SQUASH Different strokes of leadership
Sharma’s captaincy style of assuring players their places in XI comes as refreshing change from Kohli’s oft-repeated ‘horses for courses’ policy
“We are not thinking whether someone’s career is on the line or what is going to happen to their future … I don’t speak to the guys, like, assuring them that their careers are not on the line. That, as I said, is quite a bizarre thought to have.”
—Virat Kohli, India captain, on the eve of the third Test against England
“When we came here, I wanted to give them the assurance that they will be playing all games. That’s how you make players. If you know after two games you are going to get dropped, it’s not easy for any player.”
—Rohit Sharma, India stand-in captain, after India’s Asia Cup title victory
One word, two captains, different perspectives — assurance.
Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma are like graduates from two distinct schools of leadership. The first one centres solely on the immediate outcome, so result-oriented that the personnel that deliver those results are secondary. The second one is less obsessive about the finish line, rather focussing more on building the personnel that will eventually get you there.
It’s doesn’t need a rocket scientist to tell you that Kohli belongs to the first category of captains, while Sharma the second.
And while there is place for both styles of leadership in cricket, Sharma’s captaincy throughout India’s victorious Asia Cup campaign, in which the regular captain was rested, has come as a refreshing change from the one Kohli exhibited during India’s Test series defeat in England.
The Kohli way
By his own admission, Kohli, who took over Team India’s leadership mantle from MS Dhoni across all three formats, isn’t a big believer of continuity.
That notion is backed by an astounding number — Kohli made at least one change in the playing XI in his first 38 Tests as captain before fielding an unchanged side in the fourth Test against England.
It is under his and Shastri’s reign that the oft-repeated term in Indian cricket at the moment was coined:
‘horses for courses’.
Kohli thought it right to drop Bhuvneshwar Kumar for the second Test against South Africa in South Africa earlier this year despite Bhuvi being India’s best player in the first Test simply because the Centurion track was not conducive to swing bowling.
Kohli thought it right to pick Sharma over Ajinkya Rahane in two of the three South Africa Tests, despite the latter being one of India’s best overseas Test batsman over the last few years.
Kohli thought it right to start the England Test series with KL Rahul and not Cheteshwar Pujara, simply because Rahul was the form player in the limited-overs series, while neglecting the unmatched value of Pujara as a No. 3 Test batsman.
However, as the first school of leadership would argue, Kohli has the results to show: he has won 22 of the 40 Tests, 39 of the 52 ODIs and 11 of the 17 T20Is as India captain so far.
Secured numbers aside, there’s no denying the fact that there’s a sense of insecurity in almost every player’s
minds in Kohli’s Team India, more so in the longest format.
Think of it, Rahane, Pujara and Murali Vijay, three players who were considered to be integral parts of India’s Test team machine not too long ago, have all been dropped from the playing XI at some point this year.
The Sharma way
Kohli’s policy is in stark contrast to the trait Sharma has displayed in his young captaincy career so far.
Apart from their contrasting personalities — Kohli is expressive, impulsive and animated while Sharma is calm, collected and composed — India’s stand-in captain believes in backing his players.
India’s middle-order woes in ODIs have been a trend, and the think-tank might have toyed with the idea of trying out as many candidates as possible to fix the issue in the Asia Cup, a tournament with little context.
Yet, Sharma stuck with Ambati Rayudu, Dinesh Karthik and Kedar Jadhav for those slots in all the six matches, while making sweeping changes to the XI
only for the inconsequential game against Afghanistan.
Rayudu chipped in with consistent contributions throughout the tournament, while Jadhav got India over the line in the final despite battling a hamstring injury.
Yes, India’s problems in the middle-order still persist, but the likes of Rayudu and Jadhav would at least be content with the run they got in the tournament, and thus believe that they are firmly in the scheme of things heading into the World Cup.
“I wanted to give everybody a fair run and play more games,” Sharma said after the final. “That’s how you understand a player’s capabilities.”
In his young career as stand-in captain, Sharma has taken India to two multination tournament titles — the T20 Nidahas Trophy in Sri Lanka and the Asia Cup — besides being a three-time IPL-winning captain.
Kohli is, without doubt, the undisputed leader in Indian cricket presently. But perhaps he would do well to take a leaf out of his stand-in captain’s leadership book.
Rohit Sharma (left) and Virat Kohli not only have contrasting personalities on the field but also possess different traits as leaders