Dhoni and Kohli's differences as captains

A look at the differences between MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli as Indian Test captains.

Karan Mamgain
by Karan Mamgain
15th October 2016

article:15th October 2016

Dhoni and Kohli during the former's final Test match
Dhoni and Kohli during the former's final Test match

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.


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.


Kohli as Test captain

  • Matches: 17
  • Won: 10
  • Drawn: 5
  • Lost: 2

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.


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.


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.

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.


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.



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