Virat Kohli will also lead India in the first Test against Australia starting December 4 © Getty Images
Virat Kohli… taking giant strides as a captain © Getty Images

Virat Kohli captained a below-strength India to a resounding 5-0 whitewash against familiar foes Sri Lanka. With Kohli also set to captain India in the longest format for the very first time, in the first Test against Australia at Brisbane, this result was indeed an encouraging one. Shiamak Unwalla takes a look at Kohli the captain.

That Virat Kohli was earmarked as a future captain early on in his career was never in doubt. However, the first time he captained India — against Sri Lanka in Kingston in 2013 — he failed the trial by fire. In that game, he had no answer to a rampaging Mahela Jayawardene (107), Upul Tharanga (174*), and Angelo Mathews (44*) as Sri Lanka clobbered 348 for one in their 50 overs. India came nowhere close in reply, with the skipper falling for just two in the chase as India lost by 161 runs.

Since then, though, has captained India on 16 occasions in One-Day Internationals (ODIs), winning 14 of those. After losing his first match as captain, he went on to lead India to victory over West Indies and the Lankans in the next two matches. Regular skipper MS Dhoni then came back to lead India in the final of the triangular series against Sri Lanka and famously hit Shaminda Eranga for a four and two sixes to help India win by one wicket with two balls to spare. That win overshadowed the fact that India wouldn’t have reached the final without Kohli’s leadership.

Kohli’s next stint as captain was against hosts Zimbabwe. Kohli scored a ton in his first game there to lead India to an easy victory. There was no looking back after that, as India completed a 5-0 clean-sweep with Kohli needing to bat in only three of the five games. A 5-0 whitewash against Zimbabwe might seem pedestrian, but it should be noted that the last time India had toured Zimbabwe — in another triangular series involving Sri Lanka — they couldn’t even make the finals.

After that, Kohli led India in the Asia Cup 2014, but with a middle-order sans Suresh Raina, Dhoni, and Yuvraj Singh — who has not played ODIs for India since. A ton from Kohli helped India chase down 279 in their opening match against Bangladesh, but final over losses to Sri Lanka and Pakistan meant that India couldn’t qualify for the final. They won another game against Afghanistan, though.

After that, Kohli got to captain India only in the recent ODI series against Sri Lanka, and he again performed admirably. What stands out about his captaincy is the very obvious influence Dhoni has had on him, though Kohli’s style of captaincy is very much his own. He promoted Ambati Rayudu to the No. 3 position in the second ODI, and backed him there for the rest of the series. Kohli later said that Dhoni had done the same for him, so he was only paying it forward. Rayudu scored a ton and a crucial half-century to repay that faith. Kohli, who loves to bat at No. 3, didn’t play at that position even once in the series, with Suresh Raina getting a chance at the top of the order in the first ODI. This speaks of selflessness that is an integral part of any captain.

Next, in the final ODI at Ranchi, Kohli paid Dhoni tribute by playing a semi-helicopter shot in the penultimate over of the game. These little moments suggest that Kohli is someone who enjoys the success of his teammates and considers the needs of the team paramount rather than looking at where he is most comfortable.

And then of course, there is his motto: ruthlessness. He said at the post-match presentation of the fifth ODI that he was aiming to make said ruthlessness the team culture rather than a goal for each series. He said that he wanted his team to never give an inch and make sure to go for the kill when the opposition was down. Kohli has got off to a wonderful start as captain. If he can continue in similar vein, there is little doubt that he could go down as one of India’s finest captains apart from being one of its finest batsmen.

(Shiamak Unwalla, a reporter with CricketCountry, is a self-confessed Sci-Fi geek and cricket fanatic. You can follow him on Twitter @ShiamakUnwalla)