The aura, the intensity and the cameras around Virat Kohli's captaincy

Even if you believed Kohli-cam to be the most egregious example of a team game being turned into a personality cult, you might just find yourself missing it

They were thirty-sixed in Adelaide, and there was no Virat Kohli for the rest of the series. How did India cope? Rather well, as it turned out.
Back spasms ruled Kohli out in Johannesburg, and a younger, quieter stand-in oversaw an unexpected defeat during which, in some eyes, India's efforts on the field lacked the full-time captain's energy and aggression. Kohli returned in Cape Town and poured his energy and aggression onto every blade of grass and into the stump mic. India lost in more or less the same way.
Captains get far more credit for victory and far more blame for defeat than they ever deserve. They are as good as their teams happen to be, and Kohli's results across formats are the best of any full-time India captain because he led India's best-ever team. It's as simple as that.
Well, almost as simple.
Go back to Kohli's first-ever Test as captain. Not yet full-time captain, he made - or was involved in making - two decisions that immediately spelled out what his captaincy would be like, and how it would be different from anything that came before.
He dropped R Ashwin and played the debutant Karn Sharma, in the belief that wristspin would bring quicker wickets than fingerspin on Australian pitches. Then, on the final afternoon, Kohli kept playing his shots and going after an outlandish fourth-innings target even after India had lost every other recognised batter, this when he had already scored hundreds in both innings and had the chance to pull down shutters and try to bat out a draw.
Australia scored at five-and-a-half runs an over against Karn's legspin over their two innings, and he never played Test cricket again. And Kohli's willingness to risk defeat in the pursuit of victory ended up in defeat.
Seemingly impulsive selections and the preference for the outright aggressive option remained a marked tendency during Kohli's early years as captain. St Lucia 2016 was a case in point, when India left out Cheteshwar Pujara and M Vijay and brought in Rohit Sharma for his freer-scoring style, which they perhaps desired with the forecast suggesting that significant time would be lost to rain. India won despite an entire day getting washed out, as it transpired, even if Rohit didn't make a hugely significant contribution to the result.
It wasn't the first or last time Pujara found himself out of the XI following a short stretch of poor form. Ajinkya Rahane would experience this too, during the South Africa tour of 2017-18. It would seem an irony, then, that the last year of Kohli's captaincy would feature an unwavering belief in Pujara and Rahane despite both experiencing far longer streaks of even leaner form.
This reflected, possibly, a tempering of Kohli's early impulsiveness. Or it perhaps just reflected a greater belief in his two middle-order comrades after they had both proven their ability multiple times in difficult situations, and a recognition that their low averages over a prolonged period may have had as much to do with the bowlers and conditions India were facing, Test match after Test match, as any drop in their ability. Kohli's returns over the same period were hardly any better.
Kohli's early trigger-happiness, then, may have simply been a consequence of having a younger and less experienced core group of players. As they grew older and more settled in the side, they may simply have become harder to displace. It's a natural cycle that all teams go through.
The other quality Kohli showed in his Adelaide captaincy debut, however, never changed, and he always remained willing to risk defeat in the pursuit of Test wins. That quality would come to define his captaincy.
Nowhere was this more evident than in his consistent use of five-bowler combinations. His predecessor MS Dhoni had also been keen on it, but the fifth bowler was usually someone in the mould of Stuart Binny or Ravindra Jadeja, who in the early stage of his Test career was viewed as a batting allrounder, even if that aspect of his game took longer to live up to its potential than his bowling.
In contrast, Kohli played five genuine bowlers in his first two Tests after that 2014-15 Australia tour, when the post-Dhoni era began in full earnest. In Fatullah, he picked three fast bowlers - Ishant Sharma, Varun Aaron and Umesh Yadav - and two spinners - Ashwin and Harbhajan Singh - and if a one-off Test against Bangladesh seems like the easiest assignment for a brave selection, he went in with two fast bowlers - Ishant and Aaron - and three spinners - Ashwin, Harbhajan and Amit Mishra - in India's next Test in Galle. All five were bowlers first, and for all his ability with the bat, Ashwin had never batted above No. 8 before those two Tests. And with Dhoni no longer in the side, the five bowlers were batting below Wriddhiman Saha, whose batting ability was at that stage largely unproven.
