Rohit Sharma has replaced Virat Kohli as India’s ODI captain. Unlike the T20I captaincy change, where the announcement came from Kohli, citing his workload, this is a BCCI decision, to remove him as ODI skipper.
Three months ago, while relinquishing T20I captaincy, Kohli had expressed his desire to lead India in Tests and ODIs, going ahead. “Understanding workload is a very important thing and considering my immense workload over the last 8-9 years playing all 3 formats and captaining regularly for last 5-6 years, I feel I need to give myself space to be fully ready to lead the Indian team in Test and ODI cricket,” he wrote on Instagram on September 16. He also mentioned his conversation with former India head coach Ravi Shastri, BCCI president Sourav Ganguly and board secretary Jay Shah before taking the decision. Giving up Royal Challengers Bangalore’s captaincy in the Indian Premier League, too, was his own choice.
On Wednesday, as the cricket board put out a press release announcing the Test squad for the South Africa tour, its last line touched upon the ODI captaincy replacement: “The All-India Senior Selection Committee also decided to name Mr Rohit Sharma as the Captain of the ODI & T20I teams going forward.” The one-liner confirmed Kohli’s removal as ODI captain.
In another interesting development, the selectors elevated Rohit to Test vice-captaincy, replacing Ajinkya Rahane, although the latter was picked for the three-match series in South Africa. Rohit’s growing stature in the team can offer a scope to read between the lines, that phasing out of Kohli, the captain, has begun.
Kohli has been India’s one of the most successful white-ball captains. In 95 ODIs, he won in 65, giving him a winning percentage of 70-plus. In 45 T20Is, he led India to victory 27 times. Rohit has been Kohli’s longstanding deputy in limited-overs cricket, captaining the team in 10 ODIs and 19 T20Is before he was given the full-time charge during the recently concluded three-match home series against New Zealand. He started with a clean sweep. Five IPL titles, leading Mumbai Indians, made him a shoo-in as Kohli’s successor.
Kohli took over limited-overs captaincy from MS Dhoni in 2017 and under him India won limited-overs series in every country. But not winning an ICC trophy remained a void in his white-ball captaincy career. The closest India came to annexing global silverware was in the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy, where the team lost to Pakistan in the final. The T20 World Cup in UAE this year was probably the nadir; India losing their first two group league games against Pakistan and New Zealand respectively and crashing out of the tournament in the group phase.
The BCCI apparently took a kinder view on the team’s T20 World Cup debacle, considering it as “one bad tournament”. But it is learnt the board wanted a new direction in limited-overs cricket under a new captain. The next T20 World Cup in Australia is less than 12 months away, while India will host the 50-over World Cup in 2023. The BCCI and the selection committee clearly wanted to give Rohit time to build the squad for the two upcoming ICC events.
A form slump also didn’t do Kohli in any favour. Over the past two years, he has scored 560 runs in 12 ODIs without a century. His average during this period is 46.66, well below his career average of 59.07. In 20 T20Is during the same period, he has scored 594 runs at 49.50, while in 13 Tests in the last two years, he made 599 runs at an average of 26.04. Shastri, however, had defended his captain’s lean patch, citing bubble fatigue. “In the last 24 months, they (players) have been home for 25 days. I don’t care who you are, if your name is Bradman and you are in a bubble, your average will come down because you are human,” he had said.
Indian cricket has barely dealt with split captaincy, two power centres in the team. It would be interesting to see how the new head coach Rahul Dravid handles this going ahead. Under Kohli, India have scaled unprecedented heights in Tests and as for now he remains the long-form captain. But even there also, Rohit is now a very important part of the leadership group.