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Comment

Rohit Sharma's ascent to ODI captaincy predictable and sensible

There is intrigue in the way the BCCI has handled and communicated the removal of Kohli, but that is not new with the board

Sidharth Monga
Sidharth Monga
09-Dec-2021
Virat Kohli gave up the T20I captaincy three months back, with Rohit Sharma taking over as captain  •  Getty Images

Virat Kohli gave up the T20I captaincy three months back, with Rohit Sharma taking over as captain  •  Getty Images

India once had a captain, Player A. One of his main batters, Player B, pulled out of a big match at the last moment. India lost the match. Player A, among India's greatest of all time, then found out from a journalist that he was being sacked as captain. "Whom are they giving it to?" Player A asked, and lost it when told that Player B was going to be the new captain.
We haven't reached that kind of suspected palace intrigue, but it is just a reminder to not get fooled by the MS Dhoni-N Srinivasan blind faith: India's captaincy has always been a precarious job. You get absolute power when in the job, but you can be dumped just as unceremoniously. It used to be through a journalist earlier - even till the time of Sachin Tendulkar - and it is one line of a postscript in a press release about something else these days.
Let us not mistake it: intrigue there is aplenty. India have essentially removed - statistically - one of the most successful captains in ODI cricket, a 33-year-old, who openly and calculatedly made public his desire to keep captaining India in ODIs when he gave up the T20I leadership three months back. The change is not made with long-term future in mind: in fact, the new captain is a year-and-a-half older.
It is hard to think of an India captain who achieved full-time captaincy for the first time when older than Rohit Sharma's 34-and-a-half. Anil Kumble got it at 37, but he was clearly a stop-gap as MS Dhoni found his bearings as the limited-overs captain. That appointment was necessitated by Rahul Dravid's resignation; this one has been initiated by the BCCI.
Any captaincy change in Indian cricket has to be ratified by the board president. So right now, the selectors and the BCCI president clearly believe there is a better captain in Indian cricket than the one under whom India won five matches for every two they lost and under whom they went to the final and the semi-final of the two world events they took part in.
However, it is possible too that the selectors and the BCCI have looked beyond the record. Apart from the T20 World Cups, which are a tough format, you expect any Indian team - given the quality of any given side - to make the knockouts of world events because they are designed to discourage upsets. Having said that, it can't be ignored that India did so comprehensively.
Under Virat Kohli, India took the bold step of doing away with two fingerspinners, two of India's biggest match-winners in the years leading up to it, but they were late to it: India were the only side in the 2017 Champions Trophy without a wristspinner. Now if it was the selectors who didn't yield or if it was the team management that was caught napping we will probably never know.
The 2019 World Cup was more disappointing. At the start of 2018, Ajinkya Rahane was supposed to be India's No. 4 despite Dhoni's astute assessment that he struggles once the field is spread and the ball is old. Then Ambati Rayudu came in and proved himself only to be dropped after one ordinary series right before the World Cup. During the event, India found themselves with a back-up allrounder with no prior experience of anchoring ODI innings and then a wicketkeeper-batter whom they didn't originally want at the World Cup suddenly playing that pivotal role. It was just their luck that it came down to the middle order in a big match.
Of course, the selectors and the BCCI need not make any such explanations because Kohli all but decided his fate by giving up the T20I captaincy. It makes more sense to have one man leading both the limited-overs sides than two. It is in that format that Kohli was more vulnerable, given his IPL record and lack of role clarity in the national side. Rohit's sides have had clearer roles and plans for its players. He is not shy to use data inputs. Kohli runs on emotion; Rohit seeks to take emotion out of it.
Yet if these were the arguments, why it took the BCCI two-and-a-half years after the 2019 World Cup is anybody's guess. Kohli's lack of runs, for one, makes this call easier and less unpopular. A 2012 Yuvraj Singh advert comes too close to reality: "Till the bat talks, the world is yours." It was only when Dhoni was struggling with the bat that he received the tap on his shoulder in 2017 and jumped before being pushed. But Kohli, possibly, still believed in himself as the ODI captain and refused to jump.
It is never not uncomfortable, though. It is clear now that Kohli didn't want to move on, which always makes it a little awkward for the new captain for wanting the job and now having to lead the former leader. It is not unnatural either. These are ambitious, competitive men who have come this far because they haven't acknowledged self-doubt. The success of the team environment that Kohli is proud of building will lie in how maturely they move on from here. That yes, we respect each other's ambitions, that it is perfectly natural and that we are mature enough to not carry on with this.
Coach Dravid has previously been caught in similar crosshairs when the BCCI last sacked an India captain. This is different. Kohli still has the Test captaincy. Kohli still has the record and the fitness. There is no coach whom players see as a threat. Kohli the captain has backed Rohit the batter; there is no reason to suspect Rohit the captain doesn't feel the same about Kohli the batter. Although purely from the outside, it has always seemed that Kohli and Rohit are one similar batter too many for a T20 top three.
Most importantly, India remain a highly successful side in all formats never mind the T20 World Cup exit. Equally importantly, this is done well in time for Rohit to get a certain number of games in so that he can build his own side for the 2023 World Cup. It also gives Kohli more time to work on his batting. It is not appreciated nearly enough how taxing it can be to captain India in three formats and also an IPL side.
Yet this is a transition that needs to be handled delicately, but not one that Dravid, Kohli and Rohit can't see through.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo