MS Dhoni vs Virat Kohli: Who should captain India against South Africa in ODIs?

With Virat Kohli having just won his first Test series as Indian captain, there have been speculations that he might take over captaincy duties from limited-overs captain MS Dhoni in One-Day Internationals (ODIs) and Twenty20 Internationals (T20Is) for the upcoming home series against South Africa. Kohli has captained India in ODIs in the past, and has an excellent record as well. However, his previous opportunities only came when Dhoni was injured or otherwise absent. If Kohli takes over as the full-time captain, Dhoni’s eight-year stint as skipper will finally draw to a close. Shiamak Unwalla feels unless Dhoni himself steps aside, Kohli should not be made Indian captain.

There is little doubt that MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli are vastly different captains. One is ice and calmness; the other is fire and rage. What Dhoni does with a grin, Kohli does with a roar. Where Dhoni relaxes, Kohli fidgets. Dhoni has a survivor’s instinct; Kohli has a killer’s instinct. Dhoni’s tactics in Tests were far from ideal. He had a tendency to let the game go on auto-play. Kohli demands a level of intensity that could burn out a lesser man, but if there is one thing Kohli has in spades, it is passion. Though his reign as India’s Test captain has just begun, the signs are encouraging for the Kohli era of Indian cricket.

Kohli has led India in 17 ODIs, winning 14. Of the three matches he lost, two were close encounters with a depleted side, during the Asia Cup 2014. He has also led India to series wins over Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka, both of which were 5-0 whitewashes. His batting certainly thrives as captain; he averages over 70 while leading the side with a strike rate over over 99.

That being said, the question of whether Kohli should replace Dhoni even in ODIs and T20Is is a complicated one. For starters, Dhoni has always been an excellent limited-overs captain. The same calmness that makes the game slide in Tests works in his favour in ODIs. Dhoni is a master at slowing the game down enough for him to dictate terms. His results are there for all to see. When fans and critics had written India off before ICC Cricket World Cup 2015, Dhoni responded by leading India to the semi-final undefeated.

Dhoni has been a stalwart for years, and given recent results it certainly does not seem like his captaincy in ODIs is slipping. One argument is favour of making Kohli full-time captain is that the move will make sense keeping ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 in mind. But with four years still to go, there is hardly a burning need to make the change. Moreover, that particular train of thought works on the assumption that Dhoni will not be around in 2019. While it is unlikely that Dhoni — who would be 39 by the next World Cup — will be an active player then, players like Misbah-ul-Haq have shown that age is just a number as long as you are fit; and Dhoni is nothing if not fit.

Another argument in Kohli’s favour is that now that he is Test captain, his vision for Indian cricket will be best realised if he is put in charge of all forms. While this sounds good in theory, the fact that Test, ODI, and T20I cricket are completely different from each other is discounted. The all-conquering Australian side of the 2000s had Steve Waugh at the helm in Tests and Ricky Ponting in ODIs. Both teams were unbeatable, despite having a different feel with both captains.

Above all else, it will be grossly disrespectful to discard Dhoni unless he decides to step aside himself. India’s most successful ODI captain has earned the right to go when and how he wishes to. It would have been a different matter had he been on a decline, but Dhoni is as astute today as he was as a long-haired World T20 winner. Kohli’s time will definitely come, but for now the age of Dhoni is still going strong.