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Tuesday, Nov 19, 2019

Is it time to give Rohit Sharma the reigns of the Indian T20 team?

Being distinctive doesn’t win cricket matches at the international level; being a great man-manager and a strategist does. Time and again—most recently at the World Cup—Kohli has proven he is not exactly great at either.

cricket Updated: Aug 03, 2019 17:29 IST
FILE PHOTO: Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli
FILE PHOTO: Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli(Action Images via Reuters)
         

Virat Kohli doesn’t need to walk his team out on to the field or greet the opposing captain at the toss for one to realise that he is the leader of this pack—the alpha of Indian cricket. Most other sports rely on an armband to distinguish the captain from the rest; Kohli relies on his body language.

Whether he is dishing out a lone send-off to the dismissed batsman or a heated exchange with a journalist at a press conference, Kohli’s leadership style is unique only to him. But being distinctive doesn’t win cricket matches at the international level; being a great man-manager and a strategist does. Time and again—most recently at the World Cup—Kohli has proven he is not exactly great at either.

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But try telling the national selectors that.

So alarming was Kohli’s trial-free reinstatement as captain after the World Cup that even the usually reserved Sunil Gavaskar waded into the debate and called the MSK Prasad-led selection committee ‘lame ducks’. To be polite to Prasad and team, they couldn’t possibly have dropped Kohli from captaincy altogether given that India’s last Test assignment was a historic and maiden series win in Australia. But how about a compromise in split-captaincy then?

If the selectors are indeed not star-struck or easily bullied (or both), then they must address the elephant-sized question of leadership lurking about their room. There is the no better time to address it than now as it is the beginning of a new World Cup cycle. Following India’s loss at the ODI World Cup of 2007, the then-incumbent selection committee did just that and it gave birth to perhaps India’s finest captain across formats, MS Dhoni.

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But before Dhoni was handed the reins in ODIs and Tests, he had to prove himself in T20 cricket; a route worth revisiting after taking into consideration that India’s next big challenge is the World T20 in December 2020. India have someone ready at hand if they want to try a new route. Rohit Sharma knows just how to win T20 tournaments, having led the Mumbai Indians to a record four IPL trophies in the last seven years. By the same standards, Kohli has been perhaps the weakest captain in the league. He has gone thirteen seasons without winning the title. That’s stretching even a long rope a little too much. Kohli is also one of only three people to have led an IPL team for 100 games or more—the other two, MS Dhoni and Gautam Gambhir, have multiple titles under their belt. Kohli the the player—with the bat, on the field—is one of the greatest to play the game. Kohli the captain simply does not match up.

It doesn’t just have to be Sharma. Testing all possible successors is the only way for Indian cricket to move forward and simultaneously wean itself off an old regime. But if it is indeed Sharma who shows the same leadership promise in T20Is as he has in the IPL, then handing him the lead-role in ODIs will only put out more fires than meets the eye.

During the death overs of a 50-over game, Kohli always fields in the outfield, to fully utilise his bullet arm, and effectively hands the captaincy over to Dhoni. This surrogate captaincy, Dhoni’s social-media armies insist, is why he is still indispensable and an ODI prerequisite. Sharma, however, always fields in the infield during the death (either at covers or midwicket) and hence Dhoni, 38, will not need to prolong his impending retirement.