Another twist in saga: Kohli quits as India’s Test captain

The Virat Kohli captaincy saga took another unexpected turn on Saturday, when he stepped down as Test captain barely 24 hours after India lost the series in South Africa. Success on the tour would have taken Indian cricket to a new high — the “final frontier”, with series wins in every cricket-playing nation. Failure, as it often does, is taking a heavy toll.

The first fallout was Kohli’s decision — made public on Twitter on Saturday evening, but conveyed to his teammates in Cape Town after India’s seven-wicket defeat on Friday.

The announcement brings to a close the innings of India’s most successful Test captain — one that leaves behind a transformed Indian team that is now known as a fast-bowling powerhouse capable of winning in any conditions.

But, in the most immediate context of the domestic power play, it marks the end of a months-long face-off between Kohli and the Indian cricket board over the manner, timing and narrative of how his T20 and ODI captaincy stints ended between October and December last year.

“It’s been seven years of hard work, toil and relentless perseverance every day to take the team in the right direction. I’ve done the job with absolute honesty and left nothing out there,” Kohli said in a statement.

“Everything has to come to halt at some stage and for me as Test Captain of India, it’s now. There have been many ups and also some downs along the journey, but never has there been a lack of effort or lack of belief. I have always believed in giving my 120 percent in everything I do, and if I can’t do that, I know it’s not right thing to do. I have absolute clarity in my heart and I cannot be dishonest to my team.”

Kohli thanked the Indian board, former chief coach Ravi Shastri, and his predecessor as captain MS Dhoni. “To Ravi Bhai and the support group who were the engine behind this vehicle that moved us upwards in Test Cricket consistently, you all have played a massive role in bringing this vision to life. Lastly, a big thank you to MS Dhoni who believed in me as a Captain and found me to be an able individual who could take Indian Cricket forward.”

The Board of Control for Cricket in India quickly endorsed Kohli’s decision, quote-tweeting it seven minutes later and congratulating him for “admirable leadership qualities that took the Test team to unprecedented heights”.

“Congratulations to @imVkohli on a tremendous tenure as #TeamIndia captain. Virat turned the team into a ruthless fit unit that performed admirably both in India and away. The Test wins in Australia & England have been special,” BCCI secretary Jay Shah tweeted.

“He (Kohli) may have spoken to the secretary. It would have been better if he had continued as Test captain. But he may have wanted to entirely focus on his batting,” said another official of the cricket board.

Kohli became Test captain in 2015 after Dhoni retired from the longest format during the tour of Australia. He went on to become India’s most successful skipper, winning 40 out of 68 Tests, losing 17 and drawing 11. Kohli’s win percentage of 58.82% is the third best among all captains to have led in at least 50 Tests, after Steve Waugh (71.93%) and Ricky Ponting (62.33%).

In 68 Tests as captain, he scored 5,864 runs at an average of 54.8 with 20 centuries. In comparison, he averaged only 41.13 during his time as a player. His record as captain was even more impressive until a recent slump in form that has not seen him score a century in any format since hitting 136 against Bangladesh in a pink-ball Test in November 2019.

The saga began when Kohli quit the T20I captaincy ahead of the T20 World Cup in October, and was subsequently removed as ODI captain ahead of the South Africa tour in December. These events led to a direct confrontation between Kohli and BCCI chairman Sourav Ganguly as divergent narratives emerged over the T20 decision, and over the manner in which Kohli was told he was being axed as ODI skipper during a routine call with the selectors.

Even when the team was in South Africa, the controversy continued to bubble over back home. On December 31, chief selector Chetan Sharma supported Ganguly’s narrative, saying the board tried to persuade Kohli to stay on as T20 skipper, and contended that he was accorded the respect he commanded. It was clear that the trust between captain and the board was broken.

By then, however, it was still advantage Kohli as India had the South Africa tour on a perfect note, winning the Boxing Day Test at Centurion by 113 runs. But the script unravelled in the next two matches. And with it came the end of a captain who led from the front, stamped his own image on the team (which wasn’t always pretty), but taught them how to get the job done.

West Indies great Viv Richards congratulated Kohli on Twitter. “Congratulations @imVkohli on a stunning run as the Indian captain. You can be very proud of what you have achieved so far, and for sure, your name will be up there among the best leaders in world cricket,” he wrote.

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