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Time to groom Kohli as captain


Jaspreet Sahni,Cricketnext.com
Jan 24, 2012 at 04:43am IST

It's easy to pick up a guitar and twang the cords, easy to sit down at a piano and pound on the keys. Both instruments will produce sounds, but to produce the composition you desire, a lyrical tune, is something else. For that, the right key needs to be pressed and the right chords strummed at the right time. And that only comes with having a sense for music, combined with training and thorough practice. Indian cricket needs a similar train of thought to find its next captain.

Under MS Dhoni, India have lost seven successive overseas Tests. The hullabaloo for his head is splitting eardrums, but the thought is filled more with emotion than logic.

Cast a gaze over the core of India's players and none other than Dhoni can justify assuming the captain's role. There's no denying Dhoni's acumen in limited-overs cricket but it is in Test cricket that he isn't getting it right between his ears. Maybe Gary Kirsten hid Dhoni's weak Test credentials under the cloak of intelligent planning.

Time to groom Kohli as captain

Jaspreet Sahni: Kohli raised his Test credentials to a different level during the 'Perthquake' India suffered recently.

An extended run of poor form and a laid-back Duncan Fletcher has brought it into the open. However, that doesn't mean you get rid of India's second most successful skipper with no replacement in sight.

The time, though, is ripe to prepare for a change. Dhoni's days in Test cricket are numbered – by admission and performance. While performance won't allow Dhoni to stay, he himself has hinted at a Test retirement in 2013. In hindsight, that's perfect for Indian cricket, for it allows the BCCI to groom Dhoni's successor for a year – and the name that strikes a chord with the fans is Virat Kohli.

Kohli – captain of the victorious Indian team at the Under-19 World Cup in 2008 and part of India's World Cup triumph last year – has made steady strides through the ranks, before he raised his Test credentials to a different level during the 'Perthquake' India suffered recently.

At 63 for 4 in the first innings and 51 for 4 in the second at the WACA, Kohli rose to the occasion with top scores of 44 and 75 when the big names made an abject surrender. The statement Kohli made on supposedly the world's fastest track showed his grit and determination to lead from the front.

A steady progress through the limited-overs ranks (74 ODIs, including eight centuries) earned Kohli a Test call-up on India's tour of the West Indies in June 2011, where he made his debut in the Kingston Test. But while his Test statistics, seven Tests and 353 runs at an average of 27.15, hardly invite interest, it's Kohli's focus and progressive attitude that points at a future captain.

But before getting the label of Dhoni's successor, he needs to tick a few boxes. As a batsman, he needs to iron out the flaws against short-pitched bowling that will work as assurance for the BCCI. And Kohli's maturity has to reach another level to avoid instances like the 'finger salute' in Sydney, which is unacceptable behaviour by a cricketer.

The BCCI's role in developing Kohli into a skipper is important. Besides self-development, Kohli would seek backing from the BCCI which will do well to follow the example of Cricket Australia who appointed Michael Clarke as Ricky Ponting's understudy even when Ponting was winning everything. Though Australian cricket slid thereafter, they had a matured Clarke ready to take over the reins from Ponting.

India's case isn't any different. Like Australia, India will be devoid of its biggest stars in the next 12 months. Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman are on the verge of retirement; Zaheer and Sehwag aren't getting any younger; and the young middle order needs a performing leader. 

So the setting is perfect, but it's up to Kohli and the BCCI to develop that reciprocal confidence. While Kohli's consistent performance will add meat to his credentials as a future India captain, BCCI's backing will strengthen the youngster's resolve to succeed. Not to forget Dhoni, who will be the lynchpin in this period of transition – should the BCCI think on those lines.

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