5 Ways Captain Virat Kohli Transformed Indian Cricket




Collage of several expressions of Virat Kohli
The many faces of Virat Kohli

Test captain Virat Kohli has decided to step down.

Shocking? Absolutely yes! Surprising? No.

Looking at the events over the past few months—stepping down from RCB captaincy, then giving up T20I leadership to focus on the 2023 ODI World Cup and World Test Championship, and finally relinquishing ODI captaincy altogether to Rohit Sharma—Test captaincy resignation was bound to happen.

We just could not have guessed it would be so soon, especially after the recent success of the Indian Test team.

Today we look at 5 ways how ViratKohli’s Test captaincy transformed Indian cricket and what holds in his career ahead.

1. Overseas Victories Became the Norm, not an Aberration

Since the turn of the century, India’s journey in Test cricket can be divided in three phases:

  • 2000-2010: Phase 1 (Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble, MS Dhoni)
  • 2011-2017: Phase 2 (MS Dhoni, Virat Kohli)
  • 2017-2021: Phase 3 (Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane)

Phase I – India Start Winning Matches Overseas, Not Series

In Phase 1, India achieved 23 overseas victories & 20 draws (out of 64 Total).

Here is the country-by-country analysis (ESPN Cricinfo StatsGuru Link):

  • 7 SENA Victories
    • 2 Wins Vs SA (Johannesburg 2006, Durban 2010)
    • 2 Vs England (Leeds 2002, Nottingham 2007)
    • 1 Vs NZ (Hamilton 2009)
    • 2 Vs Australia (Adelaide 2003, Perth 2008)
  • 3 Vs Sri Lanka (Kandy 2001, Galle 2008, Colombo 2010)
  • 2 Vs West Indies (Port of Spain 2002, Kingston 2006)
  • 2 Vs Pakistan (Multan & Rawalpindi 2004)
  • 3 Vs Zimbabwe (Bulawayo 2001 & 2005, Harare 2006)
  • 6 Vs Bangladesh (Dhaka 2000, 2004, 2007, & 2010, Chattogram 2004 & 2010)

Although India won matches all around, they failed to win a series in SA or Australia (they did win historic series against WI 2006 & England 2007 though).

Phase 2 – The Horror

In the six years of Phase 2, India only achieved 6 victories & 10 draws (out of 32 total). (StatsGuru)

  • 3 Vs West Indies (Kingston 2011, North Sound 2016, Gros Islet 2016)
  • 2 Vs Sri Lanka (both Colombo 2015)
  • 1 vs England (Lord’s 2014)

The 8-0 (4-0 vs England followed by 4-0 Vs Australia) will be forever etched as a horror phase for Indian Test cricket. Whoever watched those two tours, realize the depths of despair Indian cricket was in. (I personally watched every single ball of that 2011 England series…Except for Dravid’s 3 tons, it was a pretty dreadful experience)

When Virat Kohli took over as captain in 2014 from MS Dhoni, India was ranked the #7 Test team in the world. Captain Virat Kohli made an impact right away with his twin tons in Adelaide, the second of which was a heartbreaker.

In order to go for the win, Kohli was prepared to lose. This was the learning phase.

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Phase 3 – The Rise of Kohli, the Captain

Then came the rise.

Just three and half years between July 2017 & December 2021, team Indiawon 14 matches away & 3 draws (out of 31 total). (StatsGuru)

  • 9 SENA Victories
    • 2 Vs South Africa (Johannesburg 2018, Centurion 2021)
    • 3 Vs England (Nottingham 2018, Lord’s 2021, Oval 2021)
    • 4 Vs Australia (Adelaide 2018, Melbourne 2018 & 2020, Brisbane 2021)
  • 2 Vs West Indies (North Sound 2019, Kingston 2019)
  • 3 Vs Sri Lanka (Galle, Colombo, Pallekele 2017)

2020-2021 season alone had 5 SENA victories, almost as many as the 2000s put together! And this does not even include the great Vihari-Ashwin draw at Sydney.

Although the 1-2 loss against South Africa dented Kohli’s legacy, the fact that India were favorites in a country they had never won is a testament to his leadership. From #7 to #1 for 4-5 years? Not bad, I say (Watch India getting the ICC Test mace as Shastri interviews Kohli)

Also Read: India Vs Australia Series Review 2020-21: The Greatest Story of Them All? Better Than Ashes 2005?

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2. Developing A Fast-Bowling Culture

The most widely recognized contribution of captain Virat Kohli is the development of a fast-bowling culture in Indian cricket.

If you watched 83, the movie based on India’s 1983 World Cup winning campaign under captain Kapil Dev, India’s first true fast bowling allrounder. In the story, you can see that India were not expected to build fast bowlers. There was no proper system, zero support staff, and the infrastructure was lacking.

Over the years, India started to develop some medium pacers—Venkatesh Prasad, Javagal Srinath, (most prominently) Zaheer Khan, Munaf Patel, Sreesanth, Irfan Pathan, Praveen Kumar, RP Singh, Agarkar, and Balaji. Although they all had good seasons, except Zaheer Khan, none lasted for more than 5 years.

