Virat Kohli has led India before, but not in a full series outside Zimbabwe. He will go out to toss in Indian colours today. Abhishek Mukherjee discusses why this tournament may turn out to be more significant than many others.
The Centurion is wounded. They have sent a Decurion to replace him for the upcoming battle. The new leader lacks the calm demeanour of his master, but has a fiery attitude matched by a few. He has emerged victorious in many a bloodbath, has scythed his way through many an army, and has played a key role in razing enemy fortresses to the ground.
This time, however, he will have to marshal the troops: it will involve an entirely different skill than flashing his blade: this time it will be a test of his tactical acumen and the ability to instil the same passion into others. He needs to prepare them for the upcoming combat and has to guide them to emerge out of the mayhem with their heads held high.
It is not merely any battle this time. This will be the first of several leading up to the World Cup — the mother of all wars in the shorter format of the sport. As Virat Kohli will lead his men on to the field today it may mark the beginning of a new era, one in which the national colours will be donned by the young — and only the young.
What about MS Dhoni, then? He is cooling his heels somewhere, and when Kohli will lead his team against Bangladesh today he will, in all probability, have an eye on the television channel: what if the young brigade can pull it off without his presence? Will he be reinstated to the throne he has bequeathed, not out of choice but of compulsion?
It is not that there is any doubt regarding Dhoni being in the ODI side. In fact, not only will he can comfortably walk into a contemporary World XI, he will also be among the first three men to be picked (along with Kohli, of course). But is he the same captain who had strode out to bat at five, his head aloft, on April 2, 2011?
Dhoni had turned defensive over the years. Gone is the confident man who could think ahead of his opponents; this is not the same man who had managed to get under the skin of Matthew Hayden in 2008, making him throw his wicket away; this is not the same man who had batted out of his skin to save the Lord’s Test in 2007; this is not even the same Dhoni who has calmed his side by his composure on the field even in the deepest of peril.
This is a different Dhoni — a Dhoni that has lost the willingness to take the bull by the horns somewhere down the way; this Dhoni is calm, orthodox, and unlike The Other Dhoni, The Better Dhoni, unwilling to take risks. The aggression, the passion, the hunger has been sucked off him by the ruthless millstone that leading India is.
Maybe Kohli is India’s man. He has, just like Dhoni, led India to a World Cup, so he knows what it is all about and what it takes. Maybe he will find it easy to bank on his experience and turn things around for a team that has not won anything for a long time; on the flip side, he may find handling the seniors — both in the opposition and on his side — far more difficult to handle than the teenagers and come back empty-handed.
The tournament may go either way for India. What the fans can do, though, is hope to turn things around under Kohli: maybe he is the man; maybe he is not. Whatever it turns out to be, it will at least be a move — albeit unwilling — towards a result that may help shape the future of Indian cricket. True, it may not, but there is still a chance: and after 12 international matches this season without a single victory, a side cannot do much worse.
Do spare a thought for Dhoni as well: it has been his baby; he has taken India from level to level across formats; he has been deserted by one legend after another and is currently left with a side that is a mere skeleton of the one he had taken over a few years back. He has seen rivers change courses and mountains crumble, storms rage and waves lash: he has seen it all.
And now, it is suddenly coming down crashing on to him.
Let us put the thought aside for the next few days, though: let Kohli don the armour and the helmet; while he takes up his sword, however, let us equip him with a shield as well. The war cry will be more threatening that way.