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South Africa v India

Forget the white-ball drama, Virat Kohli has the chance to cement himself as one of the greatest Test captains in South Africa

by Divy Tripathi 6 minute read

While it might not be his biggest challenge in recent years, a series win in South Africa will go a long way in ensuring the legacy of Virat Kohli as an one of the greatest Test skippers of all time, writes Divy Tripathi.

These are strange times for Indian cricket, with rumours and confusion reigning supreme over the last few weeks. Virat Kohli was removed from his ODI captaincy without any prior communication, and he also contradicted the BCCI president on a key issue. These controversies are almost a throwback to the late nineties, when the removal of yet another star player from the captaincy would regularly a contentious issue. The word ‘almost’ is used because there are plenty of key differences between the two eras.

Indian cricket has come a long way since then, and today India sits as the strongest Test team in the world. A tour to South Africa would have rung alarm bells for the India of late 90s, whereas today it is yet another opportunity for the team to prove its worth away from home. But there is more at play here, both for the side and its skipper.

It was just about a fortnight back that the India team led by Kohli decimated the World Test Champions at home to secure a massive win in Mumbai. This was their 14th Test series win in a row at home, 11 of which have come under the leadership of Kohli. It was also his 39th Test win as captain, the fourth-highest in the history of the game. His win percentage at 59.09 is the best for any India captain.

What makes Virat stand out though is the record of his side away from home. His 15 Test wins on the road show that India have become formidable tourists under his tenure. This transformation took place almost immediately after he took reins from MS Dhoni, despite losing a close encounter against Sri Lanka. They fought back with added vigour for rest of the series, as if the first game had not even taken place. India would go on to win the Test series 2-1, and set a benchmark to be followed under the Kohli era.

Play fearless, uncompromising cricket.

This is the motto that the side has embodied. Under his captaincy he has tried to ensure that personal milestones take a backseat, alien conditions aren’t to be feared, and the side looks not only to put up a fight but is ready for any opportunity to go for the kill in even the most adverse circumstances.

Having said this, Kohli’s India haven’t been flawless. They have struggled against quality attacks when the ball has moved, losing 0-2 in New Zealand, and the skipper’s selection calls have, at times, left onlookers befuddled, especially in his early days. Despite showing promise and fight, they weren’t able to win in South Africa and England in 2018.

In fact, the only big series win under Kohli in SENA countries has been his Border-Gavaskar 2018/19 triumph. The Pataudi Trophy 2021 hangs in balance, and even if he can take some credit for the 2020/21 win in Australia, that’s a victory shared between him and Ajinkya Rahane.

But there have been changes in the last few months. He was spot on with his team selections in England, even if it meant that India had to leave out their premium spinner. This combined with his firebrand leadership and the diehard attitude of the players produced positive results. This result also showed that India were improving against the moving ball, with Kohli himself having led the way three years prior.

Come the Boxing Day, they will be every bit ready for South Africa, despite injuries and despite the chaos of the past few weeks. The hosts are in a phase of transition but are never to be underestimated; a series win here will be important nevertheless.

India are an excellent side, perhaps the best in the world but they have a chance at something bigger here.

The all-time great Test sides like West Indies and Australia had an aura of invincibility, which was built upon the foundations of success away from home. West Indies went undefeated for 15 years straight. The Australia of the 90s and 2000s were equally ruthless, besting all of their opponents away from home. This included Steve Waugh’s final frontier, India, which eluded him but was eventually conquered by Adam Gilchrist’s side in 2004/05.

India have competed everywhere around the globe, but it is the series wins which define a side’s legacy. After winning twice in Australia, and competing well in England, a big opportunity lies in the shape of South Africa. India have never secured a series win in the country. Ticking off both South Africa and Australia during his tenure would give Kohli a CV few could match.

If Kohli’s India win a Test series in what is their ‘final frontier’, they will not only create history but also ensure that they are remembered as one of the all-conquering Test sides in the history books.

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