Virat Kohli & MS Dhoni: A Tale of Two Captains and A Series

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October 2, 2015 2:53 pm

The upcoming India-South Africa series is surely going to be a great series for cricket lovers all over the globe. With arguably the two of the strongest sides currently in international cricket, the level of game is going to be top-class. Yet for all the adjectives that one can associate with it, fascinating is the one that you would not normally expect it to be.

The series will be fascinating to watch for the Indian team, as it has two captains in its side, with extremely contrasting styles. Read why that the situation if not handled well, can be disastrous for Indian Cricket.

Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni

All is not well in Paradise

Virat Kohli and Mahendra Singh Dhoni, currently the two largest stars of Indian cricket, represent two completely different styles, which like water and oil cannot mix well. One is known for his composure and temperament and the other, for the lack of it. One is the rising star of Indian cricket, the other in the twilight of his career.

With the recent results of the Bangladesh series, the allegations of his conflict of interest in owning a sizable stake in Rhiti Sports Management that looks after several Indian cricketers, and his proximity to N Srinivasan and Gurunath Meiyappan, the halo around MS Dhoni no longer remains. Yet, his legacy is such that every future Indian captain will hope to live up to.

Virat Kohli, on the other hand, has gone from strength to strength. As a batsman, he is often compared to Sachin Tendulkar and that is perhaps the biggest compliment that can be paid to a batsman. His captaincy, under which India won the Sri Lanka series after being 1 down, that too in Sri Lanka. Virat Kohli comes in with no baggage of a dismal overseas record. Such contrasting styles are bound to be confusing for the Indian players and side.

While the personnel of the team remains more or less same, the personality of the team changes. Dhoni’s India is pragmatic, calm under pressure and focuses more on the process than on the result.

Kohli’s India is aggressive and goes for the kill, it’s a side that doesn’t hold back anything . The Indian side under Kohli, unlike the past Indian teams under captains- Ganguly, Dravid, Kumble, Dhoni, not only looked comfortable but reveled in the sledging and the aggression.

Kohli and Dhoni congratulate each other after the win against Bangladesh in the first ODI. © AFP

Even more alarming were the comments that Kohli made after the Bangladesh series on Dhoni’s captaincy which have been widely interpreted as critical. While the exact nature of those comments can be debated, the remarks are symptomatic of the rift between the two strong personalities.

This, of course, doesn’t mean that there isn’t any mutual respect between Dhoni and Kohli. For it was Dhoni, under whom Kohli got his big break. And it was the run making machine Kohli, that made Dhoni’s India a formidable side. Having said that, this kind of a rift, even if it is just ideological, never bodes well for the team.

A case in point, the last time a rift was present in the Indian team in 2006, when Sourav Ganguly’s form and Greg Chappell’s coaching style made things not only uncomfortable in the dressing room but the rift soon snowballed into a full out spat being played out in the media. The rift was a disaster not only for the morale of the Indian team but also for India’s 2007 World Cup campaign. While the current situation will unlikely sour to that extent, it does exhibit signs that the transition is not without the bitterness.

A tumultuous time in Indian cricket. Courtesy: Deccan Chronicle

Raina Jumps Ship

The loyalty the senior Indian players like Suresh Raina and R Ashwin have towards MS Dhoni is no secret. Yet, earlier this year, Suresh Raina ended his contract with the Dhoni owned and promoted Rhiti Sports Management stating that his position as the second fiddle to Dhoni in the Rihti Management’s priorities prompted the switch.

While this may be reading too much between the lines, Raina’s move and his reasons does raise a lot of eyebrows. Does it indicate that Raina, the staunchest of Dhoni’s supporters feel that Dhoni’s time is up?

While this article has no intention of causing harm to any reputations or engage in any kind of rumour mongering or any baseless allegations, such incidents in recent months have thrown up a lot of questions about the Indian dressing room which refuse to die down despite assurances from players like Mohammad Shami to the contrary.

Suresh Raina, MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli have a laugh while stretching out in the nets.©AFP

Therefore, this series is a great opportunity for the Indian team to settle the record straight. It would be interesting to see how the Indian team carry themselves in the field as that would be an indication of not only how well the team is adjusting to the two contrasting styles of captaincy but also the mood in the dressing room.

Any tensions in the dressing room inevitably spill out in the field. One hopes that the selectors and administrators keep an eye on how the team performs but with the Indian administration going through an extremely tough time with the Supreme Court, the allegations of corruption, proprietary and the death of Jagmohan Dalmiya, an ugly rift being played out in the open or even rumours of such a thing could be extremely damaging to Indian Cricket.

The Shastri Effect

Another dimension to this series, is the visible impact that Ravi Shastri has had on the Indian Team. While Duncan Fletcher was often been accused of being a little too laidback for comfort, Ravi Shastri is anything but. The Shastri – Kohli duo have been credited as the reason for the change in attitude of the Indian players on the field.

It will be interesting to see how the Dhoni-Shastri-Kohli leadership trio plays out. In this case, one hopes that the old adage “Too many cooks spoil the broth” is proven untrue. It is no surprise that Shastri and Kohli work well with each other as both of them have a very similar outlook to cricket. However, it remains to be seen how Dhoni adjusts to this relationship, as his style is more composed and reserved.

Shashtri and Kohli at the preparatory camp at Bangalore before the South Africa Series. © PTI

The Winds of Change are Here

This series has many important undertones and questions. There is a lot of speculation on the future of Indian cricket and even more importantly Dhoni’s future in Indian cricket. With the clarion for Dhoni’s retirement being sounded in the aftermath of the Bangladesh loss, it is fair to say that it’s on the basis of this innocuous Gandhi-Nelson Series that the million dollar question; whether to continue with Dhoni as captain for the 2016 T20 World Cup or should he retire and give Virat Kohli sufficient time to build his team will be answered.

Maybe Dhoni will himself feel that the team has moved on and now looks towards Kohli as the leader. As an Indian cricket fan, the only hope is that such a transition is not ugly towards either Kohli or Dhoni. In any case, Dhoni will perhaps go down as one of the greatest captains in the history of Indian cricket and Kohli will no doubt have his own share of glory and legacy. Let the games begin !

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