Ravi Shastri hopes Virat Kohli can play with a greater sense of freedom during IPL 2022, with captaincy no longer his burden to bear. Starting with his decision to step down as captain of India's T20I team in September 2021, Kohli has either given up or been relieved of captaincy in every other major format: in ODIs and Tests for India, and in the IPL for Royal Challengers Bangalore.
Shastri enjoyed a productive partnership with Kohli during his tenure as India's head coach, which came to an end with India's exit from the T20 World Cup in November 2021. During the upcoming IPL season, he will be an analyst and expert on ESPNcricinfo's video show T20 Time Out.
"I think [giving up captaincy] could be a blessing in disguise, to be honest," Shastri said. "The pressures of captaincy off his shoulders, the expectations that come with being captain no longer there. He can go out, express himself, play freely, and I think he'll look to do just that.
"I think the most important thing is not worry about his own performances, because he's done enough in world cricket for people to know where he stands. It's about him wanting to enjoy himself out there. I think that is the key. It's mind over matter, it's a case of telling yourself, 'I want to go there, express myself, and enjoy myself.'"
Shastri suggested that giving up captaincy was a smart decision overall, given the pressures the role brings, even though he believes Kohli should have remained India's Test captain.
"It's not easy to be captain of a team in all three formats of the game, more so India, because it's the most demanding job in the world," Shastri said. "No other team captain faces the kind of pressure an Indian team captain faces, and that's simply because of the expectations of the billion people that we have - 1.4 billion.
"The expectations are huge, and especially as a captain when you've set standards like Virat Kohli has, then people expect you to win every game, and that's never good enough. Even with the greatest of teams you're going to have an off-season, there's going to be a period where nothing fires. The pressure will build. So I think he's done a smart decision of relinquishing captaincy. I would have still preferred him to stay in red-ball cricket, but that's his personal choice."
Looking ahead to the IPL, Shastri was open to the idea of Kohli opening the batting for Royal Challengers. Over recent seasons, it's a role Kohli has assumed on and off, both in the IPL and in T20Is, while otherwise occupying the No. 3 slot.
"That depends on the balance of the team," Shastri said. "I wouldn't know what their middle order is, but just in case they've got a very strong middle order, then there's no harm in Virat opening."