Virat Kohli needs to take some of the blame, but not all of it

Kohli’s nine-year stint as the RCB skipper ended with a defeat to KKR in the eliminator of the IPL 2021

So Virat Kohli finishes as the RCB captain without leading his team to the title. He has already called time on leading the country in the T20 after the World Cup in November, and he might be tempted to bow out as captain in the white ball game altogether. He doesn’t need to decide now; anything that reduces his workload can only be good for Indian cricket as it will free up the best batsman in the world.

Kohli, one of the most successful of international captains, with a win percentage of nearly 64 in all formats combined, will thus find an asterisk against his captaincy record in domestic cricket. He was a terrific captain for RCB when things were going well, but less so at other times. As India’s Test wins in Australia in particular, and later England (under Kohli’s captaincy) showed, a team is more than a collection of individuals.

Falling short

RCB have often been a collection of outstanding individuals but fell short year after year. Kohli must take some of the blame. You can argue that the KKR defeat on Monday was hastened by three sixes in succession by Sunil Narine, and that sort of thing can happen any time. True. But under pressure, RCB didn’t have anybody hitting sixes, and bad luck in different forms cannot be a perennial excuse (not that the RCB are saying this).

The IPL is about winning, and not just taking part. Corporates tend to be impatient, looking for a quick ego-massaging win. This was exemplified by the RCB sacking their first CEO midway through the inaugural season. No corporate honcho who has paid millions to acquire a franchise and everything that goes with it, the glamour and power, is likely to have an excess of patience.

That Kohli jumped before he was pushed is a tribute to his standing in the game and his marketability, two qualities more important to his owners than either a pleasing cover drive or an innovative pull. The latter qualities will be retained by RCB — Kohli told us that in 2016 when he led the team into the final, and then again after the defeat that knocked them out of the tournament this year. Such loyalty is rare in professional sport.

Lacking balance

In the early years, RCB lacked balance both during the auctions and in the ground, with ego rather than cricket thinking dominating. They got it wrong in the inaugural year, picking established Test players (Jacques Kallis, Rahul Dravid, Wasim Jaffar) who played T20 as a shorter version of Test cricket. It was a time when all teams were feeling their way in the new format, convinced it was a batsman’s game, and unsure just what the tactics ought to be.

But by the time Kohli took over in 2013 as a 24-year-old India captain-in-waiting, things had settled down to a large extent. Bowling had come into its own and bowlers had worked out how to deal with marauding batsmen.

I think it was Dravid who pointed out an important aspect of T20 cricket: that, while a bowler has a guaranteed 24 deliveries, a batsman might have 60 one day and just one on another.

And although RCB invested in bowlers like Dale Steyn, Zaheer Khan and Mitchell Starc, the chopping and changing meant that there was neither a balanced attack nor a settled team.

Interestingly, the players RCB let go, like Dravid, Gayle or K.L. Rahul did well for the teams that grabbed them. This suggests a management failure.

Can’t buy success

There is some relief for the purist in knowing that all the money you spend cannot guarantee success. Balance, trust, understanding, communication all matter. Rajasthan Royals who won the inaugural tournament spent less than the others but chose wisely, with Shane Warne as captain.

When Kohli took over, and in his early years in charge, he had the three best batsmen in the competition, Chris Gayle, A.B. de Villiers and himself. RCB got themselves into a position where if two of these three struck, then the remaining batsmen were not necessary. But crucially, if none of them did, then they often lacked the batsmen who were necessary. Not surprisingly, they have recorded both the highest (263 for 5) and the lowest (49) totals in the tournament.

RCB’s is a cautionary tale for teams in the competition. Of the original eight, Delhi and Punjab are the only other teams not to win the title.

Next year, there will be two new teams and in December-January another auction and later another chance on the field of play. Each of these requires a special set of skills. Some teams have it down to a fine art. RCB are still looking for the magic formula.

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