The Case Against Virat Kohli

Today Alex Ferguson returns to TFT with both guns blazing. And he’s got India’s former captain Virat Kohli firmly in his sights. Do you agree with Alex or will the history books offer a more sympathetic appraisal of Kohli’s legacy?

In the past, the player that you looked out for when you checked out the Indian scorecard was Sachin Tendulkar. Before that, Kapil Dev.

But in these heady days, it’s Virat Kohli.

It’s like Lionel Messi. Regardless of what you think of him, you can’t deny that there’s no bigger name in cricket. That’s why he’s married to a Bollywood icon, makes $17.5m a year from his craft, and is called “King Kohli” by millions of rabid fans.

He was in charge of the Indian team that went from seventh in the Test rankings to top, winning 40 out of 68 games. He was a fiery competitor who had no problem gobbing off to both opposition players and ‘opposition umpires’ in an effort to give his country an advantage. Every decision against his team when bowling was an indescribable joke, every decision against him as a batter was utterly incorrect, or probably a no ball.

When fans of opposite teams think of Virat Kohli, they think of one of the world’s best players who acted like a spoiled brat when he didn’t get decisions, who abused umpires and opposition players, was the subject of an all-time great dig from t***er-batter Tim Paine (“I know he’s your captain but you can’t seriously like him as a bloke”), and frankly, was a bit of a knob.

But whether you like him or utterly dislike him, any cricket fan would notice that Kohli hasn’t made an international century since November 22nd 2019.

Yes, we know that 2020 curtailed that run somewhat (he only played three Tests), but in 2021, he played 11 Tests, averaging a dismal-but-would-have-been-world-breaking-for-Don-Sibley 28.21. He only had 536 runs, and four 50s. And while 28.21 would probably make him one of the better batsmen on the England cricket team, all it took was a bit of criticism and Kohli ‘retired’ as not only Test captain but also captain of the T20 team.

But when you look underneath at the 58% record and think about how well the teams gelled (they rose from seventh to the height of first with him ‘in charge’), you also have to be quite honest: Under Kohi’s reign, India were the biggest chokers in cricket, too.

The all-powerful Indian cricket team lost the World Test Championship Final to New Zealand, were dumped out of the World Cup semi-finals in England, and didn’t even get out of the group stages of the World T20, where they also suffered the ignominiousness of losing to Pakistan by 10 wickets.  

Kohli didn’t suffer decisions going against him well, and he didn’t suffer the BCCI, either. He traded verbals with India’s cricketing heavyweights over whether he should carry on with India’s T20 captaincy during the World T20 last year. He was then ‘canned as the country’s 50-over captain soon after, and then ‘resigned’ the Test captaincy earlier this month. His decision to walk away from the Test captaincy after the 2-1 loss in South Africa would probably have been made for him post haste had he not jumped.

Now that Kohli has resigned, he may well – with the shackles off – start hammering the runs again. At a guess, most Indian cricket fans still love him, because he’s been such a talisman for the team, averaging over 50 in all formats, and where Kohli goes, so does India.

I wonder if England could do the same with Joe Root? Without the arguments, of course.

Alex Ferguson


  • I think you’ll find that very few batsmen score as many centuries as they used to, largely because of the ludicrous itinerary of international cricket which allows no recovery time. The combination of formats doesn’t help either with players spending more time playing white ball than red, which certainly limits opportunities to make big scores. It’s the emotional burn out that causes players of the undoubted abilities of Kholi to make errors of judgement when apparently well set. Root has always had this problem. There are no century machines operating now where you the inevitability of a 3 figure score once 50 is reached. Players aren’t robots, especially evident in a highly technical game like cricket, where although it’s a team game you’re certainly out there on your own as a player, these no one to hide behind.
    I have no personal experience of the spoilt brat mentality watching Kholi live but there is an increasing tendency amongst captains these days to question decisions publically, a bit like footballers. The problem with this is that abuse of officials makes it less likely people will be atttracted to those positions and this will lower standards of officiating further.
    It’s another old adage that the best players rarely make the best captains. This especially applies in cricket where mere cricketing ability is a relatively minor part of the job.

