One could say that the biggest similarity between MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli’s Test captaincy is that both of them succeeded in taking India to the top of the ICC Test rankings.
It’s too early to compare their captaincy records, but there are some differences worth pondering over.
FADING LEGENDS vs PROVEN TALENT
From Anil Kumble, Dhoni inherited a team of legends who were playing in the twilight of their respective careers: Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Virender Sehwag and Zaheer Khan.
All the aforementioned players were playing exceptionally well in the first two years of Dhoni’s captaincy. It was only during the England tour in 2011 that these famed cricketers (apart from Dravid on the England tour) started declining which led to a dip in results during Dhoni’s captaincy.
Virat Kohli, on the other hand, has inherited a much younger team with players who had been successfully transitioned into Test cricket during the final year or two of Dhoni’s captaincy. These players included Ajinkya Rahane, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Kohli himself.
SPINNERS AT THEIR PEAK
Dhoni did have Harbhajan Singh, Amit Mishra, Pragyan Ojha, Ashwin and Jadeja at his disposal at different times during his captaincy reign.
That said, Ashwin hadn’t developed his present mastery back then, Jadeja and Mishra were inconsistent (especially away from home), and Harbhajan was in decline from 2011 onwards.
Kohli, on the other hand, has Jadeja and Ashwin at the peak of their powers, bowling as a settled unit and razing the opposition on helpful pitches.
CHANGE IN MINDSET
One of the best qualities of Dhoni, the batsman and captain, was his ability to manage risks conservatively. The same trait that makes him a great limited-overs captain and finisher also ended up becoming a flaw towards the end of his Test captaincy career.
From field settings to the team composition, Kohli has looked a lot more aggressive. The very first Test that Kohli captained was quite symbolic of this mindset, when India went after the mammoth target Australia set in the fourth innings at Adelaide.
This was a remarkable contrast to Dhoni’s decision to abandon a feasible chase against West Indies at Dominica in 2011.
USE OF THE FIVE BOWLERS STRATEGY
On difficult pitches abroad, Kohli has repeatedly backed the five-bowler strategy in Tests.
The rationale is that the ability to take 20 wickets is a prerequisite to win Test matches. 20 wickets combined with a reasonable batting performance is more likely to end up in a Test win, than having marvellous batting performances without having taken 20 wickets.
A tick mark too for @imVkohli who never took his foot off the pedal.— Harsha Bhogle (@bhogleharsha) October 11, 2016
The reasoning combined with positive batting contributions from Wriddhiman Saha, Jadeja and Ashwin lately means that the current Indian side is well capable of executing the strategy.
Although India did play just four bowlers in all three Tests against New Zealand, don’t be surprised if Kohli goes back to playing five specialist bowlers when the need arises.
LEADING BY EXAMPLE
Virat Kohli, along with being the captain, is also one of the backbones of the Indian Test batting line-up. Dhoni, whilst being an ODI batting legend, had a fairly modest batting record in Test cricket.
With that clarification in place, it is notable that Kohli has led the team as a batsman in various Indian wins. Although Dhoni had his moments as well, he wasn’t nearly as instrumental with the bat in Indian wins as Kohli has been.
As a captain, Dhoni’s batting average increases by seven runs (compared to matches where he did not captain), while Kohli’s increases by thirteen runs.
Maharashtra’s pair of Swapnil Gugale and Ankit Bawne came very close to breaking the all-time record for the highest partnership for any wicket in first-class cricket during their Ranji Trophy match against Delhi at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai.
On Thursday, Maharashtra had won the toss and elected to bat first. The decision didn’t look great when Harshad Khadiwale and Chirag Khurana were dismissed for 10 and 4 respectively, with Maharashtra’s score at 41/2.
That was when Bawne joined Gugale in the middle and the duo batted throughout the rest of the day. At the end of day one, Maharashtra’s score read 290/2 with both Gugale and Bawne reaching their centuries.
The two of them resumed batting on day two with a similar mindset and were not caused much trouble by the Delhi bowlers on a flat Wankhede pitch.
Maharashtra had scored 635/2 when the declaration finally came with Gugale and Bawne adding 594 runs for the third wicket. Gugale and Bawne were unbeaten on 351 and 258 respectively.
