The method in India’s captaincy madness | Crickit
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The method in India’s captaincy madness

By, Kolkata
Aug 12, 2022 06:34 PM IST

Eight captains since the 2021 T20 World Cup gives a measure of the thorough audition for the top job

Next week, KL Rahul will be back for a second stint as India captain. In his first tryst with captaincy, India were blanked 3-0 in ODIs in South Africa. And in the only Test (standing in for an injured Virat Kohli in the second game in Johannesburg) Rahul led India in South Africa, the hosts equalled the series by chasing down 240. Had Rohit Sharma been fit and playing, Rahul wouldn’t have had to lead. But Sharma has had to deal with injury so Rahul stepped up as deputy, just like when Ajinkya Rahane led the Test team in the absence of Kohli at Gabba and Kanpur last year.

KL Rahul(Getty) PREMIUM
KL Rahul(Getty)

As long as Kohli (33) was the all-format captain, the pecking order of leaders was more or less undisputed. Sharma (35) and Rahane (34) were format-specific stand-ins while a much younger Rahul (30) was the understudy, chosen for the long haul, and possibly for all formats. But 2022 has upturned all those calculations. Kohli stepped down from Test captaincy after the South Africa tour. Rahane fell out of favour. And Sharma, the oldest of the leadership core, has had his fair share of injuries, rest and a run-in with Covid-19. Even Rahul had to pull out of the Birmingham Test in July due to a sports hernia, before missing the entire white-ball tour of the West Indies due to Covid-19. But India, clearly, are prepared for any eventuality. Enter the next line of leaders.

Giving Jasprit Bumrah the captaincy for the Birmingham Test was a refreshing break from the norm of usually burdening the best batter of the side with the job. Rishabh Pant was given a good run at home against South Africa but it seemed to affect his batting (58 runs in five innings at a SR of 105.45). Hardik Pandya was extremely impressive as captain and allrounder in Ireland and then at Fort Lauderhill. Even Shikhar Dhawan was given the ODI captaincy in the West Indies. In fact, India had four captains in July—Pandya in Ireland, Jasprit Bumrah in Birmingham, Sharma in England and Dhawan in West Indies.

While it might prompt concern if this is becoming a case of too many cooks, India’s overall performance doesn’t seem to be affected by this musical chair of captains. Yes Birmingham was an opportunity lost and South Africa gave India a run for their money with a 2-2 levelled series but a record of 31 wins, 11 losses, and one draw since the 2021 T20 World Cup also tells you it could have been much worse. In light of Sharma nearing 37 by the time India would have hosted next year’s ODI World Cup, it makes sense to tap potential leaders. Sharma too validates that approach.

"I know it's very exciting to create so many leaders around the team because it's always a good sign," Sharma told Star Sports in a show called ‘Follow the Blues’. "And you want the guys to handle the pressure, who understand the game and know each other really well. And when they are leading the team, all these things can happen.”

What connects all these potential full-time captains is the considerable time most of them have invested as captains in the Indian Premier League. For a league that has had quite a few overseas players as captains, the IPL sure has turned a corner by making leaders out of players. Pant with Delhi Capitals has been a work in progress but Pandya gave instant results when he led Gujarat Titans to their maiden IPL win in their very first season this year. Rahul was in charge of Punjab Kings for two seasons before taking new franchise Lucknow Super Giants almost all the way this season. And even though Bumrah and Dhawan haven’t led per se, their evolution as leaders of bowling and batting groups in the IPL has made them natural picks.

With the pool widening and more nations being forced to field different teams because of clashing schedules, think tanks don’t have to go into a tizzy over handing the captaincy to a greenhorn. Thanks to the IPL now, India are blessed with some heavily experienced leaders.

"We play the IPL, and it's a ten-team tournament. So, there will be ten captains who at some stage will be a part of the Indian team as well,” said Sharma. “I think it's fantastic because honestly, my job is much less as these guys understand everything pretty well. So, it's just about if someone's having a thought, how am I going to back that up? For me as captain that is my role and that is what I'm trying to do."

Not everyone is cut out for the job though. Ravindra Jadeja taking over as Chennai Super Kings was one of those eventualities in life but absolutely no one saw the implosion coming that led to a quick reversal in guard. Jadeja, anyway, had very little experience of leading at the top level. His only previous captaincy stint in charge was for India Under-19s in 2007.

But Rahul, Pandya and Pant were all nudged into leadership roles quite early into their careers. That has allowed them enough time to try to strike a balance between peaking in their primary skill and leading a team. Rahul is expected to get a long rope because he is the best all-format pick. Standing at different junctures of their career trajectories, Pandya or Pant too could go on to lead India. Or it could be someone else. Whoever he may be, he must go through the IPL trial.

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