Heading into Day 5 of the World Test Championship (WTC) final, it would’ve been so easy for Virat Kohli to feel itchy and desperate as a captain. A personality so vividly driven by heart, Kohli had endured a full day of rain previously, with his team down in the contest. The conditions would’ve infused a sense of optimism, but they also could’ve easily led to anguish if he had to wait longer on the sidelines and not get the desired results.
You walk a thin line as a captain in such situations. How attacking is too attacking and how defensive would be too defensive? Do you float the ball up there and go for the wickets but risk allowing the opposition to run away with it or do you keep the run flow in check, wait for an opening? Teams and captains often find it difficult to maintain a balance.
And in Kohli’s case, it would’ve been even tougher. He had seen his bowlers generate less swing than the opposition attack and though seam it quite consistently, often miss the edge with their lengths not full enough – which was the main talking point on air throughout the first hour on Tuesday.
Keeping frustration aside and focus on the task with clarity would’ve been a challenge for Virat Kohli. But what followed was one of his better displays as an India Test captain, where he was just as driven, aggressive as he was sensible and mindful of the bigger picture. There were no flashy fields, no desperation to take a bagful of wickets. Just a sensible, disciplined effort to let the team plan prevail and not err away from it after a shot here and there.
Virat Kohli reaps rewards for mixing caution with innate aggression
It could seem unfair to give Kohli the credit for a session of play where Indian seamers hardly gave away a thing, with both Ishant and Shami sticking to their strengths and ultimately forcing a team as unrelenting as New Zealand to falter and produce a procession of quick wickets. But for Kohli to fight his inner instinct and just quietly aid a very disciplined bowling effort as a skipper was an effort worth noting.
As the scoreboard stagnated, India went on the fuller side and got greater rewards. The momentum found in an hour before lunch was retained and maintained after the break, with India not once altering their ways and trusting the process to continue bear fruits. Having got Taylor, Nicholls and Watling before the break, they soon had the dangerous De Grandhomme under the bag. And though Jamieson looked like getting under their skin for a bit, his threat was also quickly nullified. Shami was the pick of the bowlers in this and delivered one of his better overseas spells.
Amidst all of it, Kohli kept his calm, didn’t get too eager and continued rotating his options. As Shami tired, he brought the slightly off-looking Bumrah at one end and backed Ishant to chip away at the wickets. The senior pro didn’t disappoint his skipper and got his counterpart, Kane Williamson, whose innings of 49 was a great act of composure and restraint at the crease and allowed New Zealand to get into the lead.
Ultimately, Williamson’s grit and defiance and some lower-order support kept the Kiwis ahead in the contest, taking them to a useful lead of 32 and perhaps pushing one of the three results out of the picture. But if it is to be remembered as a day of one of these two great captains, it is to be remembered for Kohli. And for his ability to keep the self completely at bay and not once become a roadblock in his team’s play, in fact, enable them to post an admirable comeback through some good sense and sensibilities. Kohli is at his best as a captain when he mixes caution with aggression and doesn’t let the emotion blur his decision-making.