli can probably learn from two of his predecessors Dhoni and Ganguly.
While Ganguly backed players like Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh who were largely inconsistent at the start of their careers, Dhoni also threw his weight behind Suresh Raina and Rohit Sharma, two of the misfiring youngsters.
As it turned out, all four of these players became great assets for India in limited-overs cricket because of the backing of their captains.
After KL Rahul’s impressive performance with the gloves in the recent ODI series against Australia, Kohli has now said that Rahul would continue keeping wickets in both T20Is for India. By saying so, the Indian captain has now casted a bit of an uncertainty around Rishabh Pant’s place in the team.
Rishabh Pant is a player who is pretty much like Yuvraj, Sehwag and Raina. He is someone who can win India games single-handedly on big occasions, but he needs to develop as a player and it can’t happen if he is not given the long run, with the security about his place in the team.
If Kohli provides that security to Pant, who knows India might unearth another Yuvraj?
Conclusion: India have so much talent at their disposal that sometimes it’s tough to back a certain player who is not performing consistently because there is always somebody sitting outside, waiting in the wings.
But, a young player’s development as a seasoned campaigner is not possible without proper backing. While it’s important for Kohli and the Indian team management to identify the right personnel from the pool of talent that they have, once the personnel is identified, he needs to be backed to the hilt.