The Turnaround

After the second coming of ‘unlucky’ Ishant Sharma after his 7-74 at Lord’s 2014, the story changed. Kohli recognized that for India to win overseas, they had to take 20 wickets. For that to happen in the spicy & bouncy pitches, he & coach Ravi Shastri were willing to give complete freedom to his fast bowlers, who were then developed under bowling coach Bharat Arun (and mentored by Zaheer Khan early in their careers or in respective IPL teams).

Fast forward five years, Ishant Sharma cannot even find a place in the XI in the lost series against South Africa. Why? Well, because…

Jasprit Bumrah is the best bowler in the world. Mohammad Shami is the king of second innings reverse swing. Umesh Yadav is as good as it gets for a fast bowler in Indian conditions. Mohammad Siraj is a revelation, and Shardul Thakur takes 5-fers and breaks crucial partnerships for breakfast.

Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Naveep Saini, Deepak Chahar, and T. Natarajan cannot even make the team, while Hashal Patel, Prasidh Krishna, Chetan Sakariya & other domestic giants and IPL stars keep the backbone of the pipeline strong.

In today’s world, if you make the Indian Test squad as a fast bowler, you are the best in the world, let alone India.

And that is the legacy of Virat Kohli.

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3. Test Cricket Receives the Kohli Boost

Test cricket has been in a self-described existential crisis for about two decades now. For any business venture to succeed, money is needed. To raise money, you need customers.

In the cricketing world, customers are spectators & the spectators have been rapidly dwindling. Oh yeah, and where does cricket get most of its customers? That is right, India.

Indian cricket has been at the heart of cricket’s financial & global growth but with the horror second phase (2011-2016) combined with the expansion of the IPL, Test cricket was at threat.

In comes Virat Kohli.

Interviews after interviews, post-match presentations after post-match presentations, Kohli reiterated his commitment to Test cricket. When the World Test Championship would be under scanner, Kohli would come out in its support.

The wins overseas and watching India play a positive brand of cricket definitely has brought new fans of Test cricket and has re-energized skeptical viewers of the game.

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4. Inculcating Winning Attitude & Self-Belief

When Kohli was captain, two of his personality traits swept the whole team— (1) Obsession with fitness, and (2) Emotions galore.

With improved sporting infrastructure and rise of T20 cricket, the standards of cricket have improved by leaps and bounds over the past decades.

However, it is captain Virat Kohli who ensured that fitness is an expectation, not just a premium add-on bonus at the international level. He set the example by prioritizing fitness himself and giving his all in the field.

Test cricket is a momentum-based game and Kohli’s momentum shifts with his emotions.

Many a time, Kohli’s enthusiasm lifted India in the field and his encouragement helped the fast bowler channel their best game. Sledging no longer hurt India as they fought fire with fire. His attitude and aggression are often criticized, but as a captain, he usually brought the best in his team.

So, we can say that captain Virat Kohli made the Indian Test team stronger—both physically and mentally.

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5. Grooming an Abundant Talent Pool

It is well known that India has a large talent pool, an envy of the world. However, it can be both a blessing and a curse.

In limited overs cricket, the constant chopping and changing by both the captain and the selection committee was detrimental to India’s progress. In Test cricket, though, he managed his players rather well.

Although Ajinkya Rahane & Cheteshwar Pujara were out of form for extended periods of time, he continuously backed his senior players. Pujara’s contribution in Australia speaks for himself and Rahane played the occasional match winning innings abroad.

Some may have thought that R Ashwin’s career might have been over a couple of years ago, but credit to both Ashwin’s reinvention & Kohli’s backing, Ashwin is back.

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The Legacy

Finally, by mid-2021 Kohli’s machinery was set. The team had a template that they played with, and the players fulfilled their roles in the large machinery created by Kohli-Shastri-Arun-support staff. This allowed the likes of Axar Patel, Mohammad Siraj, Shardul Thakur, Shreyas Iyer, Shubman Gill, Prithvi Shaw, Mayank Agarwal, Washington Sundar—aka the next generation of Indian cricket—to seamlessly fit in the system and contribute in match-winning ways.

The stats are crystal clear. With 40 wins out of 68 Tests with a win-loss ratio of 2.352, he is not only India’s best Test captain but in the league of Graeme Smith, Ricky Ponting, and Steve Waugh.

Captain Virat Kohli might have called it a day, but his mark on Indian Team will be felt for a very, very long time.

Anyway, wipe off your tears. It is not the end till the end.

Kohli the batter still has time and will have the final laugh.

Watch Out.

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© Copyright @Nitesh Mathur and Broken Cricket Dreams, 2021. Originally published on 01/16/2022. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Broken Cricket Dreams with appropriate and specific direction to the original content (i.e. linked to the exact post/article).




About Nitesh Mathur 238 Articles
I dreamt of being a No. 3 batsman saving test matches and hitting winning runs. Well, that did not exactly go to plan, but I have since become an avid follower of the game. As long as there is a live cricket, you can guarantee that I will be checking the scorecards, watching the game live on TV, and certainly, discussing the game and statistics with family and friends.

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