Graeme Smith doubts Virat Kohli’s captaincy, doesn’t see him as long-term option

Former South Africa captain Graeme Smith has raised questions over India cricket team skipper Virat Kohli’s leadership credentials, asking if he really is the right choice for captaincy in the longer run.

Having kick-started his captaincy stint with impressive wins at home against top teams, Kohli is facing severe criticism post India’s capitulation in South Africa in the ongoing Test series.

According to ESPNCricinfo, at a breakfast event organised by South African TV network SuperSport, Smith made his opinions clear in the company of former India captain Sunil Gavaskar and cricketer-turned-commentator Pommie Mbangwa.

Smith said, “I don’t know, when I look at him, if he is a long-term captaincy option for India. At the end of this year, he’d have been away from home for a while, the pressure he’ll face, the scrutiny from the press — I know he only gets that in India — but if you’re away from home and you’re struggling for form as a team, I don’t know if I’d want to burden Virat Kohli with that… Or if India have a better leader in that environment.”

Kohli needs to be challenged

Smith, who was made South Africa captain at the age of 22 and went on to have an excellent run as the leader, said that there should be someone in the Indian support staff who could challenge Kohli constructively.

“When I look at Virat, I think he needs someone in the support staff who can constructively challenge him and help him grow. He has all the capabilities tactically, he knows his own game, he sets the standard in the field for everyone else. We all know he’s an outstanding player, his intensity really benefits his own personal game, he loves that confrontation, that intensity brings the best out of him,” Smith said.

“Sometimes as a leader you’ve got to consider how you impact the others in the environment, that’s an area of his leadership that he needs to grow. You can see, he’s often at his players. He’s very aware, he’s focus on the game is on, sweeping or mid-on,” he added.

“[But] often his reaction to situations… I think that can sometimes impact on your team negatively. We all know how powerful Virat Kohli is in world cricket, in Indian cricket. For him, he’s built this aura and for him maybe to find a level where he can connect with all his players, to get to a level where can get the Indian team to be as successful as he is, that’s something that he, when I watch him, is grappling with,” Smith continued.

“I think if he had a really constructive person in his environment, who could talk to him, make him think, maybe even challenge him with some different ideas, in a constructive way, not an angry or aggressive way, but make him think, open his eyes to other possibilities, that would make him a really good leader.”

Rahane is the leader – Gavaskar

Gavaskar joked that India had a leader in vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane, but he was not selected for the first two Tests on the basis of form.

“You might have some players who don’t have the same understanding of the game, or the same fierce desire, but sometimes you have to bring yourself down to a completely different level. Down, not up. Because that is the only way you are going to get the others who are down up to a level that you want to be. By making them understand that this is not the level where you’ll be doing well yourself, but rather where you are going to do well for the team to win,” he said.

Understanding captaincy

Both Smith and Gavaskar opined that a captain needs to evolve continuously. “Captains evolve in their thought process not only when they are captaining. On off days too, they are always thinking in terms of how can they take the team forward. And sometimes in that process, with that thinking — ‘how do I take the team forward?’ — you lose sight of simple simple things because as an individual you don’t think it is not necessary for you — but it is necessary for some of the lesser guys… As soon as Virat realises that and starts to recognise that, he will become a better leader,” Gavaskar said.

Citing AB de Villiers’ example, Smith said, “You can be the best player in the world, and you love that intensity and you often don’t think what your teammates are going through. Sometimes you talk to AB de Villiers, he gets down and reverse sweeps, he makes it look so easy, and sometimes you need to remind AB that other guys don’t see it that way.