The loss against the Kolkata Knight Riders in Eliminator-1 brought down the curtains on Virat Kohli’s tenure as captain of the Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB). The 140-match-long journey can be described as a mixed bag, with 70 losses and 66 wins; an eight-season-long dry spell without a trophy.
Looking back at Kohli's Indian Premier League (IPL) stint as captain, former IPL-winning captain, Gautam Gambhir didn’t mince his words. Speaking on T20 Time:Out
(which this writer hosts), Gambhir said, “Yes, you will often see the energy on the field from Virat, but that is not good enough to win trophies—for that you need to be a good tactician. He didn't have the shrewdness that a captain requires on the cricket field. You have to be 1-2 overs ahead of the game rather than just go along with the game. He did captain RCB for very long, he has captained India for long, but in tactics and shrewdness, he was not right up there.”
During his eight seasons at the helm, Kohli took RCB to the playoffs on three occasions. But the only time he came close to winning the coveted trophy was in 2016 where his team faltered at the last hurdle, losing to Sunrisers Hyderabad in a close final. It’s this lack of silverware that has now come to define Virat’s legacy as an IPL skipper.
“The talent and the squad he has had to work with in RCB is right (up) there with the best and yet they’ve fallen short,” said Michael Vaughan, former England captain on Cricbuzz Live. “So, his legacy as captain in IPL cricket will be one that didn’t win. And that’s what high-level sports is all about—getting over the line and winning trophies. And considering the high standards he sets for himself, he will see himself as a failure in the IPL because he didn’t have that trophy in his hand.”
Kohli first got a taste of the IPL captaincy in 2011 as the stand-in skipper for an injured Daniel Vettori. Two years later, a 25-year-old Kohli took full-charge as Vettori transitioned to being the coach of the Bangalore franchise. Speaking on the same ESPNCricinfo show as Gambhir, Vettori summed up the captaincy tenure of his one-time understudy.
“As captain it has been tough on him because he hasn't been able to win trophies with RCB, and he hasn't had the bowling line-up that's allowed him to do that. But he’s also been inconsistent with his batting orders at times, and if you look at the most successful IPL franchises, they don't make too many changes and try to stay as consistent as possible. You can critique him as captain at times, but as a leader he's been fantastic for both RCB and India.”
Former cricketer and commentator, Sanjay Manjrekar shared Vettori’s views on Kohli. “He set standards on the field in terms of fitness, the application and the intent. He's the guy who always believed he could win from any stage. But I never agreed on his choice of players or usage of players. But when he leaves the Indian captaincy in all other formats, you will miss the kind of spirit he has—no matter what, you play to win.”
In Kohli’s own words, he gave “120% to his franchise every time”. And one look at his batting record confirms that admission. The 32-year-old piled up 4,871 runs as RCB skipper at an average of 41.99 with 5 hundreds and 35 fifties—that’s most runs and hundreds for any captain in IPL history.
Although he is currently going through an extended rough patch with the bat in both IPL and international cricket—having missed out on scoring an international century in 53 innings now—there is this belief that leaving the captaincy in T20Is and IPL will free him up from other responsibilities and allow him to get back to his destructive best.
“I don’t think so,” asserts Gambhir. “He’s only left captaincy in one format. Anyways, how many T20 series do we play—hardly any. So, it’s basically just the two months of IPL where he is going to be free.”