In a press release of exactly 140 words, headlined “India’s squad for Tests against South Africa announced”, the BCCI initiated the squad conversation for the upcoming South Africa tour, labelled as the final frontier. As you would read along, there were several hot pieces of news, including Rohit Sharma being appointed as the Test vice-captain, the return of Hanuma Vihari, and injuries to Ravindra Jadeja, Shubman Gill, Axar Patel, and Rahul Chahar. Very pertinent indeed.
But like it doesn’t matter, there was another bit of information right at the end: “The All-India Senior Selection Committee also decided to name Mr. Rohit Sharma as the Captain of the ODI & T20I teams going forward”. Nothing much. No more quotes from BCCI President or Secretary. No celebration of Kohli’s tenure nor any melodramatic explanation of what he means to the Indian team. Oh. Not even a mention of his name. Just like that, the captaincy tenure of the most significant cricketer of this generation came to an end, in what has been made to look like an afterthought of a meeting set for a completely different objective.
But then that’s BCCI and expecting anything merely professional is a proper subject of fantasy. This is not the first time there was no thought put into owing a transparent communication for the fans who have been in a one-sided relationship with India cricket for years now. This will not be the last. A hallmark of an organization that believes in creating chaos through leaks and then planting stories from all angles, the BCCI made a complete mess of another event in Indian cricket which surely could have been avoided. In turn, it has created a massive challenge for the new management, headed by Rahul Dravid, to get the best out of Kohli and Rohit as individual batters and leaders in the side.
Of course, Kohli’s position as the leader of the pack in the 50-over version of the game became untenable when he resigned as the T20I skipper but there were many layers to it, which has set up another bad precedent. And that’s not easy to ignore either.
Kohli was a successful ODI skipper, with a win/loss ratio of 2.407, which is the fourth-best among all captains who have led their team in at least 50 ODIs. The only Asian captain to win a series in Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, Kohli lost only four series out of 19 during his tenure. Those are some spectacular achievements, which deserved to be rewarded with an extended tenure till the 2023 edition of the World Cup, especially because it was at home. If the top brass thought “this was too much of leadership with two different captains for two different formats”, this at least could have ended honorably. The basic premise of the problem starts there.
With Rahul Dravid at the helm, it is undeniable that he would hope for a better structure to be prevalent where the seniors perform at the top of their game without any clash of ideologies. He has been in the Indian cricketing ecosystem for far too long not to understand how the difference between two sets of players cause a whole lot of problems. He was, in fact, at the centre of it when the Ganguly-Chappell saga broke out and he was forced to take sides.
It was to Dravid’s great credit that he played it safe, never badmouthing anyone in public and staying true to his persona. But the learnings from that episode have had an eerie resemblance to what is happening today and Dravid must be better placed to handle the egos of the dressing room than he could a decade and a half ago.
Because this time, it is mostly about bad management of the issue than the persons involved, with Kohli and Rohit having absolute respect for each other. Despite the change in guard, that will never change. The duo are serious professionals and the way Kohli backed Rohit in Test cricket when everyone had lost patience would surely help their relationship in a positive way. Given Rohit has now been elevated to the role of Kohli’s deputy in the red-ball format, the understandable impact and equation are pretty well defined, which will be the cornerstone to India’s success in the second cycle of the World Test Championship.
As ESPNCricinfo’s Sidharth Monga once wrote on Kohli, “You can question his decisions, but not the intent. He genuinely believes what he is doing is for the good of Indian cricket” and therein lies the hope that Kohli would turn it around. One has all the reasons to believe that he would continue to do his best to ensure India maintain their position in world cricket. And his rotten form hasn’t changed the fact that he is still one of the most feared batters in the world.
There is a cricketing logic to India’s belief as well. With a lot of options at the top of the order and the emergence of Shreyas Iyer and Suryakumar Yadav in the middle order has finally ensured that the Indian batting units are no more a three-man affair in the shorter version of the game. A clearer understanding of conditions in India further adds to the beauty as they look to secure their third World Cup title in less than a couple of years from now. But joining the dots of the entire process will be Kohli, whose loose string of form has somehow left him aside to be his own in ODIs, the format he loves the most and his perhaps the greatest ever in.
It will fall upon Dravid to keep a close eye and possibly have a clear line of communication with the duo to ensure that they keep doing what is best for the team. It is the need of the hour because the men sitting at the top wouldn’t budge from, for the lack of a better word, their high horse. As for Kohli, all he needs to do from here is to take a leaf out of Tendulkar's book for inspiration. How his hero swam through the rough tide of 2007 and took the World Cricket by awe once again in his final five years.