Captain Kohli?

In the aftermath of India's capitulation in the World Twenty20 final in Bangladesh, following their dismal showing in New Zealand and South Africa a month before, there is a case for the captain to be replaced.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni did fairly well though, given that the team went into the tournament with nine losses and three wins in 14 matches in the shorter formats of cricket since Dec 5, to guide them to five straight wins till they ran into Sri Lanka in Dhaka on April 6.

The 32-year-old marshalled his resources creditably, knowing that the spinners will come good on the slow turners. Win the toss and bowl was his mantra, and it worked superbly as the batsmen found it easy to achieve the targets.

But he failed miserably when it came to the crunch: Allowing sentiment to rule over logic.

It was apparent to anyone watching India progress at the Sher-e-Bangla National Cricket Stadium that Yuvraj Singh was woefully out of form.

The 33-year-old left-hander was instrumental in India winning the World T20 in 2007 and the World Cup in 2011 but he seemed to play from memory as his confidence deserted him.

Yet, Dhoni sent him at No. 4 when India needed to up the tempo in the final. It was painful to see a champion struggle, but the captain should have done much better in reading the situation and throwing himself or Suresh Raina much earlier into the fray.

It is this tendency of Dhoni's to sit back and let matters drift that is proving detrimental to India performing consistently, especially in Tests. He has become prone to conservatism and status quo when these were alien to his nature at the beginning of his captaincy tenure.

Undoubtedly, he is a shrewd captain. But in recent years he has preferred not to take on the opposition head on, leaving India suffering heavy defeats in England, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. In Indian conditions, he is still the king, but the fizz has gone out of his captaincy, batting and wicket-keeping.

He should ideally be batting at No. 4 in T20s and ODIs as he can belt the ball, yet he promotes less naturally-endowed players up the order. His mind also seems to be preoccupied with the match-fixing scandal in which his Indian Premier League outfit Chennai Super Kings are embroiled.

Who better to replace him? The Man of the Moment, of course. And why not Virat Kohli?

The 25-year-old is batting superbly, oozing confidence, commanding respect and fear and daring to take on any team on any pitch. He is doing everything right and that is the drive India need to bolster their future.

His collection of runs - 46.51 average in Tests, 51.16 in ODIs and 45.30 in T20s - is unsurpassed by any other current Indian batsman.

But not all agree that he should be made captain now.

"Kohli is batting well, let him concentrate on that, don't give him added responsibilities," pointed out former India U-19 player Dharmichand Mulewa, 30, who resides in Singapore now. "Kohli is aggressive like Dhoni, he'll make a good captain, but this is not the right time to blood him. Give Dhoni two more years."

Added Ms Kinjal Mehta, 36, a homemaker and fanatic follower of the Indian team: "Kohli is young, he needs to tone down his aggression and show maturity before he can be entrusted with the mammoth task of leading India."

True, Kohli can be in the opposition's face. But what is the harm in that? If the Aussies play it that way, give it back to them.

He has indeed matured in the past few months. Gone is the brash talk and swagger. He was measured in his comments at the World T20 - even praising and hugging rivals who did well - and, apart from a gesture of frustration, did not say anything harsh about Yuvraj for bogging India down.

Friendliness on the field may not be his hallmark, but he has quickly learnt that he has to channel his natural aggression to bind and direct the team in the right direction.

More and more India are looking to Kohli to provide the goods these days. He is a leader in many ways and why not give him that post full-time?

South Africa in 2003 pitchforked Graeme Smith, then aged only 22 years and 82 days, into the captaincy. And look where he took them - to No. 1 status in Tests and in the process became one of the most successful captains in cricket history.

"Virat has the best credentials to lead India now," observes former Indian Ranji Trophy player Munish Arora, 43, who also captained the Singapore national team. "His aggressive style as a player and captain will certainly help the Test team to improve their record overseas."

India will be touring England from June, their only major series before the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand next February. "If they need inspiration to overturn 2011's whitewash, Kohli is the man to do the job," says Mr Roshan Mahapatra, 27, a project manager with network technology company ANTlabs. "The team dynamics have changed and his high spirit fits in more ideally than Dhoni's.

"Cricket is no longer a gentleman's game. It is played aggressively. A captain does not have time to analyse and summarise, he has to think on his feet. Kohli has the aggression and the attitude to firm up the team in trying circumstances. He has captained well and the cherry on the cake is that he is young," he adds.

Kohli has captained India in ODIs to two wins and a loss in a Caribbean triangular, five wins in Zimbabwe and two wins and two losses in the recent Asia Cup in Bangladesh. Dhoni, in fact, should have been replaced as Test captain following India's disastrous tours of England and Australia in 2011-12 when his team showed little fight in losing eight matches on the trot. But the selectors dithered because stalwarts such as Rahul Dravid and V.V.S. Laxman retired soon after.

It is never too late, though. Kohli has the capability to take India back to the top of Test cricket as he is cut in the Sourav Ganguly mould - suave, intelligent, combative, forceful and result-oriented. His nearest rival for the Test job is Cheteshwar Pujara, 26, an accomplished batsman but a late entrant to the India team who is like Dravid, dogged and determined.

"How Kohli will handle the pressure of being captain is the question," said G.K. Diviya, 27, the Singapore national women's team captain. "Sachin Tendulkar was not too comfortable being captain and he gave it up soon."

In 2008 India made Kohli their U-19 captain, and he delivered the World Cup. So, the hopes are high that he will again lift the country's pride on the world stage.

santosh@sph.com.sg


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