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Discussing Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma as Captain

Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli, no doubt, are two of the best One Day players of this generation and India is fortunate to have both of them playing together at this point. They will definitely be considered as legends in the One Day format if they are not already. Having said that, looking from the captaincy perspective, people have divided opinions about who the better captain is. Off late, there is more inclination towards Rohit Sharma on this topic.

What are the qualities to be a good captain? Is it the win percentage or the number of runs scored / wickets taken as captain? Just numbers don’t tell the whole story, as there is a lot more to this game and captaincy.

A popular opinion is that, a good captain is a leader, who gets the best out of each individual. To name a few examples from the past decade or two, people like Sourav Ganguly, MS Dhoni, Michael Vaughan, Michael Clarke, Brendon Mccullum, Mashrafe Mortaza are some of the captains that have been appreciated for their captaincy. Looking outside International cricket, Shane Warne for the Rajasthan Royals in the Indian Premier League was outstanding as a captain, who got players to punch above their weights and pull off a miracle in the first season. 

What makes these captains standout was that, even before the game was played, you knew the approach and brand of cricket they were going to bring to the field. It looked as if every player knew what exactly their roles were in the team and that they had the captain’s backing. Looking at Virat Kohli’s captaincy, it appears that they are not sure about their approach and what they are looking for. For instance, when Virat Kohli first took over full time captaincy, the five bowler theory in test matches was much talked about but later didn’t manage to stick with the policy for too long. 

Another important quality that made great captains standout was the way they empowered their players. It took Virat Kohli 39 Test matches before he played the same team in consecutive matches. He’s always been someone who keeps chopping and changing the playing XI for both India and Royal Challengers Bangalore at the IPL. Altering the playing XI almost every game means that players are moving in and out of the side constantly which never helps the confidence level of a player and might even make them doubt their abilities. For example, we see players like Chahal, Jadeja in and out of the team irrespective of their performances, Rahane getting dropped for the first two matches during the South Africa series in 2018 in spite of being India’s top batsman in overseas conditions, Pujara getting dropped for KL Rahul in the first test of the England series in 2018, after Kohli being critical about Pujara’s scoring rate and KL Rahul having a brilliant IPL season. After a point, the player might not be exactly sure about what is expected of him to be a constant member of the team. We have seen a lot of players needing an extended run in the team to fit into their roles better which leads to success. A classic example of this is Rohit Sharma himself where MS Dhoni was persistent with him realizing his potential and it has now paid back in a huge way.

Rohit Sharma, as a captain has been more stable with his team selections. In the Asia cup and Nidahas trophy for instance, there weren’t too many changes throughout the series which was one of the important reasons for their success. He has also shown similar traits in the IPL for Mumbai Indians who have gone on to win three titles. Jasprit Bumrah, India’s number one pace bowler has openly mentioned Rohit Sharma gave him ample space to try out things during his initial years in the IPL and also stated that Rohit likes to back his players and that is the reassuring factor that help a player grow. 

Rohit Sharma also appears to handle crunch moments better on the field as compared to Virat Kohli who has accepted that poor decisions at crucial moments has cost them games in the IPL. For Instance, in this year’s IPL, we have seen Virat Kohli struggle as the team has been losing. They used three different opening combinations in the first three game, according to experts, used the wrong bowlers for different stages of the match, particularly in the game against the Kolkata Knight Riders which they should have won (Not using Moeen Ali on a spin friendly pitch against left hander Nitish Rana early on; not using spin to Russell). Even in the game against Mumbai Indians at Mumbai this year, we saw Ashish Nehra from the dugout signaling to bowl Negi, when Kohli was going for Navdeep Saini. This is not a healthy sign as a captain when the people in the dugout change your decision as captain in the middle.
On the other hand, Rohit Sharma appears to never give up and keep trying until the very end.  For instance, in the finals of IPL 2017 against Rising Pune SuperGiant, defending a small target was never going to be easy and I felt the move to use Bumrah in the 17th and 19th over, and leave Johnson’s over for the 20th instead of using him earlier and giving Bumrah the 18th and 20th over, was an important decision to make, which won the Mumbai Indians their title. Even in the game against the Sunrisers Hyderabad this season, his bowling changes and attacking intent defending a very small total of 136 was appreciated by cricket pundits.

Looking on the positive side, Virat Kohli as a captain has managed to inspire players to become fit which is a great positive for Indian cricket. Traditionally, fitness was not a factor that was considered during the selection process but now it is through the Yo-Yo Test, since fitness is a necessity in modern day cricket. 
Dropping Kohli from Captaincy is a thought that has been going around in social media but that may not be the right solution. If anything that we have seen from Virat Kohli over the years is to go by, he is not backing down from the challenge and will definitely strike back at all his critics.

It will be more challenging for him in the One Day format once MS Dhoni retires who has been a major support to Virat Kohli in terms of field placements as well as guiding the bowlers during the game. 
Ian Chappell once mentioned that in an Australia vs England game in 1972 which he captained, Rod Marsh told straight to him that he was totally wrong in using spinners from both ends when the wicket was actually assisting the quicks. Only after that Ian Chappell realized and made the changes. Sometimes captains need to be told what they are doing is wrong and normally that voice doesn’t come from youngers or inexperienced players. Hence, Rohit Sharma as a senior player and vice-captain of the side will have the responsibility of being the Rod Marsh for Virat Kohli and take India to greater heights.

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