Kohli the Tinkerman?

Kohli the Tinkerman?

Virat Kohli took over as the captain of Indian Test team in December 2014. Almost 4 years later, in August 2018, for the fourth Test of the India-England Test series, Kohli announced a squad that was unchanged from the previous game. However, India lost that Test, and Kohli promptly made 2 changes for the next Test.

This has been the criticism of Kohli since the start of his captaincy. It is has been well documented that for his first 38 Tests as captain, Kohli did not once field the same eleven players in two consecutive Tests. The strongest argument against Kohli’s constant chopping and changing of the team has been that players become insecure of their place in the side and feel undue pressure to perform. Kohli will likely respond to this argument by pulling out the numbers which show that his ‘horses for courses’ strategy has brought excellent results, and his captaincy record is the best for any Test captain in the world during the last 4 years.

Table 1: Captains with the best Win-Loss Ratio in Tests since December 2014

Captain Mat Won Lost Draw Win-Loss Ratio Win% Loss%
V Kohli 40 22 9 9 2.4 55.0 22.5
KS Williamson 17 9 4 4 2.3 52.9 23.5
F du Plessis 25 15 7 3 2.1 60.0 28.0
SPD Smith 34 18 10 6 1.8 52.9 29.4
Misbah-ul-Haq 22 11 9 2 1.2 50.0 40.9
JE Root 21 10 9 2 1.1 47.6 42.9

It is true that Kohli’s win-loss ratio is the best for any captain in the last 4 years. Even accounting for the fact that a lot of India’s Tests during this period were at home, Kohli’s record is still exceptional. Fans and even critics tend to gloss over the negatives when the team is doing well, however, the recent losses to South Africa and England have raised a lot of questions about Kohli’s captaincy, most importantly his tendency to keep changing the playing eleven, even earning Kohli the unwanted moniker of the ‘Tinkerman’. This piece looks to delve a little deeper to assess whether the criticism of Kohli’s team selection is justified.

Number of Players Used

The implicit allegation against Kohli is that players are not being given a long enough run to cement their place in the team, and are being replaced too soon, leading to far too large a pool of players being used. Let us test this theory. Discounting the first two Tests of Kohli’s captaincy career (since he was a stand-in captain and presumably did not have much of a say in selection matters), India have used 30 different players in 40 Tests (including a couple of Tests where Rahane captained). In isolation, this number may seem high. However, the fact is that England (41), Sri Lanka (36), Australia (35), Pakistan (31) and West Indies (30) have all used as many or more players than India during this period. If you account for the fact that all of the teams in the world except England have played fewer Tests than India in this period, the fact that India have used only 30 players is even more commendable. This essentially means that, on average, India has used less than one new player (0.75 new players to be exact) per Test in this period.

Table 2: Total number of players used and the new-players-per-Test-ratio for each team since January 11, 2015 (i.e. post the India-Australia Test series)

Position Team Players Mat New players/Test
1 Afghanistan 11 1 11.00
2 Ireland 11 1 11.00
3 Zimbabwe 24 8 3.00
4 Bangladesh 28 20 1.40
5 Pakistan 31 28 1.11
6 West Indies 30 32 0.94
7 Sri Lanka 36 39 0.92
8 Australia 35 39 0.90
9 New Zealand 24 27 0.89
10 England 41 52 0.79
11 South Africa 29 37 0.78
12 India 30 40 0.75

The above table tells us that, while it is indisputable that Kohli did not field the same eleven in consecutive Tests till recently, it is also true that the pool of players used by India, relative to the total number of Tests played, is the smallest for any Test team in the world. Based on this, it is clear that none of the other teams in the world are regularly playing the same eleven across a large number of Tests, so the logical next step would be assess how large India’s core group is and what percentage of India’s Tests they play, relative to the rest of the world.

Size of Core Group and the Percentage of Matches Played

India have played 40 Tests since Kohli’s took over as the full-time captain (i.e. post the India-Australia Test series). Since then, three players – Ashwin (95%), Kohli (95%) and Rahane (90%) – have played at least 90% of India’s Tests, while 3 others – Pujara (87.5%), Saha (70%) and Vijay (70%) – have played 70% to 89.9% of India’s Tests.

Table 3: List of India players who have played at least 60% of India’s total Tests since January 11, 2015 (i.e. post the India-Australia Test series)

Player Mat Percentage of India’s Tests
R Ashwin 38 95.0
V Kohli 38 95.0
AM Rahane 36 90.0
CA Pujara 35 87.5
WP Saha 28 70.0
M Vijay 28 70.0
KL Rahul 27 67.5
UT Yadav 26 65.0
I Sharma 26 65.0
RA Jadeja 25 62.5

The above tables tells that India has 10 players who have played at least 60% of India’s Tests since Kohli took over as the full-time captain. Extending this analysis to all teams, the below tables shows us the number of players for each Test side who have played at least 60% of their country’s Tests.

