A lesson for Indian cricket: 3 leaders, 3 formats

Replacing Kohli as the leader of team India will not be an easy task, is it time for the BCCI to start grooming the future leaders?

For the first time since he took over as leader of Team India, Virat Kohli is feeling the heat. For any wise captain who has led India with iron hands, the writing is on the walls after the backing of the Indian Cricket Board (BCCI) diminished quickly the last couple of months.

One would say that more than the top brass, it was Virat’s own decision to quit the captaincy of the T20 format. But the real reasons are far from those being discussed in public.

For now, Virat won’t lead India in T20 Internationals anymore and it would be interesting to see how this move affects his stature in the team which he had led since 2017 (though he took over Test captaincy in 2015). 

Despite Virat’s announcement that he would continue to lead in the other two formats (Test and One-day Internationals), the BCCI top bosses are already reportedly busy looking for the next ODI skipper for the bilateral series against South Africa, starting January 2022. 

The real reasons given for this discussion are to “prolong” the career of Virat, the batter, who has been struggling to reach the three-digit mark since 2019. 

For now, Team India’s new T20 skipper Rohit Sharma is the favourite to replace Virat in the ODI format too, with his deputy KL Rahul also retaining his duties in the 50-50 format. 

The first such indication came from when the five wise men, led by former pace bowler Chetan Sharma, “rested” Virat for the first Test against New Zealand in the home series starting November 25 in Kanpur. There is absolutely no doubt that Virat would come back to lead Team India in the second Test in Mumbai starting December 03, but a lot might change before that if Ajinkya Rahane manages to win the Test after the recent T20 World Cup drubbing without the services of Rohit Sharma and the former. 

 

Selectors are also to blame

The biggest question that has been asked during the last fortnight was that how could Virat or for that matter, the senior selection committee (led by Chetan) include an injured Hardik Pandya in the squad?

The selection committee may put the entire blame on Virat saying that it was his own decision to include Pandya in the playing eleven, but then it was the selection committee that made Pandya the part of the final 15 without actually accessing his fitness properly. 

Hardik Pandya’s inclusion in the Indian squad without proper assessment of his health has raised many questions for the selectors as well as for Virat Kohli PHOTO: Getty images

A former selector Sarandeep Singh has already blasted Chetan & Co for including Pandya without the fitness certificate from the National Cricket Academy, as is the norm set by BCCI. Not to mention that Pandya didn’t even visit the NCA for rehabilitation and instead relies on the support staff of his IPL franchise Mumbai Indians.

In Chetan’s case, everyone in cricketing circles knows that he belongs to the same party (BJP) which has been ruling the BCCI for the last two years. But proximity to any BCCI top official does not stop anyone from questioning Chetan to answer to the question on Pandya that “on what grounds he was picked when he was not there in the NCA for rehab”?

The selectors also owe an explanation over the wrong team selection in T20 WC. They must explain why Yuzvendra Chahal was excluded from the team despite being the specialist white-ball bowler for India for quite some time now? And last but not least is that why was Ravichandran Ashwin not playing crucial games against Pakistan and New Zealand?

 

Game on for ODIs

With someone like former chief coach Ravi Shastri already hinting over Virat’s next move to quit ODI captaincy to concentrate on his batting, the immediate challenge before the selection committee is to identify the next leader in this format, too. 

There has hardly been a doubt that Rohit has done well in the lead role as and when Virat was rested so far. But then looking at Rohit’s age, who will turn 35 in April 2022, Chetan & Co need to look beyond him and develop a leader for the future. 

With Kohli taking step back to concentrate on his batting, chances are that KL Rahul may be given the reigns of the Indian team in the shorter formats PHOTO: Getty images

Virat was intelligent enough to checkmate BCCI in announcing his decision to quit the T20 captaincy before he could have been asked to do so aftermath the goof-up in England where he led his team out of secured biobubble for the book launch of Shastri in the times of Covid pandemic. Not to mention that it led to the postponement of the fifth and final Test after Team India support staff tested positive for the Covid virus.

Virat himself chose a public platform, instead of the usual BCCI press conference or a press release for such an important decision, e.g. Sachin Tendulkar’s ODI retirement and Dhoni’s Test captaincy retirement) and explained the reasons behind quitting captaincy. Many do believe that Virat did so to “retain his position as a dominant force in Indian cricket”. But in reality, all that fell flat after Team India failed to qualify for the last four. 

And that’s one reason that Virat may not get another chance to surprise anyone now when it comes to making up his mind of quitting the ODI captaincy. This recent T20 WC failure could well bring in a different approach in Indian cricket. Who knows if Virat is allowed to continue in the longest format for some time now and Rohit is handed over command in the remaining white-ball formats. 

But with the focus shifting to have more young legs in the T20 format, it would hardly come as a surprise if someone like KL Rahul is given the responsibility of leading India in the shortest format as early as before the start of the next T20 WC to be held in Australia next year (October-November 2022).

(Cover:Virat Kohli of India gives instructions to their side during the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup match between India and Namibia at Dubai International Stadium PHOTO: Getty Images)

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