It didn't quite come off in Galle - even though it took a freak innings from Dinesh Chandimal to turn what looked like an inevitable Sri Lanka defeat into an unexpected win - and India tempered their approach as they came back to win the series, with Binny recalled as a hedge-your-bets allrounder. But Kohli had shown his willingness to sacrifice batting depth to heighten India's chances of picking up 20 wickets, and it would remain a feature of his captaincy.
It was fitting then, with Jadeja - now a genuine batting allrounder overseas - out injured, that Kohli's last Test as captain featured five out-and-out bowlers, with Ashwin and Shardul Thakur making up a hit-or-miss combination of lower-order batters at Nos. 7 and 8.
But how much was this down to Kohli, and how much down to Ravi Shastri, in both his stints as head coach? Five bowlers was also a feature of Anil Kumble's brief and highly successful tenure, during which Ashwin often batted at No. 6. With Kohli out injured for the decider of a tense home series against Australia in Dharamsala, Kumble and the stand-in captain Ajinkya Rahane chose to give the wristspinner Kuldeep Yadav a debut rather than pick a like-for-like middle-order batter.
And when Rahane stood in after 36 all out, India brought in Jadeja as a second spinner at the MCG rather than replace Kohli with a specialist batter.
Kohli, Shastri, Kumble, Rahane and even Rahul Dravid, then, all seemed to share the same vision as far as picking five bowlers was concerned. And you can see why. It was a sound idea, and India had the players to make it work.
In a sense, Kohli was lucky to take over the captaincy when the bulk of those players, particularly a promising group of bowlers, were all just beginning to mature at the Test level. Ashwin, Jadeja, Ishant, Umesh and Mohammed Shami had experienced most of their growing pains under Dhoni.
You could argue, however, that Kohli and Shastri laid down the fitness standards that drove those bowlers to become the best versions of themselves. Over the course of their tenures, the fast bowlers went from being able to deliver one spell of high intensity during a day's play and then losing steam, to being able to come back with the same intensity over multiple spells. Bharat Arun must take some of the credit for their upskilling as well.
Ishant exemplified the extent of growth that was possible in this regime. He had averaged 37.30 in 61 Tests until the end of 2014. Since the start of 2015 - which is when Kohli became full-time captain - he has averaged 25.01 over 44 Tests, pitching the ball significantly fuller and closer to off stump than he used to, and rediscovering his inswinger.
And as the incumbents became more threatening bowlers, newcomers came in looking like they had already played 20 Tests. One of them, Jasprit Bumrah, was both a once-in-a-generation genius and a product of the BCCI's system, having been recognised as a prospect as far back as his stint at the National Cricket Academy in 2013, when he began building up the fitness he needed to ensure his body could withstand the demands of his unorthodox action. The other, Mohammed Siraj, was an even clearer product of a smoothly-paved talent pathway, having performed brilliantly on multiple India A tours before making his Test debut.
As with everything else, Kohli may have only had a limited role to play in the rise of those two bowlers. But it's not a knock on his captaincy. It's just a reminder that a team's success is the culmination of a number of processes overseen by a number of skilled decision-makers, of which the captain is only one. It's probably healthier anyway when less power is concentrated in one pair of hands, even if - at the peak of his powers as batter and captain - it seemed as if Kohli was Indian cricket's biggest power centre.
The aura around Kohli's captaincy, in truth, was much larger than the actual scope of his role, and this was simply a reflection of how aggressively personality-driven cricket's marketing and packaging has become. Even Sachin Tendulkar didn't have a dedicated camera following his every movement to ensure that the producer could bring you every pump of his fist and every raise of his eyebrow. And as the camera sought Kohli out, Kohli played up to it, a symbiotic relationship that filled our screens with frenzied send-offs, fingers on lips to quieten the opposition's fans, and hands cupped around ears to raise the volume of India's fans.
This, of course, is who Kohli is, even if it's a hyperreal version of him. Even if that on-field personality's contribution to India's results was negligible, it's the part of his captaincy that will be remembered most fondly - or, if you fall on that side of the divide, with the most distaste. It's possible that he'll remain just as expressive when he is no longer captain, but it's likely that Kohli-cam will play a smaller role in our lives, leaving you with curiously mixed emotions. Even if you believed Kohli-cam to be the most egregious example of a team game being turned into a personality cult, you might just find yourself missing it.

Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo