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The boy from Delhi who made India believe

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Roar Guru
16th January, 2022
8

When MS Dhoni retired from Test cricket in December 2014 the Indian Test team was in shambles.

India had not won an away Test series in over three years. They had been comprehensively outplayed in South Africa, England, New Zealand and Australia and also lost a home series to England in 2012. Who was going to rebuild this Indian Test team from scratch?

Enter Virat Kohli. At that time Kohli was a superstar of the game in the limited-overs format who had not quite cracked Test cricket yet. But that would change at the Adelaide Oval in 2014. Scoring hundreds in both innings as stand-in skipper, India would have pulled off a run chase of 364 on Day 5 had it not been for Nathan Lyon and the shocking batting display by the Indian middle order.

Although India lost by 58 runs, it was a fresh brand of cricket and a template that Kohli liked to play: aggressive cricket with the intent to push for a win instead of playing for a draw.

Although India had the batters to get runs, the bowlers were devoid of confidence under Dhoni to take 20 wickets consistently in order for India to win Tests away from home. Kohli prioritised fitness in the Indian team, especially among the seamers in order to ensure they would not break down in an away series. After a drawn Test against Bangladesh, with rain marring most of the contest, India came back from 1-0 to beat Sri Lanka 2-1 in their own den; their first series win in Sri Lanka since 1993.

Virat Kohli

(Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

Kohli’s India continued making small but necessary strides, with comprehensive series wins against South Africa at home and the West Indies away. Slowly but surely Indian fans started to believe in their team again after a long time in the wilderness.

Then came the ultimate home summer to test Kohli’s resolve: series against New Zealand and England, a one-off Test against Bangladesh and a four-Test series against Australia.

The pressure was on Kohli to deliver, otherwise the calls to sack him as skipper would begin.

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After beating New Zealand by 197 runs in the first Test, a green top was dished out in Kolkata for the second Test. New Zealand played three seamers – something almost unheard of in Indian conditions. Kohli and his boys could not care less, and the Indian seamers ran riot en route to a 178-run victory, reaching No. 1 in the ICC Test rankings in the process.

India had been ranked seventh when Kohli took over as Test skipper, and in less than two years his side had risen to the top. Now the challenge would be to remain there.

Beating New Zealand, England and Bangladesh at home, Kohli had a frontier to conquer: bringing the Border-Gavaskar Trophy back into Indian hands.

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With a rank turner in Pune, India did not turn up at all, losing the first Test by 333 runs. One more loss and India would fail to regain the trophy. The media were having a field day, hounding Kohli for India’s first Test loss in 20 matches. But Kohli didn’t let the outside noise get to him.

India failed to deliver in the first innings with the bat in Bengaluru, scoring a meagre 190. But this was not your typical Bengaluru wicket, which is usually a flat track with little bounce. It was turning from Day 1, and if Australia were going to chase anything in excess of 150, it would be tough.

India’s bowlers ensured Australia’s lead was below 100 before India scored 274 in their second innings, setting Australia a target of 188. Chase it down and the Aussies would retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.

Kohli got his bowlers, especially Ravi Ashwin, fired up for the fourth innings. India went hard with the ball, and their aggressive intent got the better of Steve Smith, who was called out by Kohli for asking the dressing room whether to review his dismissal or not.

India would end up winning by 75 runs, and the Chinnaswamy Stadium went nuts. Although Kohli personally had a poor outing with the bat, his leadership ensured India were not down and out of the series before winning the final Test in his absence.

Virat Kohli celebrating

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

India went on to win nine consecutive Test series under Kohli before losing in South Africa. Although they lost the series 2-1, it was an incredibly closely fought content that could have gone India’s way had the remainder of their top six batted well alongside Kohli. The same story continued in India’s 4-1 series loss to England, decided by a handful of crucial moments.

A series win in Australia confirmed Kohli’s status as a great Indian Test captain, and his team would go on to dominate Test cricket and ownership of the ICC Test mace. Between 2018 and 2019 India had failed to take 20 wickets in a Test just twice in 22 Tests, a testament to Kohli’s continued backing of his bowlers to win matches away from home.

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Virat Kohli won 40 of 68 Tests as Indian captain. He leaves the Test captaincy as India’s greatest Test captain, becoming the first Indian captain to win a Test series in Australia. Hailing from West Delhi, Kohli brought the swagger of a stereotypical West Delhi boy and implemented it in the Indian Test team. The Indian team was fearless under Kohli and would not shy away from a contest, unlike past Indian teams, especially when they toured in Western nations.

From being ranked seventh in Tests, Kohli’s India won the ICC Test mace in five consecutive years, a testament to their hunger for success in the longest format of the game. Kohli prioritised Test cricket and reaped the rewards for his attitude towards the traditional cricket form.

But his captaincy should not have ended in the way it has, with a series loss in South Africa. But that was the risk he took after publicly taking on the Indian selectors and Greg Chappell’s favourite man, Sourav Ganguly. In true Kohli fashion he resigned as Indian Test captain before the selectors could sack him, as they had done with his ODI captaincy.

The past few months have shown that Indian cricket superstars can lose the power they have in a matter of moments due to massive political interference in Indian cricket. Heck, Kohli got away easily. A star as big as Sachin Tendulkar found out he had been sacked as Indian captain through the media.

Despite the circus, this doesn’t take away what Kohli has done for Indian cricket and Test cricket generally. While he never matched the numbers of rival Steve Smith, Kohli still leaves a massive legacy, and that legacy will be all the hard work he did as Test captain.

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Very few cricketers can finish their career being the greatest Test captain from their nation. Virat Kohli is one of those few who can proudly own that title. Indian cricket will find it very difficult to replicate the success it had under him.

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