Table 4: Number of players for each country who have played at least 60% of their country’s Tests since January 11, 2015 (i.e. post the India-Australia Test series)

Rank Country Number of Players
1 India 10
2 Zimbabwe 9
3 New Zealand 9
4 Pakistan 8
5 Bangladesh 8
6 South Africa 8
7 West Indies 8
8 Sri Lanka 7
9 England 7
10 Australia 7

India is clearly the only country to have 10 players who have played 60% of their country’s Tests, while all the other countries have 7 to 9 such players. If we classify all players who have played 60% of their country’s Tests to be part of that country’s core group of players, India would have the largest core group of players for any Test nation. If there was to be one criticism, it is that only 6 of India’s 10 core-group members play at least 70% of Tests. But even here, the numbers for other countries are not significantly superior to India’s. Bangladesh have 8 players who have played 70% of their Tests, while 4 other countries – Zimbabwe, New Zealand, England and South Africa – have 7 players who have played 70% of their country’s Tests.

Changes Per Test

While Kohli did have 38 Tests where he didn’t field the same team twice, what is not apparent is exactly how many changes he made for each Test. In the initial stage of his captaincy, Kohli made a number of changes to the playing eleven. In his second Test, he made 5 changes to the playing eleven, a further 4 changes in his third Test, followed by 2, 3, 2 and 5 changes in his next 4 Tests respectively. However, in the 33 Tests in which Kohli has captained since then, he has made more than 2 changes in only 7 of those Tests. It is also worth noting that out of the 5 overall Tests in which Kohli made 4 or more changes to the playing eleven, 4 of those were at the very start of a series. Squads often change between series, which is down to not only the captain but in large part the selection committee, and the reasons for which could be injuries, player rest, giving opportunities to youngsters etc., a lot of which is not always in the captain’s control.

Finally, on a slightly lighter note, history also shows that there have been numerous instances of successful teams making changes to the playing elevens, epitomized by nothing greater than the fact the champion Australian team of the late 1990s, widely considered to be among the greatest Test teams of all time, which first set the record for longest winning streak of 16 consecutive Tests, played the same 11 in consecutive Tests on only 4 occasions during that 16-Test winning streak.

Table 5: The Playing XI for each Test during the record 16-Test winning streak achieved by Australia between 1999 and 2001

  
  
  1
  
  2
  
  3
  
  4
  
  5
  
  6
  
  7
  
  8
  
  9
  
  10
  
  11
  
  12
  
  13
  
  14
  
  15
  
  16
  
  Michael Slater
  
   *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  Greg Blewett
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
   *
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  Justin Langer
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  Mark Waugh
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  Steve Waugh
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  Ricky Ponting
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  Adam Gilchrist
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  Shane Warne
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  *
  
  Damien Fleming
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  *
  
  Colin Miller
  
  *
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  
  
  
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  
  
  Glenn McGrath
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  Ian Healy
  
  *
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  Scott Muller
  
  
  
  *
  
  *
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  Michael Kasprowicz
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  *
  
   *
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  Brett Lee
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  Damien Martyn
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  
  
  
  
   *
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  Matthew Hayden
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  Andy Bichel
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  *
  
  
  
  
  
   *
  
  
  
  
  
  Stuart MacGill
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  
  
  
   *
  
  
  
  Jason Gillespie
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
   *
  
  
  
  *
  
  *
  
  *
  

The broad findings from this piece have been outlined below:

  • Kohli has the best win-loss ratio and loss percentage as a captain in Test cricket since December 2014.
  • India has used only 30 players in 40 Tests post the 2014-15 Australia tour, which is fewer than England, Sri Lanka, Australia and Pakistan.
  • India’s new-players-per-Test ratio is 0.75, which is the lowest for any Test nation post the 2014-15 Australia tour.
  • India have 10 players who have played 60% of India’s Tests since the 2014-15 Australia tour, which is the most for any Test nation.
  • In his last 33 Tests as captain, Kohli has made more than 2 changes in only 7 Tests.
  • It is also interest that out of the 16 players (other than himself) who were involved in the Tests where Kohli lead in his first series as captain (i.e. the 2014-15 Australia tour) – namely Vijay, Dhawan, Pujara, Rahane, Rohit, Saha, Karn, Shami, Ishant, Aaron, Rahul, Umesh, Raina, Ashwin, Bhuvi – at least 12 are still regularly part of Indian Test squads.

    Based on all of the above, it is my view that the criticism of Kohli excessively tinkering with the team is unjustified. This is not to say that Kohli the captain is a finished product, what with his issues around the usage of DRS, lacking imagination in Tests with respect to bowling changes and field settings, inability to bowl out the tail etc., but excessively tinkering with the playing eleven and not providing players with adequate opportunity to perform is not one of them.

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