Virat Kohli was passionate about continuing as India’s Test match captain


Ponting reveals conversation he had with Kohli in IPL 2021 when the former India captain wanted to continue leading in Tests

Virat Kohli‘s decision to relinquish Test captaincy took nearly everyone in the cricket world by surprise, with Ricky Ponting being more surprised than most because of a conversation the two had during the first half of IPL 2021, where Kohli spoke to Ponting about possibly giving up the white-ball captaincy but appeared quite passionate about continuing to lead in Test cricket.
“Yes it did actually (come as a surprise). The main reason why is that I had a good chat with Virat in the first half of the last IPL,” Ponting said in a conversation with Isa Guha on ICC Review, a new show launched this week by ICC. “He was talking then about stepping away from the white-ball stuff and about how passionate he was to continue on to be Test match captain. You can see he just loved and cherished that post so much. Obviously, the Indian Test team had achieved a lot under his leadership. When I heard it, I was really, really surprised.”

Kohli quit after captaining in 68 Tests, 40 of which he won – the most successful record for any Indian captain. The team he led was ranked No.1 for a majority of his reign, an achievement that Ponting described as “staggering” and greater than his own record as Australia captain.

“It’s probably more of a staggering achievement for India than it was for us,” Ponting said. “When I took over, I captained a side that had been dominant in world cricket for a long time. If you think about India before Virat, it was about winning a lot of games at home and not winning quite as many overseas. The thing that improved the most was India winning a few more games overseas, and that’s something that he and all of Indian cricket have to be really proud of.

“The other thing about it as well is that there was a real focus placed on Test cricket by the BCCI when Virat took over, and I think a lot of that has come from him as well – to focus more on Test cricket and winning more games home and away. He can walk away from the role very, very proud of what he has achieved.

“While he had been captain, they (India) were a fiercely competitive team. They probably elevated themselves to world rankings that a lot of people might not have thought possible. They’ve probably carried around arguably one of the best fast-bowling attacks in world cricket for the last four or five years. No one would have ever expected that, and I think a lot of that is to do with what Virat brought to the team, once he became leader.”

Ponting also opened up about his thoughts on split-captaincy. “In an ideal world, every playing group would want to have the same voice and the same leader around their different formats,” Ponting said. “But whether it’s possible for that person to play every game through the calendar year… with World Cups and big Test series and things being on almost every year now, that’s the other challenge that comes up. And that’s the challenge I guess that’s being talked about as far as coaching positions are concerned as well.

“The other thing with the captaincy as well is that there probably aren’t too many players in world cricket that will find themselves in their countries’ best team in all three formats. Rohit Sharma probably fits into that category. KL Rahul probably fits into that category for India as well. As I say, in an ideal world for me – maybe it’s a bit old-school – I still think if you can manage the one captain, that would be ideal.”

Ponting recalled how Rohit’s leadership qualities had been evident to him in 2013, when he was captain of the Mumbai Indians, but had to drop himself on account of poor form.

“There were a few names thrown around between owners and the other coaches but it was really clear to me that there was only one guy that can lead the team – he was a young guy at the time and his name happened to be Rohit Sharma,” Ponting said. “I think the proof is in the pudding with what he has done at the Mumbai Indians since that moment on. He has been a very successful leader there and has been when he has led India on a few occasions as well.”

Mumbai won the first of their five IPL titles in 2013 and Rohit too has gone from strength to strength.

“It is pretty hard to argue after what he has done with his Test cricket in the last 2-3 years,” Ponting added. “He has played as well as anybody in the world through that period of time, and we know how good he is as a white-ball player.”

Harking back to his own playing days when he gave up the Australia captaincy but stayed on as a player, Ponting said that Kohli would have to make the first approach to whoever becomes his successor and make it clear that it was the new man’s team to lead as he saw fit.

“It’s a conversation that needs to happen between those players, and it probably has to be led by Virat to be honest,” Ponting said. “He’s made the decision to stand down, he’s also made the decision that he wants to play on. So whoever takes over the captaincy of the Test team, they just have to sit down and have a conversation about how it’s all going to work. And Virat has to explain to the incoming captain what he’s going to do. The way I tried to handle it is I said ‘I’m just another member of the team. It’s not my team anymore. My fingerprints are not on this team’. You have to hand everything over, you have to let go of everything that you thought and felt as a leader, and the way that you wanted to have your team – because it’s not yours now. It doesn’t matter what you think, you’ve got to keep all your thoughts to yourself and give a really clear air to the new captain and players.”

Ponting also held that freed from the captaincy, world cricket could see the best of Kohli, the batter.

“I think there is potentially a shelf-life for international cricket captains and even international coaches,” Ponting said. “Virat’s been there for what, five or six years now (seven years as Test captain). If there’s a country in the world that’s the most difficult to captain than other teams, it’s probably India because of just how popular the game is and how much every single Indian loves to see the fortunes of the Indian cricket team, whether they are good or bad. You weigh all those things up. He is 33 years of age now and he will want to continue playing for a few more years I am sure and have a crack at breaking some records that he is not far off from breaking (chuckles). Maybe if he does that as a batsman and without the extra responsibility of captaincy, it might make it a bit easier for him.”

Saurabh Somani is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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