‘Kohli is the best captain. When we played under Dhoni…’: Ishant Sharma gives Bumrah, Shami, Umesh examples in big claim


After Zaheer Khan’s retirement and before the fast bowling revolution in Indian cricket, Ishant Sharma was the one doing the bulk of the work in Test matches. He was an old-fashioned workhorse. The likes of Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Shami, and Bhuvneshwar Kumar were around but rarely did they fire as a collective fast-bowling unit until Virat Kohli took charge of the Test side. Ishant, Shami, Umesh, Bhuvi burst onto the scene under MS Dhoni’s leadership but they became a world-beating fast-bowling unit only under Kohli. Of course, their experience and maturity had a lot to do with it but Kohli’s aggressive captaincy also played a major part. The emergence of Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami as all-format tearaway quicks is a testimony to that fact.

Indian pacer Ishant Sharma (L), captain Virat Kohli (R)(Twitter)

Ishant, who played most of his cricket under Dhoni – 130 out of his 199 international matches, to be precise – did not hesitate in rating Kohli as the best captain. Ishant, however, said it was Dhoni who groomed the fast bowlers before handing them over to Kohli, who took them to a whole new level.

“He (Kohli) was the best. When Virat was captain, bowling was complete. When we were playing under Mahi bhai, we were in a transition phase. At that time, Shami and Umesh were new, and only I was there. Everyone else would rotate. Bhuvi was also new. There is no match for Mahi bhai as a communicator. But what he did was groom the bowlers and leave them with Virat. Shami and Umesh, over time, became different bowlers and then Jasprit came in. So, he got a complete package. The best thing he did was identify everyone’s traits, that he used to talk about one thing with one person and then Iet them be,” Ishant said in JioCinema show ‘Home of Heroes’.

The numbers are also in favour of Kohli. He (63.38) has a much higher win percentage than Dhoni (53.61) as captain of India. Only Rohit Sharma has a better win percentage than Kohli.

Ishant agreed that Kohli’s aggressive nature was an asset but the fact that he identified every fast bowler’s strength and communicated with them regularly made him a delight to play under. “First thing, he was aggressive. If you’re bowling with the new ball, you can concede 25 runs in five overs as long as you take two wickets,” Ishan said.

The lanky pacer who is the only out-and-out fast bowler to play more than 100 Tests for India, said Kohli gave different roles to him, Shami, Bumrah – the trio who played major roles in overseas wins in England, Australia and South Africa.

‘Kohli communicated with me, Bumrah, Umesh and Shami’: Ishant

“The important thing was that he gave everyone defined roles. He used to tell me, ‘You have played enough matches, it’s now time for you to step up. Don’t bowl thinking you have to bowl in a particular area, now you have to find ways of getting wickets’. He went to Shami and said, ‘I know you can take wickets, but now I need you to bowl consistently. That you can bowl three overs as maidens’. He went to Bumrah and said, ‘This is your debut, you do what you do, but consistency is most important in Test cricket’. After 2021, I realized he wanted all of us to think out of the box,” he added.

Ishant was shocked at Kohli’s transformation

Ishant and Kohli go back a long way. They were teammates even in junior cricket while coming up through the ranks in Delhi cricket. When asked about the massive transformation of Kohli, Ishant said it was “shocking”.

“It was quite shocking. I remember we had a break, so he went to the US for some sponsor obligations. At the time, he was trying to reduce his weight. He slept on the flight for 8-9 hours and ate just once. The moment he landed in the US, the first thing he did was go to the gym. These are things not everyone knows, but he had told me what all he did to lose weight. I know how much he loves chhole bhature. For all these years, he completely stopped eating all of that.

“Even now, if he isn’t fielding, he has experimented enough on his body to know when he has to eat carbs and when he shouldn’t. But, if he isn’t running or batting or doing lower-body work, he won’t eat carbs at all,” he said.


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