Test cricket over the years has come down to fine margins between the top playing nations. Skill can only take you so far but it is also the hunger to stay in the trenches and get the results by winning the war of attrition. It is during those stages of play that the desire to win takes over as skill takes a back seat. Looking back on all of the famous test sides over the years that have dominated for a sustained period of time, the one thing that stands out are the men that have been chosen to lead those sides.
The Making of a Great Captain
Great captains aren’t afraid to be disliked and don’t put treading on eggshells very high up on their agenda. When Cricket South Africa appointed 22-year-old Graeme Smith to take over from Shaun Pollock it was during a time where the Proteas were reeling like never before. Match-fixing and poor leadership had rocked the rainbow nation and the country was desperate for a leader of men to come through the crowd and take charge of a precarious situation. A lot was said about Smith and his lack of subtlety but it was his bullish approach that would ensure he would grab those around him by the scruff of the neck and pull them out of the darkness and into a future that would be full of light.
Smith grew into the role and between 2006 and when he retired in 2014, the burly captain didn’t oversee a lost series away from home in test cricket. Going that long unbeaten away from home in test cricket is unheard of and it was Smith’s leadership that gave the Proteas the belief that they were good enough to cope in foreign conditions. All great captains set goals at the beginning of their tenure and alter them as they go along when the time is right to strive higher and to go further. Smith’s journey culminated in South Africa being crowned number one in the test rankings after winning at Lords to claim the ICC Test mace in 2012 and by doing so dethrone England as the world’s top test team.
Happy Birthday @GraemeSmith49
Youngest SA🇿🇦Test Captain
Only SA🇿🇦to score consecutive double hundred in Test (277 & 259 v ENG 🇬🇧)
Most Test as a Captain (109)
Most Test Win as Captain (53)
Most Test Runs as Captain (8659)
Wisden Cricketer of the Year 2004 pic.twitter.com/Z94JjfjEkn
— Mohit Surati (@my_surati92) February 1, 2018
Like Smith, many of the other standout captains over the years have possessed the same traits. They are all strong characters that see a bit of needle and confrontation as an integral part of the strategy of winning. The way Ricky Ponting led the famous Australian team of the early 2000’s was torture for opposing teams and fans as he instilled a fierce competitive nature in his side that blew teams over as much with their hostile combative approach as well as their undeniable skill.
Teams knew they were in a fight and often wilted when the heat was turned up or a few words exchanged. These leaders changed the game and knew that removing the opposition from their comfort zone made it easier for their bowlers or batsman to barge through the gap in the door that had been left ajar. They prayed on indecision and vulnerability and could sense a team was on the ropes, timing was everything and they would give the order for their star players to finish the kill. At 29, Virat Kohli is no longer a spring chicken but his captaincy is beginning to mirror aspects of some of the greatest that have taken charge of a team.
The Emergence of Virat Kohli as a Leader
Since taking over the leadership of team India from Dhoni in 2014 Kohli has enjoyed an exceptionally successful time as captain. His records speak volumes about how his team has responded to his robust style of leadership. In his 35 games in charge, India has won 21, lost 5 and drawn 9. That is a fabulous record that has seen India become the number one test side in the world. The Indian selectors would have been hoping for a seamless transition from Dhoni’s reign and hope by appointing their best player, hope his X Factor would rub off on the rest of the team.
Four years down the line and it is obvious that the BCCI’s appointment was an inspired one that has not only helped India’s win percentage but also given the Men in Blue a steeliness that has possibly been missing in Indian cricket or at least not as prevalent or consistent as it could have been in years gone by.
The Kohli Effect
Good teams are measured by how they can bounce back from defeats and at present Kohli is showing why his stock as captain of India is always on the rise. After losing 2-1 in the test series to the Proteas it looked like India’s tour of South Africa would be a bloodbath but the fiercely competitive Kohli inspired his team to a consolation win at the Wanderers and has used that win to gain momentum into the ODI series. Proving that if you give Kohli a scrap he will pounce and punish any team. What a difference a fortnight makes when South Africa was on top in every department and now India is only 5/1 to whitewash the hosts during the ODI’s in their backyard. Punters who think Kohli can inflict the ultimate revenge by doing so can access up to £100 bet credits from bet365 on Oddschecker. Arresting a slide like what they were experiencing during the test series whilst on foreign shores shows why Kohli is turning into a true leader of men.
After twin failures at Newlands, Virat Kohli came into his own, compiling the only century of the series at Centurion and then two worthy innings on the snake pit that masqueraded as the Wanderers cricket pitch, writes #IanChappell in his #HTColumn.https://t.co/8b2PHFEUdKpic.twitter.com/dla2CFCRxY
— Hindustan Times (@htTweets) February 4, 2018
Leading from the Front
If ever there was an example of how good a captain Kohli is, it would have been during the test series in South Africa in January where he took the body blows from the frightening quarter of Philander, Rabada, Morkel, and Ngidi and instead of shrivelling up went on to record the only hundred in the test series as well as become the leading run scorer of both teams at the end of the three test matches. Kohli’s brave approach would have altered a lot of the narrative about India and how they capitulate on fast wickets.
Even though it was during a losing cause, the other top order batsman would have taken a lot of confidence from the way their captain flayed the attack on emerald pitches. Pundits can only sit back and applaud when you see a man so determined to see it out and make sure his side do not follow previous trends of touring parties that have been blown away by quick bowling inside three days.
Recognition From the ICC
In January 2018, Virat Kohli was named ICC test and ODI captain and player of the year for the unprecedented year that he had overseen as the leader. Receiving an award like that leaves Kohli sharp rise as a high-quality captain in no doubt. The phenomenal batsman is stamping his mark on the game and proving that he is more than just a genius with the willow but has the leadership skills to get the very best out of the men that gladly follow him into the heat of battle.
Kohli’s willingness as captain to go above and beyond for the cause ripples through the change room and gives the rest of the team the belief that they can cope in hostile conditions that they have so badly failed at in the past. Kohli’s legacy will be remembered for more than just sensational batting and exquisite shot making.
Kohli’s Hardening Indian Cricket
Watching Kohli when his bowlers take a wicket or there is the slightest bit of contention on the field is quite a sight to behold. The man from Delhi is uncompromising and confrontational, leading many to criticise his behaviour as unsporting and not in the spirit of the game. There are things in life that everyone can look back at and regret because of the heat of the moment. Professional cricket is no different but off the field, Kholi comes across as confident but there is a humility and kindness in him that one can’t help but be impressed by.
Opposing players, pundits and fans love to hate him because of his temperament on the field and there is also an understanding that Kohli must accept that he won’t be universally liked given his antics, is he concerned about that? probably not because Kohli does it for his team and country. Indian cricket has been crying out for a leader like Kohli for some time and they have now got someone who will aggressively fight their corner.
Like all the previous great captains in the past, Kohli will help his team overcome historic hurdles that they were never able to get past. Indian cricket will benefit for as long as they play the game and long after Kohli steps down because of what he is doing now.