JOHANNESBURG Virat Kohli rules Indian cricket with an iron hand. His is the final word. Every word that Kohli utters, every action he performs, and every decision he takes as captain of the Indian cricket team is – at all times – held on to, dissected, debated, hailed and criticised.
Therefore, much as the privileges he commands in his celebrated sphere, the onus lies on Kohli alone to take the blame when it is due.
It is this fine line that the 29-year-old could only be beginning to comprehend now. The series defeat to South Africa, in ways that he may not agree with, has brought out in the open a thorough lack of vision shown in preparing for one of the toughest journeys the Indian cricket team will partake this year.
After only eight days of Test match cricket in 2018, India are left with only the mace and no mettle. And therefore, despite scoring the only century of the series so far – a mighty impressive 153 in the first innings at Centurion where every other Indian batsman failed – Kohli will still have to stand up and speak what’s been unspoken yet.
Speak not in words but in actions, for once again it is his overpowering personality that will come into focus. He knows, better than anyone else, that India cannot afford to leave the South African shores without making a statement.
Here in central Johannesburg, only a couple of miles away from the intimidating Bullring (the Wanderers stadium), he’s busy planning his next move.
The questions he should be busy asking himself right now are tougher than how they would have seemed only a month ago. Is this team technically efficient to handle the pressures of Test match cricket in conditions that are foreign and extremely challenging? Was he being fair to Ajinkya Rahane, India’s most successful overseas Test batsman, by dropping him for the first two Test matches? Should Shikhar Dhawan have been the preferred choice as opener ahead of KL Rahul in Cape Town? Was Jasprit Bumrah ready to be thrown to the wolves all so suddenly? Is this present bunch motivated enough to survive on a tour as big as this one?
Answers to some of these questions will not be comfortable.
Kohli himself raised the bar for the rest of the team after the first Test defeat with a classical century, one that came soon after he had questioned the “intent” of some of the members in this Indian team.
Cheteshwar Pujara, his commander-in-chief with the bat in Test cricket, ran himself out miserably in both the innings at Centurion. Kohli-the-skipper has no control over that kind of a brain-freeze. Hardik Pandya giving away his wicket clumsily, Shikhar Dhawan playing the most bizarre of shots to get out, Parthiv Patel dropping almost everything – these are not the kind of factors Kohli would have any control over.
It was Kohli’s decision, backed of course by a majority of the team members who look up to him, to do away with Anil Kumble as coach of the Indian team – a decision that he and the rest of the team still reckons was the right thing to do.
In doing so, he also sent across the message that from then on, the onus would remain on him alone to set things right for this team and live up to the numerous challenges that lie ahead this year and the next.