NEWS
08/06/2019 9:15 AM IST

How Virat Kohli Took Charge After Dhoni's Sudden Retirement From Test Cricket

There had not been a whisper Dhoni might go. He had spoken to no one about it. Even his family was in the dark.

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Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni in a file photo

Nobody in India could have anticipated that when India arrived in Australia in November 2014, they would leave with a new captain. Dhoni missed the first Test in Adelaide, but that was due to a broken thumb and Kohli captained India in his stead. He had stood in for Dhoni before, in one day internationals, but he had never before captained in a Test. Right from the beginning he showed he would be different to Dhoni. The man from Ranchi had often looked bored and preoccupied during Tests. The Delhi man led from the front. He scored 115 in the first innings and then, after Australia set India 364 in ninety overs, he was determined to go for a win and not just draw the match. Kohli made 141, but India—not helped by some rash batting towards the end—lost by 48 runs. However, Kohli had made history. His aggregate of 256 was the highest by a first-time Test captain. On getting out to Nathan Lyon, Kohli had hung his head, looking devasted for some time. But after the match he had recovered his sangfroid and said that going for victory is how he saw Test captaincy: ‘This is what we play cricket for.’ For an Indian captain to be so eager for a win, and that when captaining abroad in his first Test, was unheard of.

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In the second Test at Brisbane, Dhoni was back. The Australians won by four wickets, but what was encouraging was India now had a pace attack that could worry sides away from home. Thirteen of the sixteen wickets India took in the match were by their pacemen. Australia needed a draw to regain the Border–Gavaskar Trophy and did so at Melbourne. With Australia making 530 India could have been under pressure at 147 for 3. It was then that Kohli was joined by Ajinkya Rahane and they put on 262 for the fourth wicket, the third-highest partnership for any Indian wicket outside Asia. The batting of these two showed both differences in style and temperament. Kohli feasted on Mitchell Johnson’s bowling, 11 of his 18 fours were off him and this so riled the Aussie paceman that he hurled the ball at the striker’s end and hit a doubled-up Kohli, leading to an angry exchange. Rahane, amidst the sledging, was calmness personified.

The real drama came after Steve Smith, the Australian captain, and Dhoni had decided the match was a draw and called play off. Then, minutes after Dhoni had held his post-match press conference, the BCCI issued a press release saying Dhoni was quitting Test cricket. There had not been a whisper he might go. He had spoken to no one about it. Even his family was in the dark. At the end of the match Dhoni had just rung up the board to say he was going. Shastri, the team director knew nothing. A team meeting was hastily called. In the second Test there had been problems in the Indian dressing room between Dhawan and Kohli. Now, all the players were united in grief at Dhoni’s departure and some of them wept. Years later, Dhoni’s only explanation was, ‘I just felt it was the right time and the right thing to do.’ Dhoni having played ninety Tests, sixty of them as captain, had had enough of a form of game for which he now felt little affection. In contrast, he still loved the one-day game and remained in charge.

So, like Pataudi, Kohli became the second Indian to take over the Test captaincy in the middle of an away series. For the first two days of the Sydney Test it looked as if Kohli, like Pataudi, would start with a defeat. But then, helped by K. L. Rahul, Kohli scotched any hopes of an Australian victory. Rahul scored 110. Kohli made 147, the first player to score three centuries in his first three innings as Test captain. India were set 348 to win on the last day, but once Kohli was himself out he decided a Adelaide-style dash for victory was not on and settled for a draw. The win was not enough for Australia to leapfrog South Africa and go to the top of the Test rankings; they remained second. But India were a poor seventh, only ahead of the West Indies, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. Kohli knew he had a mountain to climb, but at least there was the World Cup to look forward to. India were champions and the Indians living in Australia were determined to come out in large numbers to support the team.

Excerpted with permission from The Nine Waves: The Extraordinary Story of Indian Cricket by Mihir Bose, Aleph Book Company.