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Exclusive: Ponting’s ‘surprise’ over Kohli’s call and his take on successor

In the first episode of The ICC Review, legendary Australia captain Ricky Ponting joined Isa Guha to dissect Virat Kohli’s decision to stand down as Test captain.

Ricky Ponting has revealed on The ICC Review he was ‘really surprised’ when he learned India’s most successful Test captain, Virat Kohli, had stepped away from the leadership role.

In a wide-ranging analysis of captaincy, Kohli and what the Indian team now must face Ponting also shared in-depth thoughts on who could now fill the enormous void – as well as paying tribute to the outgoing skipper’s achievements at the helm.

Virat Kohli dropped a bombshell on January 15, when he declared in a statement his decision to step down as the captain of the Indian Test team.

The decision came a day after India lost the final Test of the 2021/22 series to South Africa, with the Proteas mounting a stunning comeback to win 2-1 after being down 0-1 after the first Test.

Having already stepped down as the captain of the T20I side, and being moved on from the role in the ODI scheme of things, Kohli’s decision to relinquish Test captaincy surprised one and all.

Ponting was more surprised than most, he revealed, given his conversation with Kohli earlier last year. “Yes, it did actually (surprise me),” said Ponting. “Probably the main reason why is I had a chat and good catch-up with Virat during the first part of the IPL (2021) before it got postponed.

“He was talking then about stepping away (from captaincy) from white-ball cricket and how passionate he was to continue on to be Test match captain. He just loved and cherished that job and that post so much. Obviously, the Indian Test team had achieved a lot under his leadership. When I heard it, I was really, really surprised.

“You only have to watch him on the field for an hour of the day’s play to realise how passionate he is about that job and the role, and how much he wants the team to win and how much he wants the best for Indian cricket.

“I was shocked, but then I started thinking about other things, even my own time as captain. I have gone on record and said that I probably think I played a couple of years longer than I should have in hindsight. I think I might have been captain for a couple of years longer than I should have.

“So I think there is potentially a shelf-life for international cricket captains and even coaches. Virat’s been there for close to seven years now. If there’s a country in the world that’s the most difficult to captain, it’s probably India because of just how popular the game is and how much every single Indian loves to see the fortunes of the Indian cricket team, whether they are good or bad. You weigh all those things up.”

Though Kohli’s impact as the captain of the Test team went beyond just numbers, his stats were quite impressive.

No other Indian skipper has captained India in more Tests (68) or won more matches (40) than Virat Kohli. India lost just five of the 24 series under his captaincy.

Under his leadership, India not only became a force to be reckoned with at home, but were more competitive in overseas conditions than ever before. At home, India didn’t lose a single series with Kohli as captain. In fact, they lost just two out of 31 matches.

Away from home, Kohli’s India won 16 out of 36 matches, with an impressive win percentage of 44.44, the highest for an Indian or Asian captain who has led their team in at least 10 matches.

Kohli also led India to the top of the ICC Test team rankings, a spot which the team held for 42 consecutive months between October 2016 to March 2020.

For any captain who has led his side in more than 20 Tests, Kohli finished with the fourth-highest win percentage of 58.82 – only Steve Waugh, Don Bradman and Ponting himself have fared better.

Ponting lauded the efforts of the Indian team under Kohli, even going so far as to say the team’s efforts were more “staggering” than that of Australia under his captaincy.

“It was more of a staggering achievement for India than it was for us,” said Ponting. “When I took over, I took over a side that had dominated world cricket for a long time.

“If you think about India before Virat, it was about winning a lot of games at home and not winning quite as many overseas. The thing that improved the most was India winning a few more games overseas, and that’s something that he and all of the Indian cricket have to be really proud of.

“The other thing is there was really was a real focus placed on Test cricket by the BCCI when Virat took over, and I think a lot of it has come from him as well – to focus more on Test cricket and winning more games home and away.

“Given his Test record as captain, he can walk away from the role very, very proud of what he has achieved.”

Kohli’s greatest moment

India’s achievements under Kohli’s captaincy are plentiful. His Indian side won Test series in West Indies, and is on the brink of a series win in England, with India leading 2-1 after their 2021 tour, with the remaining Test postponed to June 2022. He captained India to the final of the inaugural ICC World Test Championship 2021 and secured Test victories in South Africa.

However, it was his series victory over Australia in 2018-19 that broke India’s jinx – it was their first Test series win Down Under. Ponting rated India’s 2-1 triumph in the 2018-19 Border-Gavaskar as Kohli’s greatest series win.

“I haven’t watched every series and every match that they have played, but if you take a look back at the series against Australia in 2018-19, it would be pretty hard to go past that,” said Ponting.

“He led with the bat and obviously, an amazing win for India against Australia – the first one on Australian soil and they had been building up to it. You knew that the squad that they had with the fast bowlers and gritty, determined top-order batters, you knew they were going to have a very good chance coming to Australia. We all know now they ended being too good.

“It’s the one that comes to my mind and stands out the most. It’s not an easy thing to do for an Australian team to go to India and win. We have always found it difficult. It was never easy for India to come to Australia and win, and they did that under his captaincy and they have done it after that as well.

“If you asked him, I would imagine he would probably have a similar thought to me on that one.”

The search for the successor is on

India is yet to announce Virat Kohli’s successor as Test captain. Several names are doing the rounds as potential candidates, including Rohit Sharma, who took over as limited-overs captain from Kohli.

The likes of Ajinkya Rahane, who led India to a series win in Australia in Kohli’s absence, and KL Rahul have also been spoken of among fans, but it’s Rohit who had Ponting’s backing.

“I was at Mumbai Indians when Rohit Sharma took over the captaincy there,” said Ponting. “I was bought in the auction to be their captain and unfortunately, I wasn’t playing well enough after the first few games to keep myself in the team, so I had to make room for another international player to come into the side.

“The owners and the team management wanted to know who I thought would be the appropriate person to take over the leadership at the Mumbai Indians. There were a few names thrown around between owners and the other coaches but it was really clear to me that there was only one guy that can lead the team – he was a young guy and his name happened to be Rohit Sharma.

“I think the proof is in the pudding with what he has done at the Mumbai Indians since that moment on. He has been a very successful leader there and has been when he has led India on a few occasions as well.

“If I go back to what I said at the start about being on top of your game when you take over a captaincy role, then it is pretty hard to argue after what he has done with his Test cricket in the last 2-3 years. He has played as well as anybody in the world through that period of time, and we know how good he is as a white-ball player.

“They (BCCI) will have a decision to make what they want to do with their roles as well, whether they split roles or they want to keep the same captain for all formats.

“To be honest, I have worked with Ajinkya – he is just a great bloke, a very, very good player. He hasn’t had his best period with the bat in Tests, but we saw what he can do leadership-wise in the series against Australia last summer.

“I don’t know KL Rahul well – his name’s been thrown around a little bit. All reports I hear about him is he is a terrific guy, and he’s playing very well and starting to put together a really good Test record, particularly overseas which is impressive.

“There will be a few names that will be thrown around.”

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