When Virat Kohli took over T20I captaincy in 2017, no one thought he would end up leading the side in just a solitary T20 World Cup. But Kohli’s rather sudden decision to quit captaincy means that, with less than a year left for the next World Cup, the selectors have a big decision to make. Rohit Sharma, as things stand, is the heavy favourite to take over, but is he really the ideal candidate? We look at all the potential candidates and evaluate their pros and cons.
The most successful captain in IPL history (5 titles) and has led Team India in the past with great success. Long-term vice-captain of the national white-ball team.
Captaincy record (International and IPL)
78.94% win percentage as T20I captain; 59.68% win percentage as IPL captain (best in history).
For Rohit, the pros write themselves. He not only is the most natural leader in the set-up but also is regarded as one of the best in the entire world, despite the national-team situation forcing him to play second-fiddle to Kohli for a decade.
As he’s shown with MI, Rohit is both a great man-manager and a tactician, and is someone who knows how to get the best out of his players. On top of all this, he already has a tremendous existing relationship with the younger players in the Indian set-up, meaning a captaincy switch will really not feel like a transition.
With the next World Cup less than a year away, he is the near-perfect choice to succeed Kohli.
There are no serious cons with Rohit the skipper, but there are a couple of issues that are worth talking about. The first and foremost is his age.
Rohit, in five months’ time, will be turning 35, and thus the management will have to take a call whether he’ll be a viable long-term option or just a temporary transition captain. With Rohit now a fixed starter in all three formats, the workload that is imposed on him will need to be taken into consideration.
If indeed he is seen as a long-term option, then the question will need to be asked - whether the team will ultimately benefit from Rohit opening at the cost of players like Gaikwad, Shaw and Padikkal.
Rohit, no doubt, is still a pretty capable T20 batter on his day, but would it be wise to keep a player who is in the (almost) twilight of his career just because he is the captain? That might not only limit the potential of the side, but might also hinder the development of the next generation of openers, who’ll have to be content with either batting out of position, or playing only in the IPL and domestic cricket.
Rahul has led Punjab Kings in the IPL for two seasons without any success. He also served as the vice-captain of the Indian white-ball side in the tour of Australia in 2020, where Rohit was absent for the white-ball matches.
Captaincy record (IPL)
44.44% win percentage. Failed to qualify for the playoffs with Punjab (6th and 6th) in both 2020 and 2021.
The natural successor to Kohli, Rahul will soon inevitably be the nucleus of the Indian T20I side (if he’s not already), so it would make total sense to thrust captaincy upon the team’s best player. Given he is just 29, Rahul has age on his side, so he would fit right into the role should the management be planning to build a next-gen dynasty of sorts with a young team and a young captain.
He will also have plenty of experience under his belt and will bring to the fore his own brand. Handing captaincy over to Rahul ahead of Rohit will be a controversial choice, no doubt, but such a move will well and truly mark the beginning of a new era in Indian cricket.
All the evidence we have, to date, suggests that Rahul would be better off as just a player, and not captain. His stint with Punjab has so far been very underwhelming, and there have been two glaring issues.
One, his tenure has overseen a lot of instability, and Rahul has also not proven to be the shrewdest of tacticians. There has been perpetual confusion in his decision-making, and it has dearly cost Punjab at times. The number of questionable decisions he’s made have outnumbered the correct calls.
Most worryingly, though, the added layer of responsibility has had a negative impact on his batting. Rahul, since being made Punjab captain, has been a shadow of his aggressive self as a batsman (in the IPL), and the conservative approach he has adopted has been a direct byproduct of captaincy.
Rahul has often overburdened himself by trying to ‘do it all’ and this has had a negative impact on both the side and his batting.
Whether he’ll shed this approach if he’s made the national team captain remains unknown, but from an Indian perspective, it might be a risk not worth taking. They cannot afford to lose Rahul the batsman.
Topped the table with Delhi Capitals in his maiden season as captain. Pant also has plenty of experience captaining his state-side in domestic cricket.
Captaincy record (IPL)
59.37% win percentage. Topped the table, but was unable to take the Capitals into the final of IPL 2021.
Pros and Cons
Handing captaincy to Rishabh Pant will have the same pros and cons as Rahul, except Pant is far more inexperienced and untested. At the top level, the 24-year-old has only completed one full season as skipper and whilst he’s done well, one might need a bigger sample size before throwing his name into the hat for national captaincy.
Like Rahul, Pant has also shown that he has the tendency to bat far too conservatively when burdened with responsibility. Case in point, his SR since 2020 in IPL has dropped from 162.7 to 121.5 since being put in leadership roles (first vice-captain and then captain).
Then there is also a question mark over the tactical proficiency of the wicket-keeper batsman. Delhi did top the table in IPL 2021, but, through the course of the season, Pant made quite a few bizarre tactical decisions. The most controversial of the lot came in Qualifier 1 against Chennai, where Tom Curran was asked to bowl the final over ahead of the experienced KG Rabada. The move ultimately backfired.
Given he’s just 24, perhaps the management would be better off waiting and allowing Pant to evolve as a cricketer and a tactician before pulling the trigger.
Led a young Delhi Capitals side to its first ever IPL final, and has been long-earmarked as a future captain. Iyer also has a boatload of experience captaining Mumbai in the domestic circuit.
Captaincy record (IPL)
53.65% win percentage. Took over a hopeless Delhi side in 2018 and, together with Ponting, architected a massive turnaround. Led the side to the playoffs in 2019 (Eliminator) and the final in IPL 2020. Had to forfeit captaincy in 2021 owing to a shoulder injury.
Despite being the most inexperienced player among all contenders, Iyer is surprisingly the second-most experienced leader, behind only Rohit Sharma. Iyer has been captaining in the IPL since the age of 23, and has built quite the reputation for himself as captain, over the years.
Iyer, unlike both Pant and Rahul, enjoys the pressure that comes with captaincy and has also thrived as a batsman while donning the armband. His three most prolific seasons in the IPL have all come as captain, and that is a good sign for it means he’s not bogged down by the added burden.
Iyer has also received plaudits for being a tactically shrewd captain, something that has never been the case with both Rahul and Pant.
Given he is also just 26, Iyer also ticks the box of being a young captain who can be the long-term leader that takes Indian cricket forward.
The biggest con with Iyer - and this is significant - is that he is not a guaranteed starter in T20Is. Iyer is locked-in as the team’s long-term No.4 in ODI cricket, but that is simply not the case in T20Is, where he is still trying to break into the side. The 26-year-old failed to make the squad for the T20 World Cup, and, at the moment, there are many who warrant a place in the XI ahead of him.
Iyer is a reliable anchor, but the lack of dynamism in his short-form batting means that his role in the side, at times, becomes redundant.
By making Iyer the skipper of the T20I side, the team might be limiting its batting potential. It would also be a less-than-ideal scenario to appoint a captain who does not warrant a place in the starting XI.
All things considered, Rohit Sharma does look like the ideal fit to immediately take over from Kohli. Rohit will bring experience, stability, a sense of familiarity and he still also has plenty of fuel left in the tank. He will have that burning desire to be successful too, having had to wait nearly a decade to finally don the captain's armband.
But that being said, it would be imperative for the management to groom a younger captain, most likely someone from the three other candidates above. Rohit, no doubt, will have the legs to lead the side for a couple of more years at least, but it will be a stretch after that, owing to the reasons that were mentioned in the 'cons' part of the 34-year-old being appointed skipper.