Rohit Sharma, the most successful captain in the IPL, is set to lead India for the first time after having played 262 internationals. On the eve of the ODI series opener against Sri Lanka in Dharamsala, Rohit - who takes charge for the limited-overs series against Sri Lanka in the absence of the rested Virat Kohli - spoke of the challenges facing him in his new role but banked on his familiarity with his team-mates to help ease the burden.
"I think it [leading India] will be a different ball game altogether," Rohit said. "But the process and the basics of captaincy leading any team will remain the same. These are [a] different set of players to the ones I had in the IPL - this is completely different. But, having played with these guys for quite some time now, I do understand their strengths and weaknesses. So it will be all about going there and executing and making everyone comfortable."
Rohit's go-to bowler at Mumbai Indians, Jasprit Bumrah, will lead the seam attack alongside Bhuvneshwar Kumar. Rohit acknowledged that Bumrah's maiden call-up to the Test squad for the upcoming tour of South Africa was a reward for his sparkling performances in limited-overs cricket.
"I think it's a great boost for him [Bumrah] to be part of the Test team," Rohit said. "I think he was looking forward to it. For a while he has been wanting to be part of the Test team. It's all the reward for what he has done in the ODI format and T20 format. Over the last year or so, how he has improved himself on his bowling and his fitness as well it is reward for all of those things. It's a lesson for many cricketers that if you put in the hard yards you will get the result and reward. He has played with me in Mumbai and I have only seen him grow with every game and every series he has played with new strategies and new plans. Good to see he has matured as a bowler now. He understands what he needs to do and what the team expects out of him. And he is very focused and disciplined in terms of his work ethic and that is what is giving results on the field."
While India's bowling attack, which also includes wristspinners Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav, looks settled, the middle order, particularly the No. 4 spot has been a revolving door. Since the 2015 World Cup, India have used 11 different players - the most by any side at No. 4 in this period. Rohit said that the management was keen to offer a longer rope to middle-order aspirants such as Dinesh Karthik, the now-injured Kedar Jadhav, Manish Pandey and Shreyas Iyer, who is uncapped in ODI cricket.
"It's important to give these guys a fair amount of games before they prove themselves," Rohit said. "It is important that they get a number of games and get confidence. Guys like Manish, Shreyas, and Kedhar and Dinesh haven't got enough games on the trot. As a team management, we want to make sure whoever gets the opportunity gets 'n' number of games continuously and it's important they need to have a number of games to prove themselves under their belt. Having said that they understand that as well, they need to perform as well, there is a lot of competition in the middle order."
With Kohli rested, this might be Sri Lanka's best chance to upset India, but Rohit said that the side still had enough depth to respond to pressure. In the ODI series in Sri Lanka, the hosts had reduced India to 131 for 7 in a chase of 237 in the second match and then 61 for 4 in chase of 218 in the third game, but they failed to capitalise on both occasions, and ultimately lost the series 5-0. Rohit expected Sri Lanka to put India under similar pressure but backed his team to overcome it.
"You will be put in different situations and it is important how you react to those situations," Rohit said. "In Sri Lanka, when we were playing, we were put under pressure on few occasions and I think we came out really well and showed a lot character. Here it is no different. We will be put under pressure and we've got guys to stand up and respond to those situations."