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View, Review: Rohit’s crown of thorns

Despite his impeccable captaincy credentials, the circumstances surrounding Kohli’s removal from ODI captaincy mean Sharma has no room for error.

Written by Shamik Chakrabarty |
Updated: December 19, 2021 11:11:01 am
Rohit SharmaA couple of weeks ago, Rohit Sharma was named India’s new ODI skipper, replacing Virat Kohli as captain for the upcoming South Africa tour.

Rohit Sharma deserves better than this. The ODI captaincy controversy has put him under unnecessary pressure to win, every time he leads the team in the format. Keyboard warriors would be waiting to pounce on any slip-up.

When Virat Kohli stepped down as T20I captain, he anointed Rohit as his successor, ensuring a smooth transition. But Kohli didn’t quit ODI captaincy on his own terms and going by the brutal trolling that BCCI president Sourav Ganguly and secretary Jay Shah have faced on social media over the leadership change, Rohit is going to walk a captaincy tightrope.

Five Indian Premier League (IPL) titles, leading Mumbai Indians, attest Rohit’s captaincy credentials. He has been Kohli’s long-standing deputy in limited-overs cricket and stood in for 10 ODIs and 19 T20Is before getting full-time charge during the three-match home series against New Zealand, starting with a clean sweep. As regards his captaincy skills, he has the seal of approval from both Kohli and Ganguly.

Rohit is a white-ball great in his own right, who has brought his A game to Test cricket over the last couple of seasons. Unfortunately, social media trolls hardly care for logic, indulging in strong personal likes and dislikes. From that perspective, Rohit will be judged against Kohli in every game. He will have the latter’s on-field support for sure. But Kohli’s supporters, and he has 45.3 million followers on Twitter itself, might not be so kind. His IPL success notwithstanding, leading India is a different ball game. Rohit deserved a decent bedding-in period. The way things have panned out, he will not get that.

At 34 years of age, Rohit is a year older than Kohli with a dodgy fitness record, the latest setback being a hamstring injury that has ruled him out of the Tests in South Africa. The injury could also be a cause for concern for the BCCI and national selectors, now that he is the white-ball captain and two World Cups – the T20 showpiece next year and the 50-over mega event in 2023 – are scheduled in the next two years.

The 2023 World Cup in India was a reason why Kohli wanted to continue as ODI captain, leading the country in a home tournament of that magnitude. It would be naive to think that he would shed his aspiration. Rohit needs runs and wins to cement his ODI captaincy.

Kohli could take on the BCCI because he is arguably Indian cricket’s only global star, boasting a brand value of $237.7 million (Duff & Phelps’ estimate). Then again, never has this happened in the history of Indian cricket; a player publicly contradicting the BCCI president. Ganguly has done the right thing by not reacting to Kohli’s statement, with an important overseas series round the corner. It is learnt that the BCCI will have a clear-the-air conversation with Kohli on the matter. All said and done though, the Test skipper now will also have to score runs.

Under the scanner

For a batsman, even of Kohli’s repute, runs are the only currency. In an elongated lean patch and without a Test century for more than two years, Kohli will have little margin for error. A poor series in South Africa will put him on a slippery slope. Players usually end up on the losing side in their tussles with administrators. Sunil Gavaskar and Imran Khan were glorious exceptions because of their consistency and sense of timing. Every Kohli failure from now on will be put under the selectors’ microscope.

It’s undesirable that Indian cricket at the moment is caught in a quagmire of narratives. The BCCI’s one, put forward by its president, said that Kohli was told not to relinquish T20I captaincy. Kohli publicly contradicted that, saying he wasn’t told not to quit captaincy in the shortest format. Going beyond the true and false, there’s a grey area that has caused the problem.

Chances are that both Ganguly and Kohli are speaking the truth, for there was a meeting between the two when, out of nowhere, the latter decided to quit T20I captaincy in September and informed the BCCI about it, expressing his desire to continue as Test and ODI skipper. The BCCI president discussed the pros and cons of the decision with the player. But the big question is that if Kohli was categorically told he couldn’t continue as ODI captain after relinquishing T20I captaincy. Ganguly’s quote to The Indian Express didn’t pinpoint it, nor did Kohli’s comment at Wednesday’s press conference.

According to a BCCI insider privy to the developments, there was a meeting between Kohli and BCCI officials before the T20 World Cup where the former informed the Board about his decision to step down from T20I captaincy. Ganguly, in turn, explained to him about the pros and cons of taking such a decision. “Selectors were present in that meeting, along with the office-bearers, and the president touched upon the pros and cons of Kohli giving up T20I captaincy,” said the BCCI functionary.

Before the BCCI could send out a press release after the meeting, Kohli made his decision public through a social media post.

As it has transpired, Ganguly referred to the meeting before the T20 World Cup, where he did discuss the T20I captaincy-related issues with Kohli, while the latter interpreted that in a different way. “It’s probably about interpretations, not true or false,” said the BCCI functionary.

Kohli spoke about the communication from chief selector Chetan Sharma, who called him an hour and a half before the announcement of the Test squad for South Africa. Gavaskar, on a TV show, refused to give the ‘90-minute notice’ to Kohli too much importance.

A section in the BCCI sees Kohli’s captaincy issue as a classic case of player power, something that forced Anil Kumble to resign as the Indian team head coach.

In his case, by quitting T20I captaincy, Kohli ostensibly threw down the gauntlet to the BCCI, sort of challenging the Board to remove him as ODI skipper as well if they could. The BCCI did exactly that.

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