MS Dhoni or Virat Kohli? Who has been the more successful Indian captain in Australia? A comparative analysis of their records Down Under show a stark difference in fortunes.
Dhoni, often criticized for his defensive captaincy in Australia over the years, has decent showings in the shorter formats, but has fared terribly as Test skipper. Kohli, on the other hand, has taken the Aussie bull by the horns in his stint as skipper in the longer formats.
2011/12 (MS Dhoni) – ‘A funereal end to Indian cricket’s greatest era’
Result: AUS 4-0
With the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman still in the team, and young Virat Kohli and Ravichandran Ashwin breaking through the ranks, there had been high hopes from Dhoni’s first team in Australia.
However, the tour was a disaster. India were blanked in the four-Test series, including two innings defeats. Dhoni’s defensive fields were criticized. Inquests into India’s dismal away performances were conducted. It was even suggested that India have a different skipper for Tests.
Kohli and Tendulkar were the only Indian batsmen to average over 35 in the series. Dhoni himself fared poorly too, averaging 20. Zaheer Khan (15 wickets) was the most successful Indian bowler in the series, but got little support.
1st Test – AUS won by 122 runs
Dhoni said it was the batting that let the side down. The team, he said, also need to come up with ways to run through the opposition’s lower order.
2nd Test – AUS won by innings and 68 runs
India were thoroughly outplayed, chasing the game from the second session of the match itself. This was India’s sixth straight loss in away Tests and Dhoni admitted it was a ‘difficult time’ for the team.
He said, “You’ll lose at times. You will face difficult times. That improves you as an individual, and as a skipper. If everything comes easily to you, then you don’t really appreciate the kind of hard work that goes into it [winning]. This is a phase where I think the team will get stronger. Of course it won’t reflect in the result right now, but overall it will really help us.”
3rd Test – AUS won by an innings and 37 runs
India’s seventh straight away defeat, and another comprehensive one at that, saw the press dubbing India’s Test side a ‘crumbling unit’. “A lot of soul searching needs to be done,” said Sunil Gavaskar, suggesting strengthening the first-class cricket structure in the country.
Maninder Singh said, “I think MS Dhoni has a habit of staying back and waiting for things to happen. I think we need to look for a new captain for Test matches.”
Dhoni was banned for the 4th Test because of India’s slow over rates. ‘Rock bottom’ is where India’s Test team was placed, said analysts. Captaincy was Dhoni’s ‘crutch’ in the Test team rather than him being an asset to the team, they said.
2014/15 (Dhoni/Kohli) – Changing of guards
Result: AUS 2-0
Kohli (692 runs from 4 Tests at an average of 87) was a man on fire in this series — the series midway through which he was anointed India’s Test captain after a surprise retirement press conference by Dhoni. Kohli also got support from Murali Vijay and Ajinkya Rahane, both of whom averaged above 50. Mohammed Shami was India’s most incisive bowler.
1st Test (Kohli) – AUS won by 48 runs
This was yet another defeat, but for many, this was a defeat that felt like a victory. Needing 365 to win in 98 overs in the final day of the Test, Kohli, captaining the side with Dhoni being ‘rested’, and Murali Vijay went for the kill. At several times in the day, it looked like India were within touching distance of a famous win. Nathan Lyon, however, ran through the bottom order and India lost a narrow Test.
“We played the kind of cricket we wanted,” said Kohli at the press conference, on living up to his pre-match promise of aggression.
2nd Test (Dhoni) – AUS won by 4 wickets
India ran Australia close in this Test too, as Dhoni returned to lead, but were undone by a Mitchell Johnson assault with the bat, as the visitors chose to bowl a later-to-be-questioned short length to the left-hander. India would complain of the nature of practice pitches provided to them after this match.
3rd Test (Dhoni) – Match drawn
Dhoni (24*) was at the crease on the last day of the Test as both captains decided no result would be possible in the match. Shockingly, this would turn out to be Dhoni’s last appearance in whites. He announced his retirement from the longest format after this match.
4th Test (Kohli) – Match drawn
Virat Kohli’s first Test as full-time India captain, with Wriddhiman Saha also being promoted to full-time Test wicketkeeper in Dhoni’s absence. India were pushed to the limit in the match, but Ajinkya Rahane held firm to force a draw.
2018/19 (Kohli) – A historic series win
Result: IND 2-1
1st Test – IND won by 31 runs
India secured their first Test victory in Australia since 2008 to lead a series in the country for only the second time. Jasprit Bumrah provided the bulk of the key moments in the match, and Australia struggled to keep pace in the absence of Steve Smith and David Warner — both serving their one-year bans during the series.
2nd Test – AUS won by 146 runs
Nathan Lyon forced a fourth innings collapse from India, chasing 287 for victory. The series was thus level at 1-1.
3rd Test – IND won by 137 runs
Bumrah came to the fore again, becoming the first Indian pacer to pick up 9 wickets in a Test in Australia. “The credit has to go to our bowlers, especially Jasprit, they have been outstanding,” Kohli said after the game. India took a 2-1 lead in the series and ensured they would defend the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.
4th Test – Match drawn
Cheteshwar Pujara’s 193 ensured India were comfortably on top of the last match of the series as well, which petered to a draw. India thus beat Australia at home for the first time. Not only did the visitors win the series, they thoroughly outplayed Australia throughout the series as well, barring Lyon’s exploits in the 2nd Test.
Note: Following is a comparative analysis of Dhoni and Kohli’s fortunes as skipper in bilateral ODI and T20I series in Australia.