At Kazi Nazrul Islam Avenue in Dhaka, they revel in traffic commotion. Vehicles move at snail’s pace and for the outsiders, it’s always a test of patience. The locals, however, don’t complain, for the traffic chaos signifies normalcy. During ferment, the buzz evaporates and life comes to a halt which was the case here just a few months ago.
There was a big question mark over Bangladesh hosting the Asia Cup but peace descended on the eastern part of Bengal just in time for the cricket season and the tournament was given the go-ahead by the Asian Cricket Council.
For India, however, the question marks don’t end with the staging of the event. Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s eleventh hour withdrawal, owing to a side strain, has thrown his new age successor, Virat Kohli, in at the deep end. Not just as captain, but as the leader in the batting order as well. After back-to-back series losses in South Africa and New Zealand, India’s every move on conducive pitches against fellow Asian giants will be under microscopic scrutiny.
Kohli’s winning percentage as India captain is better than his batting strike rate of 89.48 in One Day Internationals. So far, he has led eight times and won seven. Five of those wins, however, came against Zimbabwe during India’s tour of the southern African nation last year. The Asia Cup, however, which would be underway from Tuesday (India’s first match is on Wednesday), throws up a completely different challenge.
Both defending champions Pakistan and Sri Lanka, would be keen on having an upper hand over an Indian team that is low on confidence. India need Kohli to fire with the bat to help his unit get back to the winning ways. And then there’s the added responsibility of leading his troop.
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On Sunday, at the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium in Mirpur, the Delhi lad looked rather tired at the team’s arrival press conference. He played down the captaincy issue, saying that he’s doing the job for “just one series” and is not unnecessarily putting himself under pressure.
“Yes, it’s a big tournament, my first as a captain and I’m looking forward to it. I don’t think I have to do things differently. I don’t really look into something unless I am appointed which is the case right now in this tournament,” Kohli said. Some former cricketers, people who have been there and done that, believe that the make-shift role shouldn’t prevent him from asserting his authority.
“Virat should be quite good. In fact, it’s good for India that they have a new captain for the Asia Cup. Every individual offers something different and (after the recent losses) Kohli will bring in new ideas,” former India captain Ajit Wadekar said, speaking to The Indian Express. “Kohli is aggressive and leads from the front, and to be in charge of the team for the Asia Cup will help him groom properly for the future. Dhoni may not be there after the World Cup and Kohli is the only candidate to take over from him.”
But can Kohli be aggressive enough as he is not the regular captain? “Polly Umrigar and Ravi Shastri led just one Test each but led aggressively. Kohli’s job is relatively easy because deep down he knows that he will succeed Dhoni in the near future,” Wadekar added.
The big fear, however, is that, like on many occasions in the past, making the best batsman in the side as the team’s leader could have an adverse effect on his batting. Something that will not play well for India in this tournament, were it to happen again.
“Kohli is India’s best batsman and as we have seen in the past, even some big legends struggled with the extra burden. But Kohli is a very confident young man and a successful captaincy stint will help him earn the legendary status a few years down the line. The Asia Cup could be the beginning of a successful journey,” Wadekar observed.
The veteran, however, doesn’t think that time has come to appoint Kohli as a full-time captain. “Not yet. He must serve the apprenticeship period. Dhoni still is a very fine captain and I don’t believe he is getting bogged down by negativity. When your bowlers are not doing anything, you get frustrated. It happened to me at times as well. Frustration creates indecision.”
Mohinder Amarnath, too, is looking forward to Kohli’s new role.
“His body language gives an impression that his captaincy would be pretty similar to his batting – proactive and authoritative. And I don’t think his batting would be affected. When you are playing for your country, you should be ready for everything. Kohli doesn’t seem to have a fear of failure. This is a very good opportunity for him and the strong character that he is, I expect him to embrace the challenge,” said Amarnath.
That challenge begins three days from now.