JOHANNESBURG – Graeme Smith believes Virat Kohli may need to soften his approach to his teammates, if India is to have success away from home.
Smith, who captained South Africa in 108 Tests, wondered whether Kohli was the best long-term option as India’s captain, explaining that Kohli’s “aura” could be intimidating to his team-mates.
“We all know he’s an outstanding player, his intensity really benefits his own personal game, he loves that confrontation and intensity brings the best out of him,” Smith said yesterday.
“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.
“Often his reaction to situations... 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 he can get the Indian team to be as successful as he is, that’s something that he, when I watch him, is grappling with.”
Kohli, who’s captained India 34 times, and led them to nine consecutive series wins before they arrived in South Africa, will face a major test of his leadership credentials this year with India also set to tour England and Australia.
Already they’ve failed the first off their three foreign tests this year, by losing the series against the South Africans with one game to spare.
“I don’t know, when I look at him, if he is a long-term captaincy option for India,” said Smith, who besides playing the most Tests as captain, is also the most successful captain, with 53 victories as skipper.
“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 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.”
Given that for now, India don’t appear to have any other options as captain, Smith felt that Kohli, needed a ‘sounding board’ in the side, someone who could occasionally tell him that he was wrong.
“When I look at Virat, I think he needs someone 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.
“The way he goes about his work, it’s almost a case of ‘leading by example.’
“There’s his emotional side, he gets really fired up and there’s how that affects other people.
“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,” said Smith.
Former Indian skipper Sunil Gavaskar agreed that Kohli could do with someone providing a different perspective. “I think he’s a very good leader,” Gavaskar, who captained India in 47 Tests, said.
“Captains are not just thinking about how they captain in the middle, but on match days and off days, they are always thinking how they can 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. As soon as Virat realises that, he will become a better leader.”
The Indian team trained at the Wanderers yesterday, and their coach Ravi Shastri, rather than be disappointed that the series is already decided, sought to accentuate the positives.
“I would rather focus on the 20 wickets we’ve taken, because that has given us a chance in both Tests,” saidi Shastri.
“We had our moments in both Tests where we looked like the number-one team.
“When we bowled out South Africa for 130 (at Newlands), when we closed the gap thanks to Virat’s brilliant innings and then had them two down, just 30 runs ahead (in the second Test), we looked like the number-one team in overseas conditions.
“Not many teams look half that when they come to India.”