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IPL 2018: Why a vintage MS Dhoni still leads national captain Kohli in the T20 gala

MS Dhoni continues to influence decisions current captain Virat Kohli as far as the national side is concerned.

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Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni India
Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni. (Photo Source: Twitter)

Virat Kohli may be on his way to becoming the most successful captain India has produced in the game of cricket but in the Indian Premier League, a tournament that most captain fancy to win someday, has remained an elusive title for him. The team that the dashing batsman leads – Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) – failed to deliver in yet another edition in 2018 and questions are being raised on whether Kohli failed the team or is it the other way round?

For most supporters of the Bengaluru franchise, it is the team which failed Kohli. The emotions are understandable for Kohli is the tallest icon of Indian cricket at the moment whose incredible batsmanship has also taken the IPL seriously. But yet the RCB haven’t clicked as a team and Kohli continued to wonder what struck his IPL luck so badly.

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One can compare Kohli with MS Dhoni, his predecessor at the helm of Indian cricket, on this topic. Dhoni is as successful a captain in the IPL as he was for Team India. Just two months short of 37, Dhoni has led the Chennai Super Kings (CSK) to lift the title twice besides the final on four other occasions.

Dhoni is captaining CSK as if the team was never suspended

What is even more incredible is that Dhoni has been doing the captaincy of the CSK as smoothly as he did in 2015, the last time the men in yellow had played in the tournament and finished the runners-up. It is not easy to pick the lost momentum right from where you left it two years ago and continue to dominate straightaway. The CSK is certainly in the playoffs, a record they have never forgotten to script and could even lift their third title this year. And as a batsman too, Dhoni is in a sublime form this season. Regaining the touch at 37 after a momentary dip and amid a not-so-great international form is also not easy. But as they say, Dhoni is the Superman of cricket.

In IPL 2018, Kohli and Dhoni have done fairly equally as batsmen (Kohli is at No. 5 at the moment while Dhoni is at No. 7) but as captain, Dhoni has a fair lead over Kohli and the reason is nothing but the flexibility in thinking.

The two players have completely contrasting styles of captaincy and in the T20 format, it is the Dhoni school which has an edge over the Kohli school. It is also true that Dhoni has done the job over a long period and overall three formats that have made him a better tactician, but the first impression about the two men’s approach to the work in hand speaks volume about how they would likely to end up. This IPL illustrates this story all the better.

Take for example, the RCB versus CSK game which was played in Bengaluru on April 26. The RCB was making full use of their strength which is batting and looked set to score something between 210-220 if not more for the explosive AB de Villiers was on song that day. But yet the Challengers finished at 205 because of the shrewd Dhoni’s minute adjustments infielders’ placements which did well in stopping boundaries at key moments. RCB bowlers did well in picking up some wickets in the first half of their bowling innings but yet couldn’t stop CSK from running away with the game because of some ordinary bowling at the death overs besides Kohli’s less-than-brilliant field placements.

Reports about Kohli’s public displeasure doesn’t help the team

It was reported that Kohli was gutted with his team’s performance after this loss and this says a lot about his style of captaincy. Kohli is one of those skippers who does not like to be at the receiving end of the game and love to ride a positive flow. He exhibits a lot of passion when things go in his favour but seems to hate losing control of the game.

This is not a feature that a great captain possesses for it is not possible for any team in the world to remain dominant in a game throughout. Headlines like “Loss leaves Kohli gutted” or “Kohli livid with team’s performance”doesn’t help improve things either. At times, it could even jeopardise a team’s spirit and performance for the players – especially the juniors – can feel intimidated by the captain’s fury and not be able to produce their best on the field.

Dhoni doesn’t react but acts stealthily

Dhoni’s direction of captaincy is just the opposite. He is not someone who would express disappointment in public and do it just with an odd glare or two. The gloves man’s advantage also lies in the fact that he stays behind the wicket for the entire match, observing and studying the pitch and the opponent batsmen’s game throughout and accordingly, place the fielders. During the recent limited-overs series against South Africa, we heard Dhoni prompting a lot from behind the stumps as the microphones caught his words. Those made differences for the bowlers and the fielders and above all, skipper Kohli.

Dhoni’s perception towards the game is not about a pre-planned control as like Kohli who almost wants to destroy the opposition without a fight. Dhoni is more an improviser who caters to a given situation either through his captaincy or batting. It’s not that he always wins but definitely provides more flexibility to a game which can potentially turn a defeat into a win. Kohli sometimes is more about a rigid mindset which refuses to acknowledge the weakness of a bowler he himself prefers and continues to bowl him even if he gets a fair bit of stick.

Dhoni did not prefer Test cricket perhaps because it gave him fewer opportunities to improvise as a captain. But the same characteristic makes him a great skipper in the limited-overs version, including T20. Kohli, on the other hand, has a massive capacity to single-handedly impact a game with his own batting but as a captain, he perhaps lacks the same sort of control. In the 2016 edition of the IPL, Kohli slammed a series of tons and he, along with some gifted batsmen like de Villiers and Gayle, took RCB to the final in a late-stage dash but fell in the final hurdle. That’s how Kohli is mainly as a captain. He loves to do it on his own but in a team game, it doesn’t always pay off.

The six-game one-day series against South Africa was so decisively influenced by Kohli that other performances – good or bad – went mostly unnoticed but if over a period of time, Kohli’s batting is not as gracious and the skipper has to fall back on his peers’ shoulders to see his captaincy through, it might not be as happy an occasion because Kohli is not as improvising and flexible as his predecessor.

This IPL, the vintage Dhoni showed again why he is called Captain Cool even in the worst of situations and why Kohli, despite his god-gifted batting skills and an uncompromising passion for the game, is still far away from tasting his maiden IPL title.

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