Virat Kohli‘s IPL captaincy has polarized opinion in recent times, and the debate is unlikely to go away given Royal Challengers Bangalore’s wooden-spoon finish in IPL 2019. So, just what kind of a T20 captain is Kohli? Someone who “relies on intuition” and is “exceptionally open to ideas”, according to Daniel Vettori, who has worked with him for six seasons as player and coach at the franchise. Vettori, a well-travelled coach who has also had stints with Brisbane Heat in the Big Bash League and Middlesex in the T20 Blast among other teams, weighed in on a range of topics, on the latest episode of ESPNcricinfo’s Talking T20 podcast.
Vettori was part of both Royal Challengers sides which finished runners-up in 2011 [as captain] and 2016 [as coach], apart from a run to the playoffs in 2015. However, dismal performances in subsequent seasons meant they parted ways ahead of IPL 2019. Despite another forgettable season for the franchise, Vettori only had high praise for his former captain.
“When I used to speak to him or any other coaches [used to] speak to him, there’s always a conversation around what you think is best, where can this work,” Vettori said. “It wouldn’t always be a numbers-driven conversation, it would be around some intuition and understanding of the game. I think, ultimately, when you sold a compelling story to Virat, he was always on board, open to listen and that made him such a good captain.”
A widely-discussed aspect of Kohli’s game is his on-field personality, his “energy, enthusiasm and desperation to win” which Vettori said “is contagious”, and when “you couple that with [him being] the best batsman in the world, and with a work ethic that has probably led India into the situation they are now [in]. Everyone wants to follow his gym [routine], and everything he does off the field, the way he basically prepares to play the game. That’s a huge part of leadership. That’s a huge part of captaincy.”
Vettori, regarded as a smart bowler even during his playing days, also spoke about the challenges in getting T20 teams to buy into data and analytics-driven wisdom by “telling a compelling story” to players and team managements, as the field is still in its “infant stages” with small sample sizes making it harder to present a convincing case.
“For me, I think there’s such a strong correlation between thorough planning and the use of data to performance. I think it’s so important because I think cricket, in general, is quite immature in terms of its exposure to this and…the sport I like is baseball, and I think they use it as strongly as anyone. The thing they have in their favour is huge sample sizes, and the thing that I always battled with [as a coach] was ‘[you say], here’s a plan’ and then go back to how many times it’s worked. ‘Oh, it’s worked four times’. And four times doesn’t seem like a lot to base things on. I think that’s what [the challenge is]. When you’re presenting to the captain or the owner or the rest of the coaches, you want to be overwhelming with it.
“And I know that with baseball, and a lot of the sites that I follow, they want 500 instances of that to happen before they can sort of guarantee a prediction that they can rely on. And when you’re dealing with David Warner facing Yuzvendra Chahal, [say], 33 times over the course of his career, and then you make a prediction from that, I think that’s the thing they have, but that’s only gonna grow. So, while we’re in these infant stages, I think it’s hard for people to get their heads around [analytics]. But, the people who are gonna buy into this first, get their heads around it, I think they’ll get the jump-start on everyone.”
Vettori singled out former team-mate and current Mumbai Indians bowling coach Shane Bond as one of the trailblazers in making the most of data and insights, as Mumbai’s “structured, planned” approach to T20 cricket has paid dividends over the years.