Indian cricket is going through a transition. After Virat Kohli stepped down from the T20 captaincy, he was removed from the ODI captaincy as well because the BCCI didn't want different captains for white-ball cricket. The support staff — head coach Ravi Shastri, bowling coach Bharat Arun and fielding coach R Sridhar's tenure got over. And we now have Rahul Dravid, Paras Mhambrey and T Dilip taking their places.
Rohit Sharma was named the new white-ball captain. In the backdrop of the Kohli-BCCI saga arrived another surprise as Kohli decided to relinquish Test captaincy in the aftermath of the South Africa series defeat, meaning India will have a new red-ball captain as well. Indian cricket is at a critical juncture with the batting unit also set to undergo a transition. It will be difficult to fill in Kohli's boots who has been India's most successful captain.
So who are the leading candidates who can carry forward Kohli's legacy? We take a look....
Indian cricket remained patient with Rohit Sharma and he delivered. He first became a fire-breathing dragon in white-ball cricket and then, after a topsy-turvy start, he transformed his Test career as well, becoming a vital cog in the red-ball line-up. It was the team management's decision to move him to the opening slot that reinvigorated his career. There is no doubt about his captaincy credentials. He's achieved a lot of success with Mumbai Indians in the Indian Premier League. With a calm mind and shrewd brain, Rohit has led Mumbai to a record five titles in the IPL. And that's one of the main reasons why the BCCI decided to hand over the captaincy to the Mumbai batsman.
He has been a part of this Test team for a while and knows this team well. Former India cricketer Sanjay Manjrekar vouched for Rohit, saying that he's the only deserving candidate right now and there are not many exciting options.
"The only deserving candidate in all three forms is Rohit Sharma,” Manjrekar told News18.com.
“He is pretty good in T20s. We have seen in the IPL, naturally. In one-dayers, he has captained on occasions, looks the part, and Test matches, after that performance in England, is the most deserving candidate. “
Manjrekar, however, said selectors shouldn't look too far ahead and be in the present.
“Let’s look at one year; there’s no comfortable choice India has. All the other choices have a lot of issues around. A couple of Test matches in one year. There’s got to be a lot of T20 cricket and ODIs. So take one year at a time and appoint somebody who is most deserving, and if there is some issue then you start looking at another leader. Let’s not pre-empt, because I don’t think there are other exciting options at the moment. Maybe after a year or two, you might find someone,” he added.
However, what might go against Rohit is his age and injury problems. The hamstring problem has been bothering him for a while now. He missed the South Africa Test series due to the left hamstring injury and missed the ODI series as well as he's failed to recover from it. Rohit will turn 35 later this April and the Board might be looking for someone who could lead the team in long term. Also handing captaincy of all three formats could increase his workload and impact his batting as well.
The last six months have been really fruitful for KL Rahul. Not too long ago, he didn't find a place in the Test side for close to two years. Then he came back and scored runs in England and South Africa. And now he appears to have sealed one of the opening slots. He's always been looked at as a special talent. The icing on the cake has been his elevation to vice-captaincy in Tests. Rahane was demoted while Rahul was elevated as Kohli's deputy for the South Africa series. And in absence of Rohit, he was handed over the ODI captaincy for the South Africa ODI series as well. This means the BCCI is looking at Rahul for that leadership role.
But it's just six months since he's found a regular place in the side. He's had the experience of leading Kings XI Punjab (now Punjab Kings) in the IPL but his record isn't that great. He was appointed the PBKS skipper in 2020 and in both editions they failed to qualify for the playoffs, finishing sixth in the table. He led the Indian Test side in Johannesburg in absence of injured Kohli but India lost that Test as the Proteas found the spark to script a tremendous turnaround from 1-0 down. He then captained the Indian ODI side but his team was clean swept 3-0 in the series. It will be interesting to what impact the losses have on his Test captaincy chances.
Rahul says the learnings from Kohli have been immense.
"When it comes to leadership, Virat had this amazing ability to get the best out of everybody, he pushed everybody and you know made us believe that we can do special things, so that is something I have learned from him, and hopefully, I can do that with the team as well," said Rahul ahead of the South Africa ODI series.
If captaincy happens to Rahul he would look to employ the learnings from Kohli and "try his best to carry Team India and Indian cricket forward to the best of my abilities."
A shrewd mind and one of the most astute thinkers of the game, Ashwin has the experience on his hand. A veteran of 84 Tests, Ashwin has been there in the Indian setup for 12 years now. He's worked under Dhoni and Kohli and been a vital cog in India's spin attack, especially at home. He is an avid reader of the game and keeps evolving himself according to the demands of the modern-day version of the sport. Like Kohli, he has that aggression in his armoury. He doesn't shy away from standing up for things that he feels are right, like he stood up for the 'Mankading' dismissal which drew criticism from different quarters. He didn't shy away from affecting the dismissal. He plays by the rules and is a confident personality who has the wits to outsmart the opposition.
