Who is the better Indian cricket team captain? Virat Kohli or MS Dhoni? This question has divided the opinion of Indian fans ever since Dhoni stepped down as full-time captain of the team since 2017. The debate is all set to reopen with the latest comments of Shahid Afridi, the former Pakistan cricket team captain. In an interview to NDTV, Afridi gave a new twist to the debate of who is the better captain. “As a player, Virat Kohli is my favourite but he needs to work on his captaincy because for me, Dhoni is still the best,” Afridi was quoted. How much merit is there in Afridi’s comment? When one looks at the style and the records of both Dhoni and Kohli, it presents some similar aspects and some non-familiar aspects.
Following the end of the England tour in 2018, Kohli said he had picked up aspects of leadership from Dhoni. “Not really anyone before MS. I was always someone who kept talking to him about the game so even when I was really young. I've learned the most from MS, standing so close to him at slip so many times and just observing him at close quarters,” Kohli had remarked then.
When it comes to the captaincy style of both players, it has often been stated that Dhoni bought calmness to the field irrespective of the situation while Kohli brings his emotions on the field and believes in giving it back to the opposition when needed. Some others have said Dhoni had a ‘wait for prey’ approach while Kohli ‘goes for the kill’. Dhoni was defensive while Kohli was deemed aggressive.
Kohli and Dhoni are similar when it comes to the start of their captaincy. Dhoni was part of 11 consecutive Tests without a defeat at the start of his tenure while Kohli went 19 consecutive Tests without a defeat. Dhoni won 27 out of his 60 Tests as skipper while Kohli has already won 22 out of 42 Tests he has been skipper. When it comes to beginning of captaincy, both individuals have good numbers.
Tigers at Home, Lambs Abroad
Both Kohli and Dhoni are similar when it comes to this phrase ‘Tigers at Home, Lambs Abroad’. Dhoni’s captaincy tenure was marred by 4-0 losses in England and Australia while he failed to win any series in 2014 against South Africa (1-0), New Zealand (1-0), England (3-1) and Australia (2-0). At home, MS Dhoni lost only one series (2-1) against England in 2012 while he enjoyed a brilliant run from 2008 to 2011. It was in his period when India ascended the No.1 ranking in Tests.
The scenario is same for Kohli. When he took over the captaincy in 2015, he went on to win eight consecutive series at home. However, his captaincy also dipped when the team went out of the sub-continent. Despite winning in West Indies in 2016, India lost 2-1 to South Africa and 4-1 to England in 2018. The only way Kohli can avoid Dhoni’s fate is if he does well in Australia. Although, if one has to credit Dhoni, he led India to a 1-1 draw in South Africa in 2010, something Kohli has been unable to do.
Kohli, the better batsman
However, Afridi’s comment that Kohli is the better batsman is absolutely correct. Ever since he took over the Test captaincy, Kohli averages 65 with 17 centuries, 87 in ODIs with 16 centuries and 29.93 in Twenty20 Internationals. Dhoni, on the other hand, has a phenomenal average of 53 in ODIs, considering he was captain for 200 matches. In Tests, he averaged 40 but one must consider that the Jharkhand batsman played most of his knocks at No.7 in the batting.
The numbers amassed by Kohli when it comes to batting are phenomenal. However, when compared to the captaincy records of Dhoni, Afridi is right. Dhoni is the only captain to win all three ICC World Events while the 2019 World Cup will be Kohli’s second, having lost in the final of the ICC Champions Trophy 2017 to Pakistan. If Kohli can win a Test series in Australia, then the scales might tilt a wee bit in his favour.