Ahead of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2023, team India seem almost distracted by the No.1 ranking in the ICC One Day International rankings. However, while it would be a no less commendable feat if they can achieve it, that too on the back of the home bilateral series against the current No.1 New Zealand, there are much bigger problems for the Indian cricket and it is the future beyond the World Cup.

On the eve of the third ODI against New Zealand, there was a rare buzz but also, subdued whispers. While New Zealand stretched and teased India in the first match, the second match was a comprehensive win for India as the visitors capitulated, setting up a series win in India’s favour but also, an opportunity of a whitewash which would give India the icing on the cake with deposing New Zealand from the top ranking spot in the fifty overs a side format.

The whispers though are getting louder. BCCI’s plans to sideline Virat Kohli by pointing out the biggest flaw in his captaincy from their standpoint – the lack of silverware in the trophy cupboard, hasn’t gone according to plan. Rohit Sharma, who was always their first choice, has not only had a wobbly ride in the captaincy chair but also, is looking at a do or die situation when it comes to the ICC Cricket World Cup 2023.

The Asia Cup last year turned out to be a dud for India as the team failed to make it to the business end. If Rohit Sharma’s authority was not established then, it seemed on further shaky ground after India kept pulling through by the skin of their teeth at the ICC Twenty20 World Cup in Australia last year, beginning with their match against Pakistan to the semi final which was a heavily one sided affair as England made light of team India.

On the rise has been Hardik Pandy’s fortunes after a back injury that nearly put paid to the good books of the BCCI. Leading the Gujarat Titans in the Indian Premier League did his reputation wonders and it would seem that without another serious contender around, the onus of the one day internationals cricket might also fall in his lap by the end of the year and this might be irrespective of whether Rohit Sharma manages to keep India’s banner flying high in what is a home World Cup edition, which not only means additional pressure but also, a greater, even harsher, spotlight.

The last time the fifty overs format World Cup came to India in 2011, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his men lifted the trophy for the first time in 28 years. A long cherished dream had been realised for many like Sachin Tendulkar who had grown up watching Kapil Dev lift the trophy for India on the Lord’s balcony at the 1983 edition of the cricket world cup.

There will be a lot riding on Rohit Sharma who will be thirty-six years of age by the time of the World Cup. Winning would be the ultimate saving grace for the BCCI. Despite the rather facile wins against Sri Lanka recently, team India have had a few selection headaches on course to the World Cup, riding high on the uncertainty wave.

The accident to Rishabh Pant has put a spanner in the works of those who believe he is the man for the job, flaws or otherwise, though it has given the selection panel and the team management some breathing space, having to wrestle to explain many a controversial decision.

Controversial decisions have been par for the course, also putting Rohit Sharma’s neck on the line. Suryakumar Yadav has emerged as an unexpected bright light in the middle order to plug some of India’s concerns when the batting line up looks beyond Virat Kohli now that Rohit Sharma has occupied the opening position with some authority.

Even then, there has been much heated debate about whether Shubman Gill should have got the nod ahead of Ishan Kishan who is also a heavy scorer at the top of the order, which puts Rohit Sharma’s bat under the scrutiny with two of India’s young guns raring to go. While Gill joined his fellow openers, Sharma and Kishan, in the list of double centurions in one day internationals cricket recently, what it does is put additional pressure on the captain who must think his place is secure at least until the end of the ICC Cricket World Cup when the bells might toll if the big runs are not forthcoming.

In contrast, Virat Kohli is coming off looking a better shade than the BCCI or Rohit Sharma. If form was one of the factors going against the former captain, Kohli’s batting has found the emphatic sweet spot.

From finding his sea legs in arguably one of the toughest matches of his career in the opening match against Pakistan in the ICC Twenty20 World Cup last year to being incorrigible en route to now effectively eclipse Sachin Tendulkar’s records if he continues in the same vein, which did seem impossible at the time of Tendulkar’s reign, Kohli is certainly living up to his reputation when at the last home World Cup in 2011, it was said that heir was sharing chair with the king and that if anybody could come to breaking Tendulkar’s records, it would be Kohli.

Unburdened by the captaincy drama, Kohli appears to have found his purple patch with the bat while Rohit is finding the India captaincy a different kettle of fish compared to leading the Mumbai Indians in the IPL which he has done with aplomb while their fortunes took a turn for the better.

From disturbing worries over whether the selectors are putting their eggs in a wobbly basket when it felt Pant was sidelined for KL Rahul, to now controversy over why someone as prolific as Sarfaraz Khan was not being picked for India’s upcoming Test series against Australia and controversy over the fitness of the bowlers, India have had their hands full while competing to still make it to the ICC World Test championship for a second cycle in a row and also, repair their records at World Cup.

While Kapil Dev has called out the long schedule of the current crop of cricketers that includes international cricket sometimes in lieu of domestic cricket and also, club Twenty20 cricket in the form of the expansive IPL over the Indian summer for why the bowlers such as Jasprit Bumrah are breaking down, he also highlighted the fact that bowlers were not getting a chance to develop their muscles in the nets when they are being restricted to a certain number of overs and pulling up when thrust into pressure situations in match situations.

Sunil Gavaskar recently called out the selectors for not including the name of Sarfaraz Khan in the forthcoming Border-Gavaskar Test series against Australia, labelling their choices as bordering on “fashion choices” rather than cricket logic. As prolific as Sarfaraz has been in Ranji Trophy matches, the former captain feels the thing going against the blistering batsman is his weight which was also something that Rohit Sharma has grappled with.

The thing of concern is not only whether these choices are in India’s best interests but also, whether they are being made as stop gap solutions rather than finding long term solutions which means the problem takes on the nature of being chronic.

The BCCI might have jinxed themselves, the Indian captain and the team in the manner in which they went about dethroning the previous captain. It has been a short but intense trial by fire for Rohit Sharma in the captaincy hot seat. It is unlikely to get any easier between now and the conclusion of the ICC Cricket World Cup, and with the focus now clearly on a successor to carry India into the next cycle of World Cup’s, it won’t be easy knowing his days are potentially numbered as well in the leadership role.

The ICC Cricket World Cup trophy is at stake. The ICC World Test championship is still in the hunt. For starters, the no.1 ICC ODI ranking beckons. And with the IPL not far off, there is a danger that another mix and match muddle might be in store between one World championship title and the next. The caution sign is up for the captain and for team India too, accolades notwithstanding.