He is a hardworking cricketer who's worked on his batting as well. He has captaincy experience as well, having led Kings XI Punjab for two seasons, from 2018 to 2020. However, just like Rohit, age isn't something on his side if BCCI is thinking long-term as the premier off-spinner is 35 now. Also, he might still not have sealed his place in the overseas Tests, especially outside Asia. Yes, his performances have improved but he was benched for the 2021 England series for all four Tests and averaged 51 in the South Africa Tests with three wickets from three Tests.
In countries like New Zealand, England or South Africa where the conditions demand an all-pace attack, his inclusion becomes difficult. In the IPL, he led Kings XI for two years but didn't get the desired results as his team finished second from the bottom in 2018 and 6th in 2019. Former India captain Dilip Vengsarkar feels Ashwin or Rohit should be made stop-gap captains as the likes of Pant and Rahul are still not ready.
"I would appoint Rohit or Ashwin as a stop-gap captain and groom the future captain. Right now, you need somebody with captaincy experience and an assured place in the Test side. Rohit and Ashwin have established themselves in Test cricket," Vengsarkar told The Times of India.
"Pant, Rahul, or Shreyas (Iyer) need another year before they’ll be ready for the job. Pant has proved his mettle but needs to work on his shot-selection. Till then, either of them can be asked to captain India in the white-ball format, and be the vice-captain in Tests. That way, they’ll get to observe and learn how to lead the Indian team,” he added.
The BCCI could go left field and opt for Pant. He's a rare talent who has the backing of the management. He's improved over the years both with his batting and keeping. He has age on his side as he is just 24. Delhi Capitals took that step to appoint Pant as captain for IPL 2021 after captain Shreyas Iyer suffered an injury that ruled him out for the first leg which was suspended due to COVID-19. And even though Iyer was back for the second leg in the UAE, DC continued with Pant as the captain.
He played with a lot of responsibility and guided his team to the top of the table and into the play-offs. But they lost to CSK in Qualifier 1 and KKR in Qualifier 2. Pant was the third-highest run-getter for his franchise with 419 runs at 34.91.
He's played some wonderful knocks in the Test arena to achieve special wins for India, especially overseas. He's shown that he has matured over the years and has the temperament. However, there are these occasional spurts where his shot selection have come under scrutiny. The team management every now and then needs to have a word with the youngster. It is a learning process though, as Pant is still a little bit raw and it will be interesting to see whether BCCI goes with the bold move of handing him the captaincy.
Sunil Gavaskar has vouched for Pant. “If you ask me, I am still saying, I would look at Rishabh Pant as next India captain," Gavaskar told India Today.
“For one reason only, just like Rohit Sharma was given the captaincy of Mumbai Indians when Ricky Ponting stepped down, look at the change in his batting after that. Suddenly the responsibility of being captain made him convert those beautiful cameos of 30s, 40s and 50s into hundreds, 150s and 200s.
“I think that sense of responsibility given to Rishabh Pant will help him score many more of that wonderful hundred he scored at Newlands,”
“Yes, I am saying that. Tiger Pataudi was captain at the age of 21 under adverse circumstances when Nari Contractor was injured. Look what he did after that. He took to captaincy like duck to water.
“I think what we have seen with Rishabh Pant as the captain of Delhi Capitals in the IPL, I do believe he has the capability of taking Indian cricket forward and making it a very exciting team to watch,”
Yuvraj concurred with Gavaskar's comments. "Absolutely! Reads the game well beind the stumps." The former India all-rounder tweeted.
Absolutely! Reads the game well behind the stumps
— Yuvraj Singh (@YUVSTRONG12) January 15, 2022
Bumrah has led India's pace revolution. In a very short span of time, he's become the spearhead of the Indian bowling attack and taken India's pace bowling to great heights. He's been the leader of the attack in all formats. Another astute thinker, Bumrah reads the game really well. He has that aura, aggression and determination to succeed. He's 28 and a fit fast bowler. With Rohit Sharma absent for the South Africa ODI series, Bumrah was elevated to the vice-captaincy role which indicates that the team management is looking at him as a leader in some capacity. And he's open to that role as well.
“If given an opportunity, it will be an honour and I don’t see any player would say no and I am no different. Be it any leadership group, I always look to contribute however I can, to the best of my abilities," he said ahead of the ODI series against South Africa
He's always been there to help his teammates and shoulder the responsibility.
“I look at this situation in the same manner…taking responsibility and talking to players and helping them out has always been my approach and it will always be my approach going further keeping any situation in mind," Jasprit Bumrah said before the ODI series against South Africa.
A fast bowler captain is a rare commodity in international cricket. But we need to look no further than Pat Cummins who's started his captaincy stint in some style, leading Australia to a thumping 4-0 Ashes series win in his first series in the leadership role following Tim Paine's resignation.
Or may be it could be Ajinkya Rahane?
It will be a dramatic turnaround if BCCI appoints Rahane as the captain of the side. Yes, he's led the side in the past and achieved good results. India have never lost under Rahane's captaincy. They have won four of the six matches he's captained and drawn two. But he's been going through one of the worst phases of his career in the last 12 months.
There is a question mark on his place in the side. In the last 12 months year, he's averaged just 20.25 in the Test arena and went century-less, hitting just three fifties. He was dropped from the post of vice-captain for the South Africa Test series. It really will be a dramatic turn of events if he is indeed handed over the reins of the Test side.
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