    • Which makes the players who played large numbers of games in all formats without any apparent decline all the mor remarkable – Sangakkara stands out as someone who actually got better in his late 30s but there’s also the likes of Border, Kallis, Walsh (another who improved as he aged), Ambrose, Kumble, Younis Khan, Dravid and others.

      It’s difficult to think of England examples – Gooch and Boycott had breaks while Anderson and Broad don’t play all formats. England do have the heaviest schedule but not much more so than Australia and India in recent years.

    • I think it’s mixed in terms of the best players making the best captains. Viv Richards? 50 Tests, 27 wins, 8 losses, 15 draws. Steve Waugh? The most successful in history (71% wins). Ricky Ponting? 67%.
      Joe Root has actually played pretty well as captain, but his team has been abject around him.

      • A lot depends on who you have available as teamates. Richards certainly wasn’t a one man band, having matchwinners like Ambrose and Walsh etc to call on, whereas Lara, thrown into that position afterwards, had little to work with, on or off the field. Richards had no great prior reputation either as tactician or man manager, the 2 most important aspects of cricket captaincy. Ponting similarly had Warne and McGrath in addition to a few decent batsmen and he was renowned for making strange decisions on the field. Leading by example has its limitations in cricket.
        Incidentally Bradman and Hutton were no great shakes in these departments either, both having a reputation for being rather remote figures, but having great players to work with. The most fortunate test captain in my living memory was Clive Lloyd, who’s bevy of quickies rolled over so many teams they made most of his on field decisions for him and as back up the likes of Greenidge, Haynes and Richards himself put so many games to bed.

  • Kohli’s saving grace, in my eyes, is that he was a big supporter of Test cricket. He cared about the longest form deeply. I’m not sure what we’d all do if an Indian captain came along and said “T20 is where it’s at” like Chris Gayle did. Consequently, I always thought that Kohli was ‘on our side’.
    I can understand why he rubs some people up the wrong way but I like to see a bit of passion. Things are rarely dull when he’s either batting or captaining the side.

  • Hatchet job gets hatchet response:

    Seeing that the writer of this piece is willfully, and probably deliberately one-eyed, let’s bring up England’s greatest wicketkeeper, batsman, bowler, captain, and television commentator, deer shooter and army general. Enter Chef. Chef was the most humble, gracious and modest human being ever to step on a cricket field, and millions of fair maidens have swooned when the winds whispered his name.

    Chef, who graciously put everybody in place after he was unduly sacked as ODI captain, with the most gracious acceptance speech ever. Or many of his other brilliant utterances as a captain, his actual undermining of the team as a captain and player, and how the whole English cricket establishment supporter “Iron Rod” – to the point that using sexist language on live television was the selling point to hire Director Comma Cricket – and then people in England wonder how scandals such as the Rafiq cases happen.

    I suppose I could also bring up that the English media and commentators were so in love with this non-performing opener for years on end, that I cannot erase the mental picture of Nasser Hussain in a cheerleader outfit. But since the writer of the above takes liberties with reality, I will blame Alastair Cook for that mental image too.
    Obviously, some of these things are not a players’ fault. As loathsome as the “right kind of family” comment was, it was not uttered by Cook. Likewise, a lot of these things that the writer attributes to Kohli are patently false too.

    Face it, most cricket captains are like that. Even Sangakkara and Jayawardene gamed the system and rules, on their way to the Sri Lankan T20 World Cup victory. And remember England moaned that the correct decision had been made against Bell, and he got a free continuation of his innings out of such moaning – but yeah, when England moans, it is always justified – even if the rules blatantly allow for certain modes of dismissal, conduct or whatever else is deemed as against the spirit of Cricket (which in England’s viewing is ANY decision against England). After all, Jimmy Anderson referring to MS Dhoni as a f*t **** was very classy, and England saw nothing wrong with use of such language so it was all perfectly non-abusive.

    At least you can’t argue that Kohli does not play to win. Root just seems to play for the hit and giggles with his mates, with the guy top scoring in the innings besides Root paying for the drinks of his mates. At least that would explain the utter incapability of anyone bar Root to actually string a couple of fifties together in the same series.

    • Very funny. I’ll let you into a secret. I received a few puff pieces on Virat last week. I decided not to publish them because they reminded me a lot of the stuff that used to be written about Cook. I used to hate that stuff 😂 !
      In the end I thought it would be interesting to publish the complete opposite view. Kohli is indeed a polarising character. Personally I like him, but I hoped Alex’s rant would inspire a broader debate about what is / isn’t acceptable on the field and whether the big names get more rope than others.

    • Fun fact, sir.

      I don’t really like Alastair Cook, or his nickname “Chef”. I also didn’t like how at the end of his career he managed to get out stupidly.
      There’s no argument that Kohl plays to win. So when he loses he behaves like a horrible, spoiled brat.
      As for Jimmy Anderson, I’m not debating what Anderson said and didn’t say wasn’t classy. I mean, it’s an excellent effort from you to excuse Kohli being a nob. It’s a very American trait. There is no sense of responsibility that comes from either him or Indian supporters when he behaves like a prick.
      Also, you can’t argue that Kohli didn’t come from the ‘right kind of family’. He hardly came from the streets (like English cricketers, he went to private school) and he’s married a Bollywood icon.
      Oh, and Alastair Cook didn’t play wicketkeeper for England.

      • Since you decided that it is fair to equate whatever the most one-eyed idiot states as gospel truth on Kohli, to be factually correct, it is presumably also fair if others do the same thing, with regards to the legendary English moaning, including gaming of the rules, blatantly refusing to accept the rules of the game, and what not. Shall I list a few dozen mercenaries who followed the filthy lucre and played in apartheid South Africa? That hardly stopped any of them to get prestigious positions in the MCC, ECB and where not. After all, English moral flexibility is an absolute virtue – unless practiced by a non-Englishman, presumably.

        Cook defended Anderson when he made such utterances, so clearly yet another display of virtuous moral flexibility on display. But I suppose it is okay when an Englishman defends an Englishman abusing a pesky colonial, right?

        The point is that the English press had no qualms in bigging up this highly flawed batsman, captain, as if he was the best thing since sliced bread. Like batting in his final Australian Ashes on three consecutive days. Really not that hard to come up with a few other examples (I can think of a certain Hashim Amla who batted for about 185 overs in one innings, and England still could not even dismiss him, or get the #5 in the order out to bat – still in terms of the differential of average runs per wicket the most lopsided in Test history, but hey), and there are dozens of others that England must have seen up close, and quite a few of those were on the field when the greatest fielder England ever produced, Alastair Cook was inspirationally looking at his hands, when he (probably) had shelled another dolly.

        I am not excusing Kohli being a nob or not. Care to enlighten me how often he has thrown new kids under the bus to safe his own precious skin? How many bowlers’ careers he has ruined? The last two England captains can probably claim at least a dozen successes between them in that regard (and presumably they’re not nobs, as per typical English sanctimony), so I await with bated breath, how the egomaniac Kohli compares to the highly virtuous, humble, and noble Cook and Root.

        This very English absolute sanctimony serves no one well. Prove my point and write about the 5 biggest nobs England have produced on the Test cricket field since the start of the millennium (just so that you don’t have the obvious writeups on Boycott, Gatting, and several other presumably highly virtuous characters; and no Pietersen was not produced by England).

        • Be careful.

          Pointing out English moaning, English hypocrisy and English sanctimony will upset the natives.

          If you want to fit in, ignore all that and stick to complaining about the CC fixture. Around here, Test cricket is a battle between administrators, not professional sportsmen.

          Did you hear the one about how Australia “can’t afford” to enjoy winning the Ashes too much? I guess there won’t be any MBEs.


