The first sign of Virat Kohli feeling the age or a genuine reason for reviving his batting form in Tests? A case of captaincy burden creaking his shoulders or the beginning of a gradual self-phasing out? He relinquished T20 captaincy with a lot of questions hanging in the air. The reason, he wrote on his Instagram-post, was the immense workload he had to bear since he became a cross-format captain. A reality check through numbers.
How has his workload been in the last couple of years?
Starting from the T20 series against Sri Lanka at the beginning of 2020, he has featured in 12 Test matches and ODIs each, 15 T20Is, and 22 IPL games. That means a game day in every six days. Go further back. Since his international debut in 2010, as many as 1024 days, close to three-and-a-half years, were international or IPL match-days. Add travel and practice days, he hardly had a breather, even if you discount that he missed part of the Test series against Australia for the birth of his daughter. Not to discount the year before (2019), when India played Test series against Australia, South Africa, Bangladesh and West Indies, besides the 50-over World Cup and the IPL. It’s hard to think of an international cricketer who has featured in more games than him since his debut. And half of those years, he had been the captain.
Before the series in New Zealand last year, he had admitted that the schedule was indeed knackering him. “It is around eight years now that I have been playing 300 days a year, which includes travelling and practice sessions. And intensity is right up there all the time. It does take a toll on you.” Hence, it was not surprising that he decided to unburden a bit. What was indeed surprising was that he quit only captaincy and not the format in itself, which, more so given the infrequency of T20Is games.
Was T20 captaincy taking a toll on him?
Only Kohli would know whether captaincy was affecting him or if it was impeding his batting. Numbers reveal that he was a happy T20I captain, having won series in South Africa, Australia, England, New Zealand, West Indies and Sri Lanka, a feat no captain has ever managed. Though he would stop short of recording most wins as skipper, a record that belongs to MS Dhoni, he could brag about a better win percentage (65.11 to 59.28). Among captains in the World Cup, only Babar Azam (a decimally better 65.22) and Afghanistan’s Ashgar Afghan (81) have better win percentages. Besides, only Australia’s Aaron Finch has scored more runs than Kohli while leading the team (1589 to 1502). Hence, in this format, his batting and captaincy had little correlation, apart from a marginal plunge of average from 52 to 48, if you could call that a plunge at all at this level. His last six T20I innings read: 85, 0, 73*, 77*, 1, and 80*. So his recent form in this format, too, has been divine.
It could have been less bizarre if he had forsaken the captaincy of Royal Challengers Bangalore, for whom he had lost more than he had won (65-60), and for whom he averages under 40 (37.97).
Was the frequency of international T20 cricket affecting him?
Less likely, as T20 games come few and far between, bursting into relevance only before the World Cups. For example, in the last couple of years, he has featured in just 15 T20I games, roughly the number of games he would play in two months in the IPL. Moreover, given the comparative insignificance of international T20 fixtures, there was hardly any pressure attached to a T20I series, barring the World Cup, or a series in the build-up to one. Perceivably, leading in a non-World Cup T20I game is a (relatively) relaxed job. No captain has ever been fired for losing a standalone T20I series.
It’s difficult to correlate the relationship between T20I captaincy and his lack of runs in the longest format as well. It is not so much a case of him looking out of touch as he is out of runs. There have been times in the series against England that he had looked in divine form, but would suddenly get out. But only Kohli knows best the rhyme and reason behind the decision.
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Will he do the same in ODIs?
Not in the near future, not until the next World Cup the year after at home, until his batting form nosedives dramatically. An ambitious cricketer and captain that he is, it’s unlikely that he would splurge a chance to win a World Cup at home, to banish all doubts about his leadership skills, the dearth of an ICC trophy in his CV, to be as legendary a captain as he is a batsman. His Sachin Tendulkar moment, so to speak. But keep an eye on his batting too. If he rekindles his bruising touch, there would be no reason he would harbour second thoughts of stepping down as captain from the 50-over cricket
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