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Cricket news - The journey of India's most successful Test captain
December 30, 2014. After the Boxing day Test at the MCG ended in a stalemate, MS Dhoni caught everyone off guard by announcing his retirement from red-ball cricket with immediate effect. With the Test ending in a draw, India conceded the series to Australia - fourth in a row following defeats in South Africa, New Zealand, and England. India won a solitary Test out of the 12 they played in the preceding 12 months on their away tours to 'SENA' countries, losing as many as seven and they languished at the seventh position in ICC Test rankings only ahead of West Indies, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.
With Sachin Tendulkar retiring a year ago, a new era dawned in Indian cricket. Zaheer Khan and Virender Sehwag bid adieu to international cricket in early 2014 just before Dhoni. Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav had still not converted their potential to match-winning performances. R Ashwin had been found wanting in alien foreign conditions after a brilliant start to his Test career at home, while Ravindra Jadeja was grinding it out in the first-class circuit to make a comeback.
The responsibility of lifting India from doldrums in Test cricket wrested with Virat Kohli. Already established as the best white-ball batsman in the world, Kohli was in the middle of a purple patch with the bat when he took over the captaincy from Dhoni at the start of 2015. The cricketing world already got a taste of his captaincy when he stood as stand-in skipper in the first Test in Adelaide. Unlike his predecessor, he surprised everyone as he went for an unlikely win on the final day chasing 364 and he nearly pulled off a miracle before falling short by 48 runs.
Five years down the line, he led India to the top of ICC rankings, won back to back series in Sri Lanka and West Indies, became the first Asian captain to win a series Down Under and led India to unprecedented dominance at home winning eight rubbers on the bounce. With the win in Kingston, he became India's most successful captain in the longest format and here we take a look at his journey through numbers.
Most successful Indian captains
Kohli not only has the most wins by an Indian captain under his belt but also is the only Indian skipper to win more than half the number of games he captained in (10+ Tests). Going by win-loss ratio, Kohli is again the only Indian skipper to win more than two Tests for every match lost (2.80:1). Kohli is also India's most successful captain in away Tests winning 13 matches he was in charge of overseas. Of his 28 wins, 15 have come at home, five in Sri Lanka, four in the Caribbean, two in Australia and one each in South Africa and England.
It's not only the count of wins that makes Kohli's reign special but the manner of victories. Of India's top 20 Test wins by runs margin, ten have come under Kohli including four of the top five. India have won two overseas Tests by a 300-plus margin, both under Kohli - 318 runs in North Sound in 2019 and 304 runs in Galle in 2017. To add to this, India's biggest ever innings win - by an innings & 272 runs - also came under Kohli's stewardship against West Indies in Rajkot in October 2018.
Biggest wins for India (by runs)
Biggest wins for India (by innings)
Pace bowling riches
If one has to pick out the single biggest imprint of Kohli's captaincy, it is the emergence of the pace battery. Ishant and Umesh became far better versions of themselves under Kohli than under his predecessors. Mohammed Shami became fitter and added a cutting edge to his bowling in the second phase of his career. The emergence of Jasprit Bumrah in the longest format is one of the biggest success stories in Indian cricket. The prolonged success of the above pacers has left Bhuvneshwar Kumar not playing a Test for more than 18 months.
India seamers under different captains
As we can infer from the above table, the best period for India's fast bowlers have come under Kohli's captaincy - they take 8.21 wickets every Test at an average of 27.40. In overseas Tests, the parameters improve to 10.48 wickets per Test at 26.49 - both the best among Indian skippers to lead in ten-plus away games. The only skipper under whom Indian seamers averaged less than 30 in away Tests is under Kapil Dev - 28.06. However, unlike the current crop where Kohli has a plethora of choices to dig his hands-on, Kapil mostly had a seamer or two at the most to rely upon apart from himself.
Idiosyncrasies of Kohli's leadership
It wasn't until his 39th Test as captain, did Kohli play two successive matches with the same playing XI - a deed which he repeated only once since. Kohli has made a cumulative 109 changes to the playing XI in successive Tests which gives him a ratio of 2.27 changes every Test. Despite a lot of chopping and changing, Kohli's success rate of 58.33% is bettered only by four captains who led in a minimum of 20 Tests. Among the 18 players who have led their country at least 20 times with a success rate of 50% of higher, only Don Bradman has a higher rate of change per Test - 2.29 - but he captained exactly half the games as Kohli did.
Stepping up as a batsman
India has produced some of the best batsmen in red-ball cricket who have invariably struggled to bring their best out once they were given the responsibility to lead the sides. MAK Pataudi, Sunil Gavaskar, Mohammad Azharuddin, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid, all followed the lead as they performed better as a batsman when not in charge.
However, Kohli belongs to a different kettle of fish. Not only he has taken up captaincy like fish to water, but he also elevated his batsmanship to the next level. His average shoots up to 61 as captain compared to 41 as a player - an increase of nearly 50%. Among the men to play as captain and non-captain in 25 Tests each, only Imran Khan and Graham Gooch had a higher difference in averages.
In the 48 matches as skipper, Kohli has scored 4651 runs at an average of 61.19. He trails only Graeme Smith (25) and Ricky Ponting (19) in terms of hundreds hit and among those with 2000-plus runs as captain, only Don Bradman (101.52) and Steve Smith (70.37) average more. He also holds the record for most double hundreds as captain - six - including the highest by an Indian skipper, 243 against Sri Lanka in Delhi in 2017. He is also the only Indian captain to score a double century in Tests away from home - 200 against West Indies in North Sound in 2016.
Highest average as captain (2000+ runs)
Area of improvement
Another facet about Kohli's captaincy is his success rate while batting first. Only once in 28 Tests has he lost a Test after batting first - against England at Lord's in 2018, which is incidentally, India's only innings defeat under Kohli's leadership. Of the 22 times he won the toss, India won 18 times with four ending in draws. However, the challenge for them has been winning batting second - something which came to the fore in their defeats in South Africa and England last year.
Kohli as captain - batting 1st vs 2nd
The downside of this is mostly reflected in away Tests. In 11 Tests outside India under Kohli which India bowled first, they are yet to register a win. Of India's four lowest unsuccessful fourth innings chases, three came under Kohli - against Sri Lanka in Galle in 2015, against England in Edgbaston in 2018 and against South Africa in Cape Town in 2018.
What lies ahead ?
Kohli will be leading India for the first time in New Zealand in a two-Test series early next year. Series wins in South Africa and England will be the top priorities in his bucket list alongside winning the maiden ICC Test Championship in 2021. He would like to wind up his career surpassing three of Graeme Smith's coveted records as captain - most runs (8659), most hundreds (25) and most Test wins (53).
If his run so far is any indication, none of the above feats seem beyond him.
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