But on Saturday, he chose to walk away from the Indian Test captaincy, bringing down the curtains on an era in Indian cricket with a measured statement announcing his resignation. Kohli’s announcement followed a 1-2 defeat to South Africa—a series that India were considered favourites to win before it began.
The tour had got off to a controversial start when Kohli had held a press meet just before flying out, in which he contradicted BCCI chief Sourav Ganguly’s statement that he had been asked to reconsider his decision to step down as T20I captain.
While BCCI did not ask Kohli to resign as Test captain, he would have been keenly aware of the criticism of India’s middle order. “Technically, Virat was sailing in the same boat as some of the others, in terms of struggling for runs. It’s been 30 international innings now that he’s gone without a century. So, on what grounds could the BCCI take a call on Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane alone? The board had to take a wholesome approach,” sources in the know told TOI.
Long used to dominating the top of the charts, Kohli has now slipped to ninth in the list of leading ICC Test batsmen. Rohit Sharma has moved up to the fifth position. Kohli’s on-field behaviour too has often come under criticism—the latest instance being his outburst on the stump mic against a DRS decision in the third Test — and the BCCI had wanted head coach Rahul Dravid to have a word with him.
Kohli perhaps sensed it was time for him to step away, and as with the T20 captaincy, he ensured that it would be his call rather than the Indian cricket board’s.
The outgoing captain called BCCI secretary Jay Shah during the day to inform him that he was stepping down from the role. He then issued a statement on social media, saying, “I want to thank the BCCI for giving me the opportunity to lead my country for such a long period of time and more importantly to all the teammates who bought into the vision I had for the team from Day One and never gave up in any situation.”
The decision to quit as white-ball captain too was not forced on Kohli and it was his call, when he resigned as T20 captain in September last year. BCCI, however, had only maintained that the national selectors did not see logic in splitting the white-ball captaincy and therefore Sharma was appointed captain for both the formats.
The board and selectors are of the clear view that wholesale changes will be made to the squad going forward. Even before he announced his resignation, Kohli had been unusually subdued throughout the tour, according to sources. He let Dravid take charge of decisions, be it team selection or strategies, even as vice captain KL Rahul’s stature grew in the dressing room.
He was more relaxed on the tour and mingled with as many members of the touring party as possible. Interestingly, in his farewell note, he chose not to mention Dravid even as he thanked former coach Ravi Shastri for the support.
India’s win in Australia in 2019-20 is the last series that was won under Kohli’s captaincy overseas between 2018 and now (the series against England was suspended with India leading 2-1 and will be completed). The series win in the 2020-21 season came under Rahane’s leadership and even though there’s an argument that this was a team built under Kohli, the overall performance charts remain the same for all senior members of this Indian team.
“Technically, Rahane has now gone for 28 international innings without a century, Pujara 48. So, this couldn’t have just been about Rahane and Pujara and Virat understands that very well,” said sources.
For a while now, there have been reports of players being unhappy with the set-up and complaining to the BCCI. “There were some truths, some halftruths, and a good deal of false information that was floating. But one thing is sure – this Indian team was undergoing turbulence within. A fresh start is the only way forward,” sources said.
Kohli is now expected to play his 100th Test match in Bangalore, while in search of that elusive 71st international century, under a new captain.
(With inputs by Arani Basu)