Virat Kohli likes springing surprises, mostly with his team selections, but this time it was a personal call that is bound to have a big impact on Indian cricket. Kohli and the Indian cricket team have become synonyms with each other, helped by some over-the-top coverage by the sports broadcasters. However, Indian cricket's alpha male has now decided to quit the T20I captaincy after the upcoming ICC T20 World Cup 2021.
The Indian captain in his statement attributed the decision to workload management, vindicating the report that has been doing the round for the last few days.
"Understanding workload is a very important thing and considering my immense workload over the last 8-9 years playing all 3 formats and captaining regularly for last 5-6 years, I feel I need to give myself space to be fully ready to lead the Indian team in Test and ODI cricket," Kohli said.
BCCI president Sourav Ganguly and board secretary Jay Shah shared similar sentiments in their statements.
"The decision has been made keeping in mind the future roadmap. We thank Virat for his tremendous performance as the T20I Captain," Ganguly was quoted as saying by a BCCI release.
Shah said: "I have been in discussions with Virat and the leadership team for the last six months and the decision has been thought through."
None of the statements had any mention of India's lack of ICC trophies under Kohli being a catalyst behind the decision. But at the same time, reports keep coming in that the current India captain has seemingly lost the dressing room or that the decision to include Ravichandran Ashwin in the T20 World Cup squad was taken without Kohli's approval.
All the captains have critics, their resignations are always sought by some or the other at any given point, but the questions around Kohli's captaincy have never been as intense since losing the World Test Championship final to New Zealand.
Kohli is India's most successful Test captain, has a win percentage of over 70 percent in ODIs, and led the T20I team to series victories in SENA (South Africa, England, New Zealand and Australia) countries. Yet, he has failed to win an ICC trophy in three attempts " 2017 Champions Trophy, 2019 ODI World Cup and World Test Championship (WTC) final " in an era where Indian cricket is believed to be at its peak.
In light of that, there are two big gains that India can make from Kohli's decision to step down as T20I captain.
Eye on ICC trophies
Kohli will lead India in the 2021 T20 World Cup but there are two more World Cups in the next two years. One of the biggest criticisms of Kohli has been his decision-making which has played a major role in deciding the outcome of India's campaign at the ICC events under him.
The decision to field first in the Champions Trophy final in 2017 against Pakistan led to a target of 339 that eventually became an insurmountable expedition for Indian batsmen. The constant chopping and changing with the No 4 slot left India with a brittle middle-order in the 2019 ODI World Cup, that failed to stand up in the semi-final against New Zealand. In overcast conditions hugely favouring the seamers, Kohli opted for two spinners in the WTC final, lost the title and never used two spinners again in the succeeding Test series against England.
He also hasn't won the IPL in eight seasons with Royal Challengers Bangalore as a captain. Time is ripe for India to have a new captain in white-ball cricket and if MS Dhoni's appointment as a mentor for the T20 World Cup is any indication, BCCI was already thinking on those lines. The transfer of leadership duties could very well happen in ODIs also, soon.
Rohit Sharma is the favourite to take over from Kohli in T20Is. His record five IPL titles as Mumbai Indians captain would certainly work in his favour. He thinks on his feet as a skipper, has managed to keep the star-studded MI dressing room happy for a while and is able to get the best out of his players every season. But before anyone takes over, Kohli will look to end his last hurrah as T20I captain with the silverware come this November.
Kohli aims to get his mojo back
Another emolument, and the biggest of all, that Indian cricket can have with Kohli's decision is him returning back to the purple patch that he enjoyed between 2016-19.
Kohli's tunnel vision towards attaining a fitness level that was rare in the Indian sports ecosystem, his leadership skills catapulted him to the peak of the cricketing world but his runs and stability that he brings to the Indian batting order remain his biggest USP. Of late his willow-work has lost some of its sheen. He is still clocking big returns in limited-overs cricket but averages a shade under 30 in Test cricket this year after 15 innings. He averaged under 20 after six innings last year. His last international century came in 2019.
A punishing schedule and the mental toll of playing continuously under strict bio-bubble restrictions are sure to have their impact. In such a scenario, letting go of captaincy duty in one format should give Kohli more breathing space. A little less responsibility should allow him to focus a bit more on his batting. Still only 32, Kohi has time on his side to continue to rule the batting charts for another half a decade at least. This move will give him time and energy.
Whether Kohli took the decision to purely manage the workload or the criticism of his captaincy got to him will remain a mystery for a while but all things considered, it appears a bold move that should only benefit Indian cricket and him.