CHENNAI: The noise has been silenced. And rightly so. With the T20 World Cup looming, should an IPL campaign end without a title for Royal Challengers Bangalore and a sixth title for Rohit Sharma with Mumbai Indians, the noise would have become only louder for Virat Kohli to step aside as captain from limited-overs cricket. Instead, the 32-year-old chose to make it official himself. Only two days after BCCI treasurer Arun Dhumal called reports of Kohli stepping aside as “rubbish” and secretary Jay Shah said there is “no such proposal.”
Yet, Kohli has made the decision and stayed true to his character. He has also made his intentions clear by stating, “I feel I need to give myself space to be fully ready to lead the Indian team in Test and ODI cricket.” With the 2023 ODI World Cup to be played on home soil, Kohli wants to lead India to the title and the ball is in the selectors’ court now. In what was a carefully-worded press release, Kohli chose to cite workload as a reason, but it could end up costing his ODI captaincy too, should the selectors feel it is affecting his performances with the bat. But he isn’t going down without a fight. It won’t be the Kohli we have come to know then.
The BCCI sees the next two years as a critical period. Apart from the upcoming T20 World Cup in the UAE, there is another lined up in Australia next year, followed by the 50-over World Cup in India in 2023. While India have played admirable cricket in the Test arena in the last seven years, the same can’t be said of the limited-overs teams. In successive 50-over World Cups, they have been eliminated in semifinals and have seldom looked a settled unit.
In that sense, with short-term goals in mind, Rohit is the best available option to take the team forward in white-ball cricket. A tried and tested captain, who also happens to have a successful track-record in the IPL where there is huge pressure to deliver, Rohit’s captaincy style has plenty of admirers in the team. At the peak of his batting powers, this added responsibility could potentially spur him further. He also has the ability to take everyone along.
There are indications that post the T20 World Cup, India would get into transition mode, both in Tests and limited-overs with selectors keen on overhauling the squad. The nucleus of India’s Test and ODI side are all 33 or above (Kohli just a month-and-half away from turning 33) and there needs to be an injection of fresh blood. While the limited-overs team has already started taking this route, the time has also come for the Test team.
In KL Rahul, Shreyas Iyer, Prithvi Shaw, Shubman Gill and Rishabh Pant, India have the next set of players ready to take the team forward. And similar to how Kohli was groomed to the role, the onus is on the selectors to do the same. “The grooming has to happen at the A team level. The previous selection panel identified Shreyas as a potential leader for the future and he captained the team in 50-over cricket and (Hanuma) Vihari did it in the longer format.
"Similarly, the selectors will now groom the likes of Gill or Shaw. Every captain has a shelf life and it is just around six-seven years and after that it becomes monotonous. Rohit is in the best place to lead the team in T20s and with Kohli also around, one of the youngsters should be promoted to vice-captain role,” said former selection committee chief MSK Prasad.
Should India end up winning the T20 title in the UAE, then Kohli would rightly feel that he should be given the chance to lead the ODI team till the 2023 World Cup. If not, it will instigate calls for Rohit to take charge of the 50-over team too.