    • I think the wicketkeeper bit was satirical…although he is one of only three England bowler’s since the 19th century to average less than 10…:-)

      But as I think d’Arthez is, I struggle to see where you’re going with this piece, Alex. You clearly don’t like him, which is your prerogative of course, but besides that…Is he worse behaved than other leading cricketers? Certainly than some, but not than all: Anderson’s behaviour has been abysmal for years, Rabada isn’t exactly an angel and nor was Shane Warne. Is he worse than other captains? Again, certainly than some, but Smith- (or Waugh-) era Australia? Worse than Viv Richards trying to bully umpires? Do the ICC indulge him too much? Maybe, but then they were also lenient on Smith, Tendulkar, Atherton and a few others who stretched the laws or broke them outright.

      “Being a knob” is just a personal opinion. I think he overreacts sometimes, but I don’t think he’s a knob. The players who’ve played under him for India seemed to be very appreciative of what he’d done for the side–which included completely revolutionising the side’s attitude to fitness and diet, which may be a more lasting legacy than his toughness.

      And there are far too many inconsistencies, questionable assertions and poor argumentation in there. Indian supporters give him too much rope? (sections of them are, after all, some of the most one-eyed sports fans on the planet!)–quite possibly, but so do England fans when Anderson or Broad behave like a prick or the team management questions umpiring decisions.

      DID he go to private school?–I’ve looked quite a lot for evidence of this and I can’t find any; his first school describes itself as a public school, which suggests it isn’t.

      How is marrying a film star evidence of coming from the right kind of family?

      DO India choke? I’m not entirely sure from the examples you give that you know what choking means: maybe they did in the 2019 WC, but they didn’t in the WT20 (they were just poor right through), and it’s questionable whether they did in the WTC final (close, low-scoring game, playing in foriegn conditions without a warm-up game against a team who’d warmed up by playing two tests and a couple of county games).

      He was about to be sacked as test captain when he resigned?–you having a laugh?

      So sure, there’s a debate about many aspects of Kohli to be had, but I’m not sure that hanging a rather threadbare argument on what seems like mainly personal dislike is the way to do it.

      • ‘Choking’ is when. you continually get to the finals or are expected to win things and end up winning nothing. That is what happened with Indian cricket in major finals when Virat Kohli was captain. That is indisputable.
        He went to Saviour Convent School in Delhi to ‘focus on his cricket’. Saviour Convent School is one of the best schools in Delhi….and private.
        As for not liking him, I think it’s OK to get annoyed with the histronics. I get as annoyed with Anderson and Rabada’s efforts, too. But I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about Kohli.
        This is an opinion piece, and I don’t like the man. And yes, I think he walked before he was fired. Him and the BCCI had a very unpleasant relationship.

        • Choking includes a psychological element–it’s more than just losing an important match you were expected to win. It’s not at all indisputable that India were chokers–for the reasons I’ve given above (and for some others: NZ and India were almost level on points in the test rankings when the match was played, for example, so why would India have been clear favourites?)

          Just repeating the same thing doesn’t make it indisputable–especially when you’re not dealing with a fact, you’re dealing with a perception, which choking is. It might be arguable, but it’s not indisputable.

          I’m not saying there’s anything wrong in being irritated by Kohli’s histrionics–but, as I said, hanging an entire article on personal dislike doesn’t create a very convincing piece, or give the impression that you’ve really thought about the subject. It just seems to be a bunch of “I hate Kohli”s strung together rather randomly!

  • Spoke with an International Umpire once and he had a really interesting take on Kohli – thought he was a great bloke overall, a phenomenal player and very driven (as all those top Test players are, no matter how easy-going some may appear on the surface).

    His take was that Kohli is ‘reactive’ in personality, maybe its a pride thing, in that he treats people the way they treat him. If he gets sh1t or general c$%tery, he will behave like a sh1head c%$&. But, treat him with some respect and he is a lovely bloke – with that hypercompetitive edge still of course. The example given was how he is very laidback (overall) when playing against Kane Williamson, the 2 of them seem to be great mates. Famously sitting together with their backs against the boundary fence one game when both weren’t in the playing XI, chatting away watching the play.

