Kohli, Rohit return a huge step back, raises more questions than answers | Crickit

Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma's T20I return a huge step back for Indian cricket, raises more questions than answers

Jan 08, 2024 10:20 AM IST

Is Indian cricket moving in the right direction by bringing Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli back in its T20I set-up? Not really

And just like that, they are both back. Having assiduously steered clear of T20 Internationals since India’s ten-wicket drubbing at the hands of England in the World Cup semifinal in Adelaide 14 months back, Rohit Sharma and his predecessor Virat Kohli return for the three-match home series against Afghanistan later this week, in a move with significant ramifications ahead of the next T20 World Cup, in North America in June.

Are the returning Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli the answer to India's T20I cricket?(PTI)
Are the returning Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli the answer to India's T20I cricket?(PTI)

By naming the seasoned duo in India's last international engagements before the World Cup, Ajit Agarkar's selection panel appears to have indicated that both Rohit and Kohli are very much in their plans for the biennial extravaganza. Where does it leave those who have staked their claims in the last 14 months? What does it do for team balance and for the fearlessness of youth which India had sworn by in their desire to break a global duck now ten and a half years old? In effect, as several are asking, is what's good for Rohit and Kohli good for India, too?

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For now, it would appear as if Rohit and Kohli are a package deal, that if the captain was selected, there was no way the man he replaced would not be. Is it a 'compromise' so that the boat is not rocked? Or is it that the decision-makers’ thought processes are aligned with that of Rohit, who believes India’s best chance of going all the way in the US and the Caribbean is only with him and Kohli leading the charge from the front?

These are vexing questions Indian cricket lovers have been seized by in the hours following the belated announcement of the 16-man party. Of course, it mustn't be forgotten that Hardik Pandya, Suryakumar Yadav and Ruturaj Gaikwad, who have all led India in various T20I series/and or tournaments in the last year and a bit, are injured and unavailable for the Afghanistan faceoff, but whether it is the leadership vacuum alone that has facilitated Rohit and Kohli’s re-entry into the 20-over landscape is open to question.

Were India's youngsters not promising enough?

The two towering figures in modern-day Indian cricket are too skilled not to succeed against Afghanistan, but what exactly will it tell us that we didn’t know before? Both are accomplished run-makers and have been there, done that; Rohit was part of the side that won the inaugural T20 World Cup in south Africa in 2007, Kohli is a 50-over World Cup winner and a key member of every T20 World Cup group since 2012. Especially given the results India have enjoyed in their absence and the tactical and technical experience the others have raked in – the likes of Yashasvi Jaiswal and Shubman Gill, Tilak Varma and Rinku Singh – are Rohit and Kohli still indispensable in the 20-over format?

And what happens when – or is it if? – Pandya and Suryakumar are both fit and available for the World Cup? Where does that logjam leave the side? Could the aftereffects be as deleterious as in 2022 when, for instance, KL Rahul barely played a T20I till a month before the World Cup and yet turned out in Australia as keeper-opener, with what can at best be termed ordinary returns?

One of the more popular catchphrases in the modern-day set-up is 'workload management'. That has been used willy-nilly, but shouldn't that have come into consideration in this instance too? The last of the T20Is against Afghanistan is on January 17 in Bengaluru, the first of five Tests against England starts in Hyderabad on January 25. That's a gap of a little over a week, during which time Rohit and Kohli must recharge their batteries and refocus for a critical Test series against one of the top sides in the world. They must unlearn the T20 habits and re-integrate with the five-day approach, which one would assume they should be able to do so easily enough, given how long they have spent in the game. But this is an avoidable pickle which, one hopes, won’t impact India's Test fortunes adversely.

In the absence of official word, one is not sure why Ishan Kishan is still missing and how Sanju Samson is back in the T20 scheme of things, where he averages a modest 19.68 after 24 matches. These are all doubts that the biggest stakeholder in Indian cricket, the lay fan, is entitled clarification for. Just as the younger group beginning to move forward as a harmonious unit is entitled to confidence and clarity.

The extension of Rahul Dravid's tenure as head coach was precisely to ensure continuity leading up to the World Cup. Looks like that theme has been juxtaposed to team selection as well.

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