MS Dhoni captained Team India successfully for a decade from 2007-2016 and then Virat Kohli took over and has taken the Indian team to newer heights.
MS Dhoni won the World T20 2007, the ICC World Cup 2011 and the ICC Champions Trophy 2013 as the Indian limited-overs captain. In Tests, Team India became the no.1 Test side for the first time under Dhoni’s captaincy and India even inflicted a 4-0 whitewash over Australian team under Dhoni at home.
Virat Kohli, on the other hand, is yet to win a big ICC trophy but under his captaincy, currently, the Indian side is ranked no.1 position in Tests, no.2 position in ODIs and no.3 in the T20Is. Virat Kohli has assumed the full-time captaincy for just over a year and a half and is yet to achieve the heights that Dhoni did, but he is definitely on his way to greatness as captain as well.
Though both have their own ways of captaining the Indian teams and will leave their own legacies, there are marked differences between their styles, some debatable and some polarizing.
Let’s have a look at the 5 major differences between the captaincy styles of MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli
Dhoni’s calm nature vs. Virat Kohli’s aggression
MS Dhoni made his name for his ultra cool and calm demeanor on and off the field. He was stone cold chill even in the most pressured situations like the World Cup final or when Eoin Morgan and Ravi Bopara were going hammer and tongs in the CT 2013 finals in England. Dhoni was calm under that pressure and eventually led India to the championships.
He was the best person to have in such situations as players needed someone to look to when things are not going your way. Dhoni never showed emotions on the field if his fielders or bowlers made mistakes, he was always encouraging them and backing them.
Virat Kohli, on the other hand, is aggressive and always wants to win and in the process is up for losing a close contest, rather than thinking calmly over his decisions. Kohli wears his heart and emotions on his sleeve and it shows when he gets agitated on mistakes made by his fielders or even himself. He sometimes overdoes his aggression in winning the match, like more fielders in catching positions while bowling and also a more T20 like approach in batting when a rearguard is the need of the hour.
Though he has mellowed down a bit since becoming captain, still he showing anger in the field is something that can be avoided. Aggression is only beneficial if it is controlled.
Dhoni had a set winning XI vs. Virat Kohli keeps chopping and changing his XI
Virat Kohli holds the record of not playing with the same playing XI for 35 Tests (until the Joburg Test in South Africa in 2018). This is a record which shows that he keeps pushing his players to do their best and changed them according to his plans. Injuries and unavailability of players have played their part in Kohli’s record, but more than that, he is a follower of ‘horses for courses’ policy.
Kohli tends to pick players best suited for the surface and conditions and form doesn’t matter for him much, until recently, when he chose Rohit Sharma for his form, over his vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane for the first two Tests against South Africa in 2018. Kohli likes to pick his XI according to conditions.
MS Dhoni, on the other hand, rarely changed his sides. He banked on a set of players to do the job for him whatever the situations may be. He loved to have a feeling of stability on his side and even backed his players when they were out of form, to come good. He did it with Kohli himself on the 2014 tour to England, when Kohli had a miserable series.
Dhoni laidback attitude vs. Kohli’s bid to push his teammates
MS Dhoni was a laidback captain who left the players to themselves in terms of bettering in fitness, skills and other things. He rarely talked about fitness drills of players or his own fitness regimen. He admitted that he rarely went to the gym. The fitness drills for the players were designed by the support staff, according to their personal needs and Dhoni didn’t interfere in such things. Maybe that style of man management came from handling legends like Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Rahul Dravid and Harbhajan Singh during his tenure as captain, who were his seniors.
Virat Kohli has set a new benchmark in terms of fitness, not only for himself but also for other players too. Kohli is not only supremely fit himself, but he expects his teammates to be as fit as he is. The yo-yo Test has become the new qualification to get into the Indian team or even be considered for the team and nothing less than prime fitness is expected from other. The fact that his teammates are almost his age or younger than him helps in Kohli motivating them to get better.
Dhoni banked on spin vs. pace is Virat Kohli’s virtue
MS Dhoni had a set theory of playing with four bowlers and six pure batsmen and himself at no.7. He banked on his four bowlers to pick up the required wickets. The combination of these four bowlers changed with three pace bowlers and one spin or two spinners with two pace bowlers. Dhoni was also big on spinners doing the job for him even on surfaces like Australia and New Zealand. Ashwin and Jadeja were his main weapons and he utilized them fully and even encouraged them to develop their batting skills.
Virat Kohli, on the other hand, loves to play 5 bowlers in Test cricket in order to take 20 wickets and the team has been reaping rich rewards of this strategy. Kohli is also a big fan of fast bowlers and has always played 3-4 fast bowlers and backed them with aggressive field placing to get him wickets. His strategy to play 5 bowlers has worked positively for Team India, forcing the lower order to contribute with the bat and improving their batting skills.
Dhoni handled media well vs. Kohli flustered on tough questions
A duty of being the Indian cricket team captain is handling the media. MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli both have a love and hate relationship with the media and have developed their own ways of handling the needling questions of journalists.
MS Dhoni refrained from giving air to controversial things, but when it came to backing his players’ shortcomings in media; he was fully prepared to do so. He loved to give sarcastic answers to the questions about his retirement from the game, or when he retired from the Test arena. He was always cool under the intense scrutiny of media persons, saw the lighter side of the things and gave us unforgettable moments like asking a journalist to join him on the dais to explain something to him during the World T20 2016.
Virat Kohli, on the other side, is very serious about everything he answers and loves to take up issues that were missed on the field. For example, he took up the issues of Steve Smith asking the Australian dressing room if he should go for a DRS review of not during the Bengaluru Test last year. He was also forefront in admitting his relationship with then rumored girlfriend actress Anushka Sharma.
Both Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni will be considered amongst the greatest players India has ever produced and though Dhoni has given up on captaincy a year ago, he is considered as one of the greatest limited overs captains in the world. Dhoni led with pride and success and his legacy will live on forever.
Virat Kohli will create his own legacy as time passes on, but he has the important tasks of succeeding in trying conditions in England and Australia this year. Virat has a young team on his hands with players looking to turn themselves into legends.
Both have personalities that are poles apart and their styles of captaincy are an extension of their personalities and it is upon individuals to decide who is a better captain depending on the points mentioned above and personal preferences.