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Feature

Rohit, Rahul or Pant - who will replace Kohli as India's next Test captain?

There is a clear frontrunner but the selectors also have other options to look at

Nagraj Gollapudi
15-Jan-2022
The India selectors have a big decision to make following Virat Kohli's resignation from the Test captaincy. Who will replace him? There is a clear frontrunner but there are also a couple of other choices the selectors might look at. Here's a list of the candidates.
Rohit Sharma
Rohit is the frontrunner mainly because he was appointed the Test vice-captain by the Indian selectors ahead of the recently concluded South Africa series. However, a hamstring injury ruled him out of the series. Rohit had taken over the vice-captaincy role from Ajinkya Rahane, who has struggled for fluency with the bat for the past few years despite an impeccable Test-captaincy record. In contrast, Rohit has emerged as India's best batter since he returned to the Test team in January 2021 for the final two Tests of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. In those two matches, Rohit also served as Rahane's deputy when Kohli returned home after the first Test for the birth of his child. India went on to beat Australia 2-1 to secure a historic triumph. The selectors' strong faith in Rohit reflected in their decision to appoint him as India's white-ball captain ahead of the South Africa tour. With the second edition of the World Test Championship final as well as the ODI World Cup coming up in 2023, the selectors might not mind having Rohit lead in all three formats as that could help with stability in the decision making.
What works against him: Rohit has been dealing with fitness issues throughout his career. While some have been freak incidents - like twisting his ankle playing football in 2010 on the morning of what was meant to be his Test debut - most have been chronic, like the hamstring and knee injuries. Can Rohit sustain and manage the workload that would accompany being the leader in all three formats? Would that hamper his batting, which remains integral to India across formats? Those are the key question for the selectors to answer. Also, at 34 years old, perhaps age is not on his side if the selectors want a long-term option.
KL Rahul
The second Test of the South Africa series, when he replaced the injured Kohli as Test captain, was the first time Rahul had led India in any format. Rahul's career has taken a major turn since the England tour last year. Picked as a third opener, Rahul replaced his Karnataka team-mate Mayank Agarwal who suffered concussion on the eve of the first Test in Nottingham. He went on to be India's second-best batter on the tour, with 315 runs in four matches. More recently, he scored a century in the first Test of the South Africa series. Rahul, who was one of the players that Kohli had backed during his captaincy, is 29, so he has the opportunity to grow into the job over time. Over the last two seasons in the IPL with Punjab Kings, where he was the captain, Rahul was the best batter not just for his team but in the tournament. That ability to handle pressure is what influenced the selectors to appoint Rahul as the white-ball vice-captain on the tour of Australia in 2020, and now he will lead India in the ODI series in South Africa in the injured Rohit's absence.
What works against him: Aesthetically, Rahul is one of the best batters to watch. But he also goes through phases where his batting technique becomes vulnerable. Rahul is equipped to bat anywhere in the top order, but does he have the temperament to ride the personal lows without losing his footing as captain? Secondly, Rahul's inexperience as a captain in red-ball formats: does he have the energy and ideas to inspire his players? Also, while the format might be vastly different and way more fickle, one must make mention of his record as leader of the under-performing Punjab Kings: 15 losses in 27 games.
Rishabh Pant
He is only 24, but he easily slots into the first XI across formats. Chirpy behind the wicket, aggressive with the bat, and with a technique all his own, Pant has been recognised as a generational talent by both his peers and retired legends of the game. He has seemingly not been distracted by the wave of criticism that inevitably comes his way each time he takes a chance with the bat, at a key moment in the game, which does not come off. One of Pant's standout performances came against Australia last January, when he took India to a historic win at the Gabba with an unbeaten 89. More recently, he put up a fighting performance in the Newlands Test against South Africa, scoring a century in an innings in which no other batter made more than 29.
What works against him: Mainly inexperience. While he has a taste of captaincy with Delhi Capitals in the IPL, unlike Rahane, Rohit and Rahul, Pant has never led India at the senior level in any capacity. Will he instead be appointed vice-captain with an eye on the future?

Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo