Rohit Sharma's Captaincy, or Indian Cricket on the Rocks?
Things have not gone according to plan for the Board of Control for Cricket in India
It was barely curtains for the ICC Twenty20 World Cup when former Indian coach, Ravi Shastri, dropped bombshells when he talked of commercial advantages in having split teams. Was he merely echoing BCCI's expansion plans through having a split coach scenario? The average Indian cricket fan is rooting for a change of captaincy after being unimpressed with recent results.
To say it has not gone according to plan for the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) would be an understatement. It is hard to imagine that only a year ago, Virat Kohli called time on the last format of the game he was captaining India in, in the course of the away series against South Africa as the seeds of discord were bared prior to departure of the growing fissures between himself and the then BCCI president and former Indian captain, Sourav Ganguly.
But the problem had its origins much earlier, laid bare at first when the now infamous Shastri book launch in England was blamed for the covid panic that put the final Test in jeopardy and called out the Indian players as being more Indian Premier League driven given that the IPL was slated for after the tour of England. The BCCI chose to train their guns on Kohli and the crown of thorns.
At that time the idea was encouraged that Kohli was becoming too big for his boots, that his relationship with the then coach, Shastri, was a mutual admiration club and that he was not the ideal captain to lead India, pointing to the barren trophy cupboard. Although none of the above could be entirely negated, it seemed the BCCI came out looking far worse, given as the public felt that Kohli was pushed into ceding his captaincy, announcing his decision in advance to step down after the ICC Twenty20 World Cup 2021.
Now that another World Cup has come and gone and Indian cricket has looked no better, and if many believe, even worse than a year ago, fingers are being pointed at the BCCI and the mish mash that is seeing Rohit Sharma scream expletives at the young guns he has been made in charge to lead.
The BCCI had long held that Kohli had to go and Rohit Sharma was the best man for the job. But ear to the ground, the Indian cricket fan has quite the opposite opinion.
Not only has Rohit Sharma had an inconsistent time with the team, sometimes through inexplicable absences when either Sharma or Kohli did not play, the BCCI decided to toy with different captains and different teams at various times. The pandemic allowed a convenient experiment of sending two different teams to two different parts of the cricket world to begin with.
While it might be hard to argue that Rohit Sharma has had far less time with the team for his captaincy to be judged, the signs are not good when the fans are feeling restless, particularly after having watched how the saga unfolded with vis-à-vis Kohli. If the contention then was the camaraderie of Jay Shah and Saurav Ganguly was not in the interest of cricket, there has also been speculation of the duo's fallout as Shah retained his place while Ganguly found himself back in the comforting arms of the Cricket Association of Bengal.
So how did it serve Indian cricket to have an uncertain Indian cricket team fortune under Kohli even worsen with Rohit and a slew of makeshift captains in a year that saw another World Cup slip through the fingers and another in danger of befalling the same fate?
It is no hidden fact that while India pulled off a thriller of a match against Pakistan in their first match of the ICC Twenty20 World Cup, it had come on the back of a massive top order wobble and even Kohli, was resurrected the team from that point to set up the win, did not think it was possible at one point.
India's exit from the tournament did not cause too many ripples to those who thought that the team did not quite look balanced or settled despite the hype and that India were too short on ideas, whether it was having an additional batsman or having more firepower in the team in the absence of Jasprit Bumrah and the equally surprising late recall of Mohammad Shami. Innovative was the buzz word missing from India's dictionary.
But while the Indian fans chose to vent their ire at Bumrah and terming him a IPL favourite to show up, after the manner in which Bangladesh put India to shame in the first ODI, while the BCCI is floating the idea of having separate coaches after having already made the selection panel the scapegoat after the World Cup, fans are openly suggesting that Rohit Sharma is a better captain in the IPL than he has been an uncomfortable leader in India's colours.
Sharma's increased exasperated reactions with his own teammates are being pointed out at the captain taking out frustration for his own decisions and those imposed on him, whether it is in picking teams or utilising the best people for the job. With allegations of favouritism polarising fans of Washington Sundar and Sanju Samson, it is only hurting team India.
Uninspiring leadership is how the Indian team is coming across during and after the ICC Twenty20 World Cup. But for those in the know, there were signs of trouble on two previous tours and tournaments and India, for some reason, does not seem to want to pull some players on despite their abilities.
For example, Rishabh Pant takes a lot of flak for being someone in the mould of Virender Sehwag who can make it count big with the bat if it clicks. But someone like KL Rahul has been given the long end of the rope even though there has been little to cheer in terms of consistency or converting match winning ability.
Rohit Sharma seems to be groping in the dark when it comes to his best eleven and even then he has not looked comfortable utilising them to the hilt like some bowlers' underutilised overs. It is hard to delineate whether it is Rohit Sharma coming to terms with the job at hand or if the BCCI is undermining him.
The plain case in sight is the suspense over why Pant has been granted medical leave for the ODIs against Bangladesh without going into any detail over his injury but with the assurance that he will return for the Test series.
Is the wicketkeeping job in the hands of KL Rahul a bid to try something new with the team which makes little sense since Rahul and Pant are both batsmen and arguably Pant is the better wicket keeper of the two not to mention a finisher in his own right? Is it a chance for Rahul to keep his place in the team one way or another, which makes little sense given that wicketkeeping would put additional pressure on a batsman searching for consistency?
What about the same leeway for a Pant or an Ishan Kishan? And why Rahul when there is Shubman Gill to fill the opener's slot alongside captain Rohit?
There have been a lot of suggestions including the idea that Indian cricketers should be allowed to participate in foreign tournaments and not just the IPL where it is comfortable. Others have recommended that certain centrally contracted players drop out of the IPL altogether and focus on bettering their game.
Are all of these changes just a mask for the fact that the captain himself does not seem to have found his consistency groove yet? And what does it do to Rahul Dravid's coaching reputation when he is taken off Twenty20 duty? Is it by his own volition or another undermining of another former player like Anil Kumble's coaching?
What assurance is there when the focus is on the Indian Twenty20 team that the state of Test cricket will improve or that the one day internationals will miraculously come together in time when India hosts the next edition of the ICC Cricket World Cup next year?
Was this the BCCI's vision when Rohit was touted as the all round captain to take over from Kohli? What does it say a year later if the BCCI are deciding to deflect attention in another direction? Is this another misdirection of many? And who's buying?
At a time when more and more players are having to make choices about where to put their attention because of issues of managing workloads when comparing them with remunerative payouts, it is an unsettling matter that some players might be forced to pick their choice of formats because the board begins to break teams up based on coaches and captains. The day is not far before teams will become more exclusive and thereby divisive and not just diverse, ultimately fracturing the sport to the point where what defines cricket might not be amalgamation of the various formats.
What happened to the versatile player? Is Virat Kohli going to become the last of his generation as far as Indian cricket is concerned?
There is the danger already of too many cooks in the kitchen with the kind of changes being hammered on the players in terms of team selection. The captain needs to stay at the helm and it means if it is Rohit Sharma, he has to play every match as leader until the next World Cup or until a suitable team when a more stable team can be handed over and a captain raises his hand and selects himself.
The same goes for KL Rahul until the next world cup if wicket keeping is his ticker unless both players get exposed as pawns in the BCCI game of chess. If the BCCI had next to no compunction belittling a powerhouse batsman like Kohli for their own ends and means, star power is not going to prevent Rohit or Rahul taking the fall for BCCI's flawed policies.
Teams can be split, but what is the ultimate gain? Those that refer to the 2007 ICC Twenty20 World Cup to point to how the baton was passed on the senior players to the mavericks, it has to be reminded in the same breath that several of the players including Mahendra Singh Dhoni were not slotted as Twenty20 only players and even allowed to play Test cricket even when it was no longer their cup of tea.
While the concept of having split captains, teams and coaches is not new – one has only to remember England's game plan of bits and pieces cricketers not two decades ago – in India, it might be more commercially driven than with an idea to restructure what ails Indian cricket in the white ball game.
Lest a semi final place in the ICC Twenty20 World Cup fool anyone, the fact is that it has happened too many times from when India crashed out of the Asia Cup and let Bangladesh out of their grasp in the first ODI, the see saw results becoming something of a disconcerting epidemic of jousting with win on the brink of defeat or vice versa. Scraping through by the skin of their teeth is not going to cut it anymore, no matter how the spin doctors want to put it.