Today is the first occasion of a triple-century in a domestic first-class match (351* by Swapnil Gugale) and in a Test (302* by Azhar Ali)— Bharath Seervi (@SeerviBharath) October 14, 2016
In the process, the duo broke the record for the highest partnership for any wicket in Ranji Trophy history. The previous record was a long-standing one, held by Vijay Hazare and Gul Mohammad who put on 577 runs for the fourth wicket for Baroda against Holkar in the last Ranji Trophy final before India’s independence in 1947.
Gugale and Bawne also had the opportunity of breaking the all-time record for the highest partnership ever in a first-class match.
When Gugale – who is Maharashtra’s captain in place of Kedar Jadhav who is in India’s ODI squad to face New Zealand – declared, the pair were just 30 runs short of Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene’s record.
Sangakkara and Jayawardene had put on 624 during their epic partnership against South Africa at Colombo (SSC) in 2006, with the former scoring 287 and the latter 374.
Later, Gugale admitted that he had no idea about the record and he has some regret over missing out on the opportunity.
Speaking to ESPN Cricinfo, he said: “I had nearly 100 missed calls and 200 messages. It was only as I went through them one by one did I realise we were 30-odd short of the world-record partnership in first-class cricket. So there’s a tinge of regret. Maybe I could have declared after the record, but the decision was mine alone so I can’t complain.”
Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja: 41 wickets
All New Zealand bowlers: 42 wickets
This mind-boggling stat shows the way India dominated the series against New Zealand throughout. But the best part about it was the fact that the pitches weren’t dustbowls. In fact, all three pitches were of a different nature, including the one in Kolkata, which suited the visitors a lot more than the hosts.
The first game in Kanpur was on a slightly more spinner-friendly pitch that tested the batsmen’s skills. Although it must be mentioned that even that pitch wasn’t a rank turner and that’s why the game went into the final day.
The first Test highlighted the importance of Jadeja in this Test side, especially while playing at home. He’s someone who provides unbelievable accuracy with the ball and some crucial contributions with the bat lower down the order.
The second pitch had more grass than any of the pitches we’ve seen in India lately, but even then, the Indian fast bowlers out-bowled their opponents. The second Test that decided the outcome of the series brought out the most important facet of this young Indian Test team: the will to fight.
The tricky Eden Gardens pitch demanded both resilience and technique come to the fore, and the Indian batsmen passed that test with flying colours. The biggest gains from this Test were two relatively lesser known Indian players in Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Wridhiman Saha.
It’s not often that Bhuvneshwar gets to play Tests in India, but the moment he got an opportunity, he made the most of it. Saha’s will to fight out the tough sessions in both the innings stood out, too, and should encourage Kohli to toy with the idea of playing five bowlers whenever the need arises in the future.
The only grouse in the first two Tests was the lack of centuries and, therefore, Indore proved he perfect icing on the cake. The Indore wicket was the best pitch to bat on and the Indian batsmen showed that they have the hunger to make the most of the conditions when it’s to their liking.
Virat Kohli’s discipline, Ajinkya Rahane’s courage and then Cheteshwar Pujara’s versatility proved that both the present and the future of Indian Test cricket are in safe hands.
But no talk about Indian Test cricket at home is complete without dedicating some portion to the serial series winner, Ravichandran Ashwin.
He’s not just the second fastest in the world to reach the 200-Test wicket mark but has also won more Man of the Series awards in Tests than any other Indian.
Seventh Man of the Series award looks certain for Ashwin...most by an Indian in Tests. There're three more Test series this season 😊🙏— Aakash Chopra (@cricketaakash) October 11, 2016
In addition to picking up bucketful of wickets, he has developed that happy knack of having a wood on the opposition’s best batsman. If it was AB de Villiers against South Africa, it was Kane Williamson against the Kiwis.
The best part about Ashwin’s dominance over Williamson was the modes of the dismissals, for he trapped a player of Williamson’s quality in an almost identical fashion every single time. Spin bowling is about deceiving the opponent but to deceive him time and again in the same fashion is just sensational.
This young Indian team is currently the best Test team in the world and the ruthlessness in their attitude and a long home season should guarantee their presence at the top for a really long time.