What Kohli’s Test Captaincy Meant for India
The Rigveda describes the emergence of Virata, the cosmic colossus from which everything has been manifested. This constellation of gigantic qualities was well reflected in the captaincy of Virat Kohli, despite the series loss in South Africa that has book-ended his reign. In victory and in defeat, Kaptaan Kohli was a blockbuster. His single-minded intensity took India from a dismal seventh in the rankings to the first place in the world. In contrast to his predecessor, he was straightforward regarding his desire to excel in the game's longest and oldest format. Kohli's premium on Test cricket, coupled with his theory of aggression and fearless intent, permeated the philosophy of his team and his country. His give-it-back attitude reflected India's changing priorities, and gave its youth a figurehead after which they could model their own vast ambitions.
A material accounting of the Kohli era undergirds the point. While others had their home fortresses, Kohli's India became an impregnable arena for visiting teams. In the 11 series between 2015 and 2021, visitors were ground to dust across the length of the country. Kohli will end his Test captaincy having never lost a home series. Opposition drubbings have become so regular that fans take India's enviable home record for granted.
Kohli's decoration as India's best Test captain is owed to his revolutionary approach to overseas series. Three features of his tenure stand out: consistently selecting five bowlers, enforcing a culture of team fitness, and the flourishing of express pace. With Kohli leading from the front, India became fitter, fiercer, and mentally tougher than nearly every other national side in the past seven years. This cricketing architecture led to victories in Sri Lanka and the West Indies, and culminated in epochal series wins in Australia in 2019 and 2021.
Virat realised early on that 20 wickets were needed for a Test match triumph. As a bowler's captain, he elevated the performance of his veteran pacers Sharma, Yadav, and Shami, while nurturing a crop of future stars in Bumrah, Siraj, and Thakur. Under Kohli, Indian bowlers have averaged 25.02 at a strike rate of 51.8, replete with 56 five-wicket hauls—far and away the best numbers from any Indian captain since 1990. Fans now look forward to watching the team field rather than bat, both in anticipation of Virat's electric antics and to watch the bowling attack operate in lethal tandem. Like Melville's Ahab, Captain Kohli was a fanatical huntsman in pursuit of the big kill. Few will be able to replicate his talents for bowler rotation or his natural strangle over a match in tense equipoise.
Kohli's ascendancy to the captaincy coincided with the coming-of-age of a generation of Indian fans, unburdened by the weight of past failures. In his first match as captain, twin centuries in Adelaide infused his calls for reinvention with the spectacle of brimstone and glory. He took Australia to the sword, giving birth to an India willing to risk losses for wins—one that would never again accept a draw in satisfaction. Kohli taught us to reject meekness and to celebrate dramatic passion for our work. Authenticity became the utmost virtue—it was better to play and lose in your genuine fashion, than to win in the way of another.
Through zealous fist pumps and the flash of his bat's blade, Kohli entreated India to fall in love again with Test cricket. Despite high praise, neither Kohli the man nor Kohli the captain were perfect creatures. For all his tactical acumen on the field, blind selection blunders over the years cost India winnable matches overseas. His persona garnered him incessant critics too, especially when the runs stopped flowing. Older Indians found him arrogant and non-deferential, with his trimmed beard and tribal tattoos. He was outspoken and was eventually outmanoeuvred by BCCI boardroom politics, leading to his captaincy ouster in all three formats within the span of mere months.
Still, let's celebrate the maestro, and the man. He performed with unbridled enthusiasm, well cognisant of the thrills he elicited in his captive audience. Virat Kohli has been a true Delhiite: he swore freely, danced easily, and made fired-up, defiant belief his ultimate mantra. He was also loyal to his teammates, respectful of the opposition, and courageous in his duties as captain and a citizen. As he enters the pantheon alongside Graeme Smith, Ricky Ponting, Steve Waugh, and Clive Lloyd, long years will pass before Test cricket is blessed with another captain of the entertaining stature like Virat Kohli.
Anvesh Jain is a law student and cricket enthusiast based in Toronto, Canada.