“Sometimes I stand in the field and think the wicket is not falling, but you literally cannot do anything as a captain. You just have to accept,” said Virat Kohli at the end of the Bangladesh Test. Learn to accept and learn to wait. In these demonetised times, waiting should come easy to Indians. Wait in queues for money, wait in queues for the politicians’ motorcades to go past, wait for ministers holed up in a resort to come out and say who is their chief minister choice, wait for this and that. Not everyone is used to waiting, though. When a movie, TV show, gets downloaded in a minute, why wait? But cricket captains need to wait, even if it’s against their character.
When a big partnership is keeping you under the sun, you have no option but to wait. Wait for your bowlers to come up with an inspiring spell or a ball even, wait for the batsmen to crack, wait for a mistake to creep in. All this waiting didn’t come easy to Virat Kohli. By instinct he likes to attack. By nature, he wants things to happen quickly. He is young, ambitious, a new captain, and understandably, wants to manufacture action. He has had to learn to wait, though.
Bangladesh lasted 247 overs in this Test, better than most visiting teams. In fact, after England in 2012, no opposition team has played more than 100 overs in both innings, as Bangladesh have done. The wicket was flat and his bowlers were real good—creating something on their own and at the same time, squeezing in the pressure through sheer discipline, but Kohli the captain had lengthy periods where he had to be patient.
We saw that even in Rajkot in the Test against England. At one point, he even threw the ball in anger. There was a mis-field or something but it was just the last straw. For nearly 10 and half-hours, he had been stewing in the heat watching the Englishmen pile on the runs. He had tried everything- a 7-2 field had turned into 8-1, with fielders packing the off-side but the wickets hadn’t come as quickly as he would have liked.
The frustration boiled over during a partnership between Joe Root and Moeen Ali that lasted 48.1 overs. At different points in this home season he has had to learn to be patient. In Kanpur, New Zealand’s Kane Williamson and Tom Latham kept him on the field for 42.2 overs in the first innings. In the second innings, Luke Ronchi and Mitch Santner batted on for 36 overs. So did England at various phases in the series.
The proof of Kohli’s patience came in the fifth Test in Chennai. Previously, there were over 40-overs stands but there weren’t two in the same innings. But in the first innings at Chepauk, Moeen Ali and Joe Root first batted on for 41.5 overs before Adil Rashid and Liam Dawson piled on more agony with a partnership that last 41.3 overs.
In perfect control of himself
The brain can scramble crazily in those lengthy vigils for a wicket. But Kohli had learnt to wait by the time he travelled from Rajkot to Chennai, from the first to the last Test. Here was a man in better control of himself and more aware about what he could do and more importantly, what he couldn’t do.
What does he do in those situations? What he has learnt from this home season? “Before I would still be a bit of relentless with fields but now, I understand when a pair is going for runs, I immediately go for in-out fields, no point giving them 4-5 boundaries. They might as well score 25 runs in singles, and take 15 overs to do that. That creates pressure and when you know you are bowling good balls, one ball does something you are back into the game. That’s something I have learnt,” Kohli said on Monday.
It’s something MS Dhoni, a defensive Test captain, would also do—the deployment of in-out fields sometimes so much early in the piece that it would seem he had zoned out into an auto-pilot mode too early. An impression that would come more often in overseas Test of course but even in Indian Tests at times he would give the impression he has switched off mentally.
The difference in Kohli is that he is a lot more vocal, expressive, and the most active member on the field. Even if Dhoni was internally racking his brain, it wouldn’t show his monk-like exterior. The other players couldn’t feed off his energy. Sometimes, the bowlers, as R Ashwin said once, wouldn’t really know what their captain thinks of him. And that Kohli is different. “He lets you know upfront and there is a lot of clarity”.
During those times, he works on his players through different ways. “Lot of times, you know that there is only so much that you can do as a captain.” So instead, he works on the lifting the energy levels. “You have the responsibility of keeping the energy of the team up. I look to push myself, throw myself, so guys know that they have to push for a wicket. The bowlers know what they need to do but the fielders within the ring need to support the bowlers. I need to do that first, for the guys to show that energy. I am able to maintain that and that has been a takeaway from the games that I have been captain so far.”
The former Australian captain Ian Chappell had this great quote about captaincy. “If you have had six hours on the field as a captain, and you are not mentally whacked at the end of that, then you have not done your job properly.” It has perhaps shown in the first appearance of white hair in Kohli’s beard. He won’t mind it as long as he continues to leave stadiums with the winning feeling.