Indian Cricket Captaincy Muddle Continues
The cat has been set amongst the pigeons
Leaving things better than they were before, from one year to the next, does not seem to apply when it comes to Indian cricket. Was Virat Kohli right last year? Did the BCCI make a faux pas last year rushing to let go of a stable captaincy for what has been a merry-go-round of captains with no end in sight? As India closes out another year, Indian cricket is at crossroads, largely of its own making, and Rohit Sharma and Rahul Dravid feeling the heat under their collars.
The cat has been set amongst the pigeons with the announcement of India's squads for the Twenty20 and one day international series against Sri Lanka. Going against everything that has been suggested as sane and logical in the interests of reviving Indian cricket's fortunes, the decisions once again show that confusion and dilemma running through the corridors of cricket and not just limited to the selection panel alone.
For starters, Rohit Sharma is once again the notable absentee from India's Twenty20 squad. While he is not the only known senior name missing from the list, the irony is not lost that Rohit earned his nod ahead of Kohli on the basis of the fact that Rohit Sharma had led the Mumbai Indians to five Indian Premier League titles and that Kohli had not one trophy in his kitty on the national stage. Perhaps another case to highlight that club and national levels are a different ball game, even if they involve essentially a predominant bunch of professional players.
Even more ironic is the fact that one of the reasons why there was such a negative vibe around Kohli was the fact that he has not been amongst his characteristic prolific run making spree. He not only turned it around in late 2022 but also, was the highest run getter in the ICC Twenty20 World Cup and became at one point, India's foil.
It is now with good reason that Indian cricket fans are asking why Kohli who can only improve on his run making spree is being asked to sit outside of the Twenty20 squad. While age will be a factor at the next World Cup, what cannot be ignored is the fact that cricketers are now looking past age as a barrier and it is now not unheard of to have cricketers on the wrong side of 35, particularly someone who prioritises fitness as much as Kohli does.
While Rohit Sharma will return to captain India in the one day internationals, with Hardik Pandya being asked to captain India in the shortest format of the game, questions will be asked if BCCI are entertaining the idea of a different captain or whether they are simply in the same game of guessing as everyone else. Are they waiting for the results to ram home the point and then call it hitting bull's eye?
To point to the BCCI's melee, since Virat Kohli was virtually forced out of his post without a groomed successor, India has had as many as seven captains in 2022. 4 Test captains and 5 captains in limited overs cricket in a single calendar year do not exactly make for sound decision making.
While the BCCI will piggybank on Rohit Sharma's spate of injuries as an excuse, what cannot be discounted is the fact that there is a distinct lack of faith as well as some sense of panic to find quick fix answers. The change of the chief selector has not changed thinking which also points fingers to the fact that the think tank rests more in the BCCI board room than in the hands of the selection panel.
Predictably at the end of what was a rather disastrous ICC Twenty20 World Cup campaign, this despite India making it to the end stages where they lost rather comprehensively to England, the selection committee was given the boot with Chetan Sharma's neck on the line. Even more predictably the captaincy has gone through the expected rigmarole without any concrete steps in the direction of correcting the missteps that would make 2022 as a continuum taking off from late 2021 when the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) seemed to lose sight of the bigger picture.
Former Australian captain, Ian Chappell, was speaking in terms of Australia's own cricket when he talked about why pushing someone out was one thing, but replacing him with a better player was the real challenge. That could well apply to India because as history would show 2022 has not been kind to Rohit Sharma nor does it augur well when it comes to India's leadership.
There are more than quiet whispers that Rahul Dravid's days as India's coach are numbered. Whether it will be a partial step down when the limited overs will see a new coach in charge or someone else altogether with a foreign coach flavour once again entering Indian board mindsets.
But if the coach is being targeted for some of the reasons why players like Ishan Kishan and Shubman Gill are not being given their due while players like KL Rahul are being given a longer leeway without a clear agenda, the issue revolving Rishabh Pant only gets murkier every day with not only injury issues but only the underlying concern that Pant is being blunted for being an outright matchwinner and being pushed into the deep end after he has been given the short shift.
Where is India headed one might ask, in terms of players being rested as it could be asked of the captaincy or of India's future of cricket, leaving the IPL and its mushrooming proxy leagues around the world like in the Caribbean and South Africa aside? In terms of teams being rebuilt and talks about multiple teams for multiple formats which is not only likely to lead to confusion but also, a splitting of focus forcing some versatile players to make difficult choices, can India afford to not just diversify but split its talent right down the middle or in more ways than one?
While the coach might have had a tough time, none has had it harder than Rohit Sharma. One of Kohli's supposed contentions with the timing of BCCI's proposed ouster of him as India's captain midway through 2020 was the idea of handing over the reins to someone older than him. At 34 years of age, Rohit Sharma is no spring chicken, not unless it comes to handling the vagaries of Indian cricket captaincy while also battling issues of injuries and fitness consistencies.
Since taking over as India's captain which began in the one day internationals and Twenty20 arena and then into the Test area, Rohit Sharma has not been a regular in the team which says something to begin with. If Rohit Sharma losing his cool is making him less viable as a Twenty20 captain which is how he earned his nod, the fact that he missed 11 of India's 40 Twenty20 internationals does not really infuse inspiration or team building as far as a new captain is involved.
If he is to be the one day internationals only captain when it comes to limited overs, he missed 16 of India's 24 one day internationals, in which he was rested for the series against the West Indies and again against Zimbabwe and South Africa as well as against New Zealand.
For someone in whom the BCCI has wrested so much faith to depose a steady captain at the crease, one would think a captain that has recently taken over the leadership of a team whose focus is on winning trophies would want to lead his charges even against fairly low ranked teams and show up as much as possible as part of the rebuilding.
While Kohli did speak of workload management, if that is an issue, perhaps the BCCI has a certain amount of leeway if they did think Rohit Sharma was the surefire way to go across all formats, to insist that Rohit plays as much as possible for team India over the next two years and perhaps minimise his workload at the Mumbai Indians which of course they would not do because of two reasons.
For one, the IPL is a different beast and the BCCI would be careful to dictate more than necessary to the franchisee owners. Secondly, the bucks stops at the IPL for the BCCI, plain and simple. They would not dare compromise the IPL commercial interests even in the interest of filling up India's sparse trophy cupboard, which is masked by the amount of revenue generated in the game.
If Rohit Sharma is a Test captain, then one wonders how this is going to work when the skipper missed 5 of the seven Tests he was supposed to lead since taking over as captain. It is one thing to sing high praises when series are won, even against lowly teams if only to elevate the decision making behind boardroom doors.