Soon after the third Test against South Africa ended in Cape Town on Friday, Virat Kohli walked up to his teammates and informed them it had been his last as captain. And on Saturday evening, he took to social media and made it official.
As congratulatory messages from his fans and cricketers across the globe started pouring in, hailing his contributions as the leader of the longest format, Anshuman Gaekwad recalled the time when Sachin Tendulkar, too, quit captaincy to ‘concentrate on his batting’.
That decision taken in 2000 paid off as Tendulkar played fearless cricket for the next 13 years, solely focusing on his game and ensuring the team’s success. And Gaekwad, former India international and erstwhile national team coach, believes even Kohli can take a leaf out of Tendulkar’s book.
“I think Virat jumped the gun a bit too early. The person he is, Virat likes to lead from the front and since he is not performing well and even the team did not do well recently, that could be the primary reason behind taking such a call,” Gaekwad told Sportstar on Saturday.
“When I took over as the coach, Sachin gave up captaincy. I pushed him so much, but he just refused and said, ‘Anshu bhai , let me just concentrate on my batting… I am not doing justice’. Maybe, he had other reasons and views, but this was also one of the reasons. Even Virat has also gone through a similar thing - winning, losing, being answerable to people. Maybe, he would have thought that now I would rather concentrate on my batting and win games for India,” Gaekwad, who is now a member of BCCI’s apex council, said.
“Sachin’s commitment was exceptional - on and off the field. He would solely focus on the game and I remember even telling him, ‘come on, let’s play table tennis’ just to cool off things in Sri Lanka and Sharjah. That also, is probably one of the reasons - when you don’t get the desired results, you feel if I can do it, why can’t others? Then it comes to a point when you decide to move on and play your game freely. That’s what Sachin did ultimately.”
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Gaekwad feels just like Tendulkar, even Kohli may feel ‘relieved’ with the decision. “I could see relief in Sachin’s eyes. He was not tense as a player. It will be a similar thing for Virat. Now that he has decided to step down, he should follow Sachin. Just like him, (he can) concentrate on batting and that will help.”
Captaining India is a high-pressure job - where a leader is under constant scrutiny after a defeat or even after a series win - and after a point of time, it does take a toll on a player's psyche. In the past, there have been several instances of legends giving up the role to focus on their game - Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid being the ideal examples.
“Being a player and a captain, you set your standards so high that you don’t want to compromise on that. The moment you see there is a chance of compromising, you don’t like it. It is human nature. It has happened over the years and when you see that the set standard is not being met, that’s when you tend to take such decisions.
“One of the possible reasons could be when the amount of required support from the other players are not as much as compared to you. Even that can force you to take a decision. You set the standard so high and give 110 per cent for the country as a player, and maybe, some of them are not. As a captain, you might feel that if I can do it, why can’t they? The fact remains that everyone is not Sachin Tendulkar or Virat Kohli. So, concessions have to be given, but maybe, you don’t realise it at that time and feel frustrated.
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“Virat, the way he batted in both innings, he looked determined. So, he probably might be disappointed that why can’t others also perform that way.”
In December last year, Kohli was removed as the ODI captain and before flying out to South Africa, he stirred a controversy, claiming the Indian cricket board (BCCI) officials did not ask him not to quit T20 captaincy - contrary to the statements given by the Board president Sourav Ganguly. Even though the BCCI officials remained tight-lipped on the issue, the chairman of national selection committee, Chetan Sharma, clarified Kohli was indeed asked not to step down as the captain ahead of T20 World Cup.
So, after his controversial remarks, Kohli was certainly under pressure off the field. Did that also have a bearing on his decision to give up red-ball captaincy?
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“There could be, but I don't think that would lead to taking such a major decision. The bottom line is, all these are superfluous things as far as a player or a captain is concerned. Today, something will be written against you, tomorrow they will put you in the sky, but ultimately, your goal is to play for India, captain India and help the team do well. So much has been said about Virat and how he has taken the team to such levels. Considering all that, when such things happen, you might feel, 'what is happening?'”
Going forward, Gaekwad - who is also a former national selector - believes head coach Dravid should have a discussion with the selection panel regarding the appointment of the future leader. “As selectors, we always thought a captain should be someone who is respected by everyone - be it senior or junior. Most importantly, he should have a permanent place in the team. He commands respect. You have to pick a guy, who has that respect. Rahul would be the best person to suggest a name who could motivate a team and take them forward. Captaincy is not an easy job, you need to have a temperament for the job like Dhoni, and Rahul being around, he should suggest a name and then the selectors and can decide accordingly.”
With Kohli stepping down, the Board now faces the challenging task of picking a new skipper for the home series against Sri Lanka.