Stop this musical chair: Rohit vs Hardik vs Surya captaincy saga takes intriguing turn ahead of T20 World Cup
With the T20 World Cup just six months away, India need to stop experimenting with captaincy and identify the man that will lead them in the West Indies and USA
Rohit Sharma apart, India have had seven Twenty20 International captains in the last two and a half years. Many were thrust into the hot seat in an interim capacity, starting with Shikhar Dhawan helming a ‘second’ side to Sri Lanka in 2021 when the Test team was touring England. Dhawan led in only those three matches; others T20I skippers include Rishabh Pant (5 matches), Hardik Pandya (16), KL Rahul (1), Jasprit Bumrah (2), Ruturaj Gaikwad (3) and now Suryakumar Yadav (5).
All this might point to a plethora of leadership options, but with the next T20 World Cup six months away, it’s time to do away with working the pieces around and zero in on one man - not only because he might be best suited for the job, but also to allow him to settle into his role.
The choice, it would seem, is between the Mumbai Indians trio of Rohit, Pandya and Suryakumar. All-format skipper Rohit would appear the obvious candidate, but the 36-year-old hasn’t represented the country in the 20-over game for more than one year now. Post India’s elimination from the T20 World Cup in Australia last November, the focus shifted to 50-over cricket with the home World Cup as the ultimate goal. Understandably, Rohit stayed away from the shortest format, channeling his energies towards the longer white-ball version with unwavering commitment.
In Rohit’s extended absence, India have tried out numerous younger guns at the top of the batting tree and unearthed several gems, among them the pedigreed Shubman Gill, Yashasvi Jaiswal, Gaikwad and Ishan Kishan. Truth to tell, Rohit hasn’t really been missed, as impudent as that might sound. Just as Virat Kohli hasn’t been either. Which testifies to the depth in the Indian ranks.
Rohit has opted to sit out the white-ball leg of the South Africa tour, and it is improbable that, with the five-Test series against England starting in Hyderabad on January 25, he will play in the three home T20Is against Afghanistan from January 11 to 17. How prudent, or indeed fair, would it be for Rohit to slot in as the captain for the World Cup in his first T20 international for more than 18 months, no matter how accomplished a leader he might be?
India seemed to have reconciled to life with Rohit in the 20-over shootout as the captaincy responsibility was entrusted to Pandya. The all-rounder had showcased his leadership skills by steering Gujarat Titans to the title on their IPL debut in 2022 and caught the eye of the discerning with his selflessness and exceptional man-management skills, both undoubtedly the legacy of the time spent under Rohit at Mumbai Indians. All other things being equal, Pandya would have been a shoo-in for the top job in North America next June, but the ankle injury sustained in mid-October has thrown a giant spanner in the works.
If, as expected, Pandya doesn’t recover in time to play against Afghanistan, his international comeback will be at the World Cup, hardly the ideal scenario with India desperately seeking a first ICC title since 2013. Pandya will instantaneously ease back into that role, undoubtedly, but at the end of the day, shouldn’t it be what is best for the team, not for a few individuals?
Against this backdrop, it won’t be the worst idea to put all the eggs in the Suryakumar basket. During the five-match series against Australia, the experienced Mumbaikar hardly looked out of sorts in his first international games as captain. He received fulsome praise from his teammates, especially the bowlers, for the confidence and freedom he accorded them and walked the talk – like Rohit had done at the 50-over World Cup – by setting the example when it came to aggressive batsmanship.
Retained as captain for the three T20Is in South Africa, Suryakumar must be given the license to stamp his brand of leadership on the team leading up to the June extravaganza in the US and the Caribbean. His lack of captaincy experience hasn’t prevented him from being imaginative, creative, calm and precise in his communication. He is no stranger to the pressures of high-stakes events and while he will feel the weight of expectations with (capt) against his name, expectations have often brought the best out of him.
India can ill afford to hedge their bets with only six T20Is remaining till the World Cup. Head coach Rahul Dravid’s tenure has been extended primarily with this event in mind and more than anyone else, he will understand the importance of continuity and consistency heading into a tournament of this magnitude.
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