Virat Kohli has captained the side wonderfully © AFP
Virat Kohli has captained the side wonderfully © AFP

Replacing someone like MS Dhoni as a leader of national side is a challenge; not only because millions will critically monitor your every move but also because there will be comparisons. Added to it is the pressure to excel. Virat Kohli has done a tremendous job so far and quite early in his stint as captain, he has the distinction of leading India to a win against the No. 1 ranked South Africa, breaking their streak of 15 consecutive undefeated away series. In a short span Kohli has displayed a fresh, fearless brand of leadership and it has yielded results. Test wins have been a rarity for India in the recent past but now with Kohli in charge, India have notched up two consecutive series wins. READ: Virat Kohli: Tracing the growth of a superstar

Dhoni retired from Test cricket in December 2014 and despite knowing it is going to be difficult replacing India’s most successful skipper, Kohli was ready. And why not; earlier that month, in Dhoni’s absence, Kohli led India for the first time in Tests at Adelaide. It was an emotional Test post Phillip Hughes’ demise and Kohli nearly led India to a famous win. Prior to that, India had lost 13 of their 17 away Tests under Dhoni since the tour of England in 2011.

Dhoni was often criticised for being overtly defensive, but Kohli made a statement at Adelaide when he picked leg-spinner Karn Sharma ahead of the more established Ravichandran Ashwin for that Test. Leg-spin is a more attacking option and whether or not it was the right decision, Kohli made a point that he wanted to attack the predominantly right-handed Australian batting line-up. Kohli scored two hundreds in the Test and almost guided India home. The earlier Indian teams might not have eyed 364 in the fourth innings to win a Test. Kohli made his intent clear that he plays to win. READ: Virat Kohli: What sets the Delhi dasher apart

The more aggressive approach of Kohli has benefitted India and they have been able to shed off the safety-first approach. India won two Tests against South Africa that were played in difficult batting surfaces. Kohli, one of the top batsmen in world cricket, has struggled with the bat and scored a mere 68 runs at 17. While the world expects him to maintain an average near the 50-mark (because he is that good), Kohli personally keeps no such ambitions. After the Nagpur Test win against South Africa, Kohli made it clear when he said: “I don’t mind compromising on (batsmen’s) averages as long as we are winning Test matches. We are not playing for records, we are not playing for numbers or averages.”

Who has been India’s most impactful cricketer in Test cricket? It is not Sunil Gavaskar, Virender Sehwag, or even Sachin Tendulkar. It is Anil Kumble. According to the list of most impactful players, released by ICC, there were no Indians in the top 10 batsmen, while Kumble featured in the top 10 bowlers. READ: Shikhar Dhawan: Virat Kohli an aggressive captain but in good way

Kohli realises that bowlers win Tests. Despite the team struggling to put big scores on the board, Kohli has not hesitated to field a six batsmen (including a wicketkeeper whose batting credentials are yet to be proved in Tests) and five bowler combination. He knows 20 wickets is key to win Tests. He has also shown that he doesn’t mind losing a match in an attempt to win it. The ‘want to win’ approach has benefitted the side.

There are no second thoughts if he has to field three spinners either. Likewise, if he has to drop a spinner in favour of a pace bowler, then too he will. For instance, despite a good show from Amit Mishra at Mohali, he was dropped for the Bangalore Test. Kohli felt that in overcast conditions, the seam bowling of Binny will be advantageous. He takes harsh calls if needed, and they are backed with reasons. READ: Virat Kohli’s win as Test captain vindicates ‘aggressive’ approach

Here we have a captain who talks straight, does not mince words, gives no excuses, and most importantly backs his players openly. Earlier this year, in Bangladesh, MS Dhoni too gave reasons on why the team management dropped one of its top batsmen — Ajinkya Rahane — from the playing XI. Dhoni might have had his reasons and maybe they were genuine, but do you really discuss one of your key player’s weaknesses in front of press?

On the other hand, Kohli who has often trusted wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha to the No. 6 spot despite the latter not showing enough confidence, has time and again supported his teammate when criticism has gone his way. Prior to the Nagpur Test, Kohli said, “I really like Wriddhi’s attitude as he is a very hard working cricketer. He is willing to do anything that the team requires. He is a brilliant wicketkeeper and very good with the bat as well. He has got a very good first-class record as he has got lot of runs in pressure situations.” READ: What to expect from the Virat Kohli era of Indian cricket!

Saha, who scored two crucial half-centuries in Sri Lanka, scored a very important 32 in the first innings of Nagpur Test. With his captain openly expressing his faith, fresh doses of positivity gets injected into the side.

Former Indian captain Bishan Singh Bedi has compared Kohli to the infamous English leader Douglas Jardine for the use of doctored wickets against South Africa. On the other hand, legends from Steve Waugh to Viv Richards to Sourav Ganguly — top leaders from yesteryears — have joined the Kohli fan club. While that is a good sign that he is moving the right way, Kohli’s real test will be when India tours outside subcontinent.

Kohli has proven himself a mature and smart leader, and he will have learned from the mistakes the team made in previous tours. He will in all likelihood go ahead better prepared. For now, do not be surprised if you see a ruthless Kohli eyeing to win the ongoing Freedom Trophy 3-0. The mantle of Indian cricket seems to be in safe hands and it would be a good idea if the captaincy reins of limited-overs too are passed on to him.

(Suvajit Mustafi consumes cricket for lunch, fiction for dinner and munches numerous other snacks throughout the day. Yes, a jack of several trades, all Suvajit dreamt of was being India’s World Cup winning skipper but ended up being a sports writer, author, screenwriter, director, copywriter, graphic designer, sports marketer , strategist, entrepreneur,  philosopher and traveller. Donning so many hats, it’s cricket which gives him the ultimate high and where he finds solace. He can be followed at @RibsGully and rivu7)