    Interesting observation I thought.

    • And I agree completely with Ian2. India under Kohli may not have won any trophies but I don’t remember them choking at any point. Outplayed, yes. Choked,absolutely not.
      And as far as Kohli vs ‘India’s cricketing heavyweights’ is concerned, the issues’s got many layers to it and only people involved in the administration can speak about the issues with some certainty. So I think it’s great if the author refrains himself from speaking of issues which he’s not well informed about.

      • Isn’t winning any major trophies when you’re the favourites almost every time the very definition of choking?

        • I don’t think they were the favourites anyway–at the very least not the clear favourites. The favourites for the World T20 and the WC were probably England (and in the WT20, maybe Pakistan), and I’m not convinced there was a clear favourite for the WTC.

        • Alex, no that’s not what it means. Choking means you give away the match which was yours to take or when it got really close, you made silly mistakes or you just give up.India didn’t choke against Pak in Wt20, they were outplayed.

      • Only people on the BCCI can talk about it?

        Is that the magic rule?

        Everyone, be quiet! Unless you’re a board member!

        • That’s not what I meant!! If Virat has been a great servant for Indian cricket then so was Ganguly and I’m sure neither of them would let personal things get affect professional ones.

  • Well captain’s like people are all different and have their own styles. Steve Waugh has I think the best post war record as captain at 71% wins. Probably one if the worst sledgers in the game, but did it really matter in the end? Going right back Douglas Jardine was typical upper class public school whose presence alone rubbed up the Aussies to breaking point. Bodyline? Not sporting perhaps but he won the series. Kohli is aggresive, but passionate, and personally I rather like that attitude.
    Cook, like Root is a “nice” bloke but a lousy captain when you have to “kick ass” like you do now in English cricket.
    There aren’t many great captains though. In my time Brearley was far the best, attitude, passion and great understanding and perception of treating men in accordance with their particular traits. Waugh I’ve mentioned and of current teams I’d add Williamson of NZ to the list of exceptional captains.
    I don’t like this attitude from some that England are somehow still perceived as colonialist with racial tendencies, and look down on others. But they need to get a better attitude away from the soft touch approach, and hit back, at well Aussie and Kohli wind ups for starters. It happens every series and they still fall for it, every time. They could do a lot worse than getting Adam Hollioake in as coach, one of the best County Cricket captains of all time. Available I believe.

    • Steve Waugh implemented a strategy of “mental disintegration”.

      But with the current England side, it would have been unnecessary.

  • My most cherished moment of Kohli:The captain came in his first test as captain, the Adelaide test in 2014 where India needed 352 to win on the last day and Kohli, in an attempt to win the match, went all out. India lost the match marginally otherwise what happened at the Gabba would’ve happened 6 years earlier!! But Genius sometimes comes with a bit of eccentricity. That is the only explanation that I can think of for his on-field antics. But no one deny his love for the longest format.

      • No,Tom. I’ll tell u one more thing that I’m not, I’m not mean to a stranger. All I meant was that the Adelaide test was where it all began and I’ll remember that because that was the starting point from where India started doing what it couldn’t do consistently throughout the history, winning overseas!!

  • Oh you daring contrarian – let’s see “the case against Andrew Strauss” if you really are that bold (and the case against isn’t that he’s too perfect, too good for the likes of us, more than we deserve etc. Plus it has nothing to do with his politics).

    • Well, leaving aside the question of quite why an article criticising Strauss would be contrarian in a forum apparently made up mainly of people who have little time for the ECB…if the articles on here aren’t contrarian enough for your standards, I look forward to reading your daring take on why Strauss isn’t all that he’s cracked up to be! You probably won’t be short of material…

  • Frankly, I’m a bit surprised that no one has found a way to blame the ECB and the CC fixture for Kohli getting the chop.


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