Sunday, March 7, 2021

Move over ‘Icy Cool’, bring in ‘Firebrand’

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Kohli ushers in new era for Indian cricket, writes SANTOSH RAO

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The Firebrand’s reign begins

Aggressive, brash and in your face – these qualities have become synonymous with India’s new captain Virat Kohli, and his passionate and outspoken methods has ushered in a new era for Indian cricket in the Test arena.
The days of the charismatic, ice cool Mahendra Singh Dhoni in Tests are over.
They say a team adopts the demeanour and characteristics of their leader, and the nonchalant ways and detached persona of India’s ‘captain cool’, surely, rubbed off on the entire team till he led them.
But the coming of Gen Next – aggressive players like Virat Kohli, Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and Varun Aaron – has changed the dynamics of the team. These cricketers fight fire with fire and not buckle down under the barrage of verbal spats.
They like to look at their opponents in the eye and stand strong.
The Indian team was begging for a firebrand leader. The uber cool attitude of Dhoni stopped working sometime back, at least in the longest format of the game.
The Indian team last won a Test series away from home back in 2011 against the West Indies and there was a need for a change, a different game plan, a different approach and a different attitude.
The likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Virender Sehwag and VVS Laxman all added to the ‘coolness’ that Dhoni brought to the table. These were not players who would mouth-off against marauding fast bowlers, they would rather go about their way quietly and let the bat do the talking. And that is exactly the sort of captain Dhoni was.
With the exit of such stalwarts and the coming of fresh faces in the Tests, the team cried out for a new leader.
Dhoni in 2012 had hinted that he would soon quit Tests to concentrate on the shorter formats, especially the 2015 World Cup to be played in Australia and New Zealand.
But that call may have come a tad too late and the suddenness of it took everyone by surprise. It wasn’t the decision so much as the timing that left people grasping for answers.
Dhoni’s Test record has sometimes been overshadowed and neglected by his success in the shorter formats. The team might have climbed to the top of the Test rankings under his leadership but the most successful Indian captain has had a torrid time abroad.
Overall, Dhoni played 90 Tests in a career that began in 2005 and scored 4,876 runs at an average of 38, with a high score of 224 against Australia in Chennai in 2013. As a wicketkeeper, he effected 294 dismissals, the fifth highest in Test cricket.
However, out of 30 Tests overseas under Dhoni’s captaincy, India lost 15. Since the 2011 World Cup victory, India lost 13 out of 22 Tests played abroad, winning just two and drawing six.
Outside Asia, Dhoni’s highest score is 92 and averages just 29.79.
Kohli has already hit nine hundreds overall – three of them in the current series against Australia – and his ‘onward and upward’ cavalry charge almost took India to victory in the first Test at Adelaide.
But, Kohli has a lot to learn in a short span of time. If the right reactions from the team don’t come soon, the daggers will be out swiftly and the fans that love and adore him will be baying for his blood.
Kohli, though, takes over the responsibility with a severe disadvantage. While Dhoni was surrounded with senior and experienced players when he took over, Kohli takes charge of a new look team lacking in experience.
When Dhoni is removed from the equation, 26-year-old pacer Ishant Sharma becomes the most experienced player in the side, having played 61 Tests while Kohli himself has played just 32.
That leaves Team India severely short on players who are well-versed with the nuances of handling Test cricket. In a way that could work in favour of Kohli, who will look to forge his own path and give him proper control of the team.
Kohli, though, will have to curb his temper and rein in his gung-ho attitude. Mixing aggression with calmness will serve India’s 32nd captain well.

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