Virat Kohli’s decision to step down as the Test captain marks the end of an era during which the Indian team tasted unparalleled success and notched up an enviable record across all formats. It brings the curtains down on a memorable spell in India’s Test history which was marked by memorable victories on foreign soil, ruthless dominance and arguably the finest fleet of fast bowlers who operated in tandem with relentless energy.
All of this, combined with Kohli’s uncompromising and aggressive leadership, saw India become the number one ranked side in Tests. But looking beyond the emotion and the aggression, the cold, hard numbers also tell a story which is not much different from what meets the eye—Kohli was by far the best Indian captain and in extremely august company among his contemporaries.
Judging by the win percentage, Kohli is far ahead of his contemporaries. He has captained India in 68 matches, out of which he won 40, lost 17 and drew 11. That translates to a win percentage of 58.82, which is much better than Joe Root (44.26), the only present-day Test skipper whose numbers are comparable to Kohli’s.
Among captains who have led their sides in at least 50 matches, only Steve Waugh (50.98%) and Ricky Ponting (62.33%) have better victory percentages than Kohli. Among players making the most number of appearances as the Test skipper, Kohli is sixth on the list, having led India in 68 matches. Only Graeme Smith, Allan Border, Stephen Fleming, Ricky Ponting and Clive Lloyd have made more appearances for their side as the Test captain.
Among Indian Test captains, Kohli is by far the most successful. His predecessors—Sourav Ganguly, who injected hope into the team at the turn of the century, and MS Dhoni, under whom India had an overall impressive record across formats—helped India register commanding victories and notched up impressive numbers as Test skippers. But those figures pale in comparison to what Kohli has achieved.
Dhoni captained India in 60 matches and recorded a win percentage of 45. Ganguly’s win percentage was 42.85, having taken India to 21 wins off the 49 matches he captained. Mohammad Azharuddin and Sunil Gavaskar—both of whom had captained India to 47 matches—had win percentages of 29.78 and 19.14 respectively.
Because of his impressive win percentage, Kohli is clearly in august company among all Test captains. Among captains who have led their sides in at least 50 Tests, there are only seven captains who have a win percentage of above 50. Apart from Kohli, the list includes Smith, Ponting, Waugh, Hansie Cronje, Michael Vaughan, Sir Viv Richards, and Mark Taylor.
A hallmark of Kohli’s captaincy has been his ability to lead from the front. Barring a prolonged drought in the last couple of years when his numbers dipped, Kohli has been a stellar batsman for the Indian side, which coupled with his vibrant energy on the field, has been a big bonus for the side.
Kohli scored 20 centuries as a Test captain, which is the second-most after South Africa’s Smith (28). He also scored seven double centuries, which is the most among all captains. His 5864 Test runs as the captain is the fourth-highest for any player.
— Virat Kohli (@imVkohli) January 15, 2022
He also led India to 24 home wins in Tests, which is the third-most after Ponting (29) and Smith (30).
When India lifted the Border-Gavaskar Trophy in 2018-19, Kohli became the first Asian captain to record a series win in Australia. That was followed by the impressive victories in England, where India lead the series 2-1.
Together with Ravi Shastri, Kohli formed a formidable combination as India played fearless cricket across formats and notched up an enviable win ratio.
Kohli’s decision to step down as the Test captain comes soon after the Indian team failed to conquer their “final frontier” in South Africa, succumbing to a 1-2 defeat in the recently concluded Test series. This has been preceded by a prolonged period of performances which can be best described as underwhelming by Kohli’s standards, his stepping down from captaincy in T20Is and ODIs, and a series of differences in opinions with the BCCI that played out in the public eye.
Unshackled by the burdens of captaincy across all formats, Kohli will now be hoping for a late renaissance as he hopes to rediscover the flawless touch that has helped him notch up countless records and register his imprint in the annals of sporting history.