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.
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.
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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.
Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo