“A great captain must be a shrewd tactician who can make the right moves at the right time. He may not necessarily have a great team at his disposal, but he must still possess the ability to get the best from his team-mates.”
This was Roy Dias, former Sri Lankan wicketkeeper-batsman-turned coach on the qualities required to be a successful leader of a cricket team.
If Dias had watched the third and final India-Bangladesh T20I in Nagpur on Sunday, chances are that he would have been impressed by how stand-in captain Rohit Sharma marshalled his thin bowling resources to plot a series win. In a bid to bolster their batting, India had gone into the game a bowler short. All-rounder Krunal Pandya was replaced with Manish Pandey and greenhorn Shivam Dube, known more for his belligerent batting, was assigned the fifth bowler’s duties. It was a plan fraught with danger. The Nagpur track was a featherbed and India was defending only a par score of 174 under dewy conditions.
In such a scenario, most captains would have gone on an all-out attack with their best new-ball bowler, which in India’s case was Deepak Chahar. The 27-year-old has earned his reputation by bowling the bulk of his T20 overs inside the Powerplay. This is how he has operated under MS Dhoni for the Chennai Super Kings as well as in the early stages of his international career.
On Sunday night, however, Rohit decided to go against conventional wisdom. Sensing that Chahar and leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal were his two-strike bowlers, Rohit refrained from using the swing bowler in his preferred role as a Powerplay specialist. Instead, he decided to open with left-arm seamer Khaleel Ahmed and off-spinner Washington Sundar.
After an over of each, Rohit brought on his trump card Chahar. The pacer responded to his captain’s call with the twin dismissals of Liton Das and Soumya Sarkar. Rohit persisted with Khaleel and Sundar for an over each again, surprisingly removing Chahar after his successful solitary over.
In the final Powerplay over, he introduced Chahal. In essence, Rohit showed his ingenuity as a captain by smartly rotating these four bowlers in the first six overs. In doing so, he never allowed the Bangladesh batsmen to settle. This is a ploy Rohit has employed in the IPL as well, as the captain of Mumbai Indians, where he would keep opposition batsmen guessing by rotating his bowlers in short spells.
The real test for Rohit came after the Powerplay when Mohammad Naim and Mohammad Mithun tore into Chahal and Dube and looked poised to pave the way for an easy victory. In the seven overs after the field restrictions were lifted, the visitors garnered 77 runs. How did Rohit respond? He summoned Chahar for his second over, and almost on cue, the pacer dismissed Mithun with a devious slower delivery.
Rohit then did the unthinkable by recalling Dube. The young all-rounder, featuring in only his second international game, was carted in his first spell, his figures reading 2-0-23-0. But the burly youngster began by castling Rahim with a slower delivery and followed it up with back-to-back dismissals of Naim and Afif Hossain. The Mumbaikar finished with impressive figures of 4-0-30-3.
Bulk of the credit for Dube’s success should go to his captain. First, for entrusting him with the responsibility of being the team’s fifth bowler. Second, for not banishing him despite getting flayed in the opening two overs, and finally for showing astute game sense to bring him back at the opportune time following Mithun’s exit.
As Chahar walked home with scarcely believable figures of 6/7 from 3.2 overs, which included a hat-trick, paving the way for a comfortable 30-run win for India, he delved into Rohit’s mindset: “The plan was that I would get the responsibility of bowling the main overs… usually, I bowl with the new ball, but Rohit bhai said I’ll bowl the crucial overs today, whenever the team needed me to bowl. I’m happy that the management gave me this responsibility on this stage.”
Pep talk does trick
There was another key moment during Bangladesh’s chase on Sunday that highlighted Rohit’s leadership skills. India were looking fairly flat after the early burst from Chahar and Bangladesh were sprinting towards the target. In the 11th over, the Indian captain called his team-mates into a huddle and stirred them up with a resounding pep talk that galvanised their spirits.
Shreyas Iyer said Rohit’s pep talk did wonders to the team’s confidence. “We were going little lethargic at the start, but once they started going, Rohit recalled all players inside the circle, he gave us a pep talk and after that, all of us got determined to win the match,” Iyer explained.
It’s not known what Rohit said during that impromptu team meeting. But the sum and substance was instilling a bit of pride in the game. “At one stage, it was looking easy for Bangladesh when they needed 70-odd of eight overs. I just reminded them this (pointing towards the jersey) is what we are playing for. I can understand when wickets are not falling, it’s hard to pick up. I just had to remind what team they’re playing for, and credit to the bowlers for making this comeback,” Rohit said after the win.
Trusting his players
Another aspect of Rohit’s captaincy that came to the fore in this series was the unflinching trust he reposed in some of the youngsters like Khaleel and under-fire wicketkeeper-batsman Rishabh Pant.
Khaleel was declared ‘match ka mujrim’ after he conceded four consecutive boundaries to Mushfiqur Rahim during the penultimate over of Bangladesh’s chase in the first T20 in Delhi. He looked out of sorts even in the Rajkot match. Common sense dictated that he be dropped in Nagpur.
Similarly, Pant has received considerable flak for his poor shot selection and inaccurate DRS calls. Unsurprisingly, there was a clamour for replacing Pant with Sanju Samson for the Nagpur match. But Rohit is known to back youngsters and advocated the need to shift from this constant chop-and-change policy.
Pant’s case is slightly different from that of Khaleel though. In recent times, the team management has continually backed the Delhi keeper, terming him as a player for the future. Being the stand-in captain, Rohit may just be following the team management’s policy. This was evident when he said: “There’s a lot of talk surrounding Rishabh Pant. I just feel that he needs to be allowed to do what he wants to do on the field. I would request everyone to just keep their eyes away from him (Pant) for a while.” Unsurprisingly, both Khaleel and Pant were included in the playing XI in Nagpur.
The series win gives the think tank the luxury of resting Virat Kohli for similar bilateral T20Is, and even consider the prospect of split captaincy. Rohit will not be complaining about the excess workload. For now, he’s relishing his new role.