With an eye on the 2019 World Cup, it’s time for Kohli to replace Dhoni as ODI captain

It was only a matter of time before the murmuring began.
With an historic series win in Sri Lanka under his belt, Virat Kohli, India’s Test captain, is reportedly being considered for the one-day captaincy as well. Considering that MS Dhoni’s aura shines brightest in the 50-over game, where he is still a formidable player, the idea instinctively seems premature. Waiting until Dhoni steps down seems the more prudent approach.
It may not be the right approach, though. There is a powerful case to be made for Virat ascending to the one-day throne as well. It begins with the 2019 World Cup. Dhoni is currently 34 and will turn 38 during the tournament in England. There haven’t been many 38-year-old batsmen-wicketkeepers in world cricket, leave aside 38-year-old batsmen-wicketkeepers who also lead their side. Dhoni’s game is also built on hand-eye coordination, which takes a beating as a player ages. Just making the team will take a huge effort for Dhoni.
Therefore it would, in theory, make for a smoother transition if Kohli was appointed by choice rather than by circumstance. Having Dhoni still be part of the team would allow him to play the role of the elder statesman, much like Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid did for Dhoni.
Secondly, Dhoni and Kohli have opposite leadership styles, and consequently prefer different team combinations. Kohli prefers pace and aggression while Dhoni likes control and patience. Giving Kohli more time to test and groom the side he would want in 2019 makes more sense than going with Dhoni’s team for two or three years and then suddenly, with the World Cup looming, have to switch midstream.
Far better to set course now and leave plenty of time for correction as Kohli grows in the job. It also leaves time to make changes in case Kohli fails. After all, there’s no guarantee he will succeed.
The younger players in the side also seem to have embraced Kohli’s philosophy of playing for a win no matter what and it would be hard on them to toggle back and forth between Kohli and Dhoni over the next few years. Given that there is a fair amount of overlap between the Test and ODI teams, the difference in approaches could end up confusing the players mentally.
Team politics shouldn’t be ignored either. As Pradeep Magazine writes in Hindustan Times, “pragmatism demands that for the sake of continuity and not creating two power centres in the team, he [Kohli] should be made One-day captain as well.”
Dhoni should, of course, remain in charge for the T20s since the World T20 is only six months away and will be played in India.
It is an unusual situation, to be sure. Typically a player becomes captain in the shorter formats before graduating to Tests. That’s the road MS Dhoni took and it has a certain logic to it. Just like we learn to walk before we can run, it appears simpler for captains to learn how to handle a limited-overs game before enlarging their horizons to five days.
But there has never been anything typical about Dhoni. He surprised everyone, including his wife, by retiring from Test cricket in Australia last December, leaving India no alternative but to promote Virat.
Dhoni is one of India’s greatest limited-overs players and quite likely the best captain but this isn’t about him. This is about the team. The one caveat is whether Dhoni can adapt to following rather than leading at this stage of his career. Unlike Dravid or Tendulkar, so much of his identity is tied up in being India captain. It won’t be easy to shed that skin.