Virat Kohli’s ‘Logical Successor’ – Rohit Sharma Ready To Take Team India to a New Era

Five wins on the trot (3 ODIs, 2T20s so far) have given Rohit Sharma a flying start to his captaincy, and importantly, helped India overcome the lingering trauma of the South Africa swiftly too.

Sharma had impressed earlier when leading India (in white ball cricket) in Virat Kohli’s absence, and has an enviable record as captain in the IPL too. His credentials were excellent and made him the logical successor to Kohli. Nonetheless, there is always an element of doubt when a new person takes over.

How soon and smooth would the transition be, more so since Sharma had missed the tour of South Africa entirely? How would the unseemly controversy between the BCCI and Kohli that had riled Indian cricket the previous season affect him. Not the least, questions lingered about his fitness too.

Sharma dispelled all compunctions within a fortnight as India thrashed the West Indies 3-0 in ODIs, then clinched the T20 series too (leading 2-0 as I write this) though the visiting team put up a stiff fight in the second match.

Going just by scorecards, it would appear that India got the better of a rusty and lacklustre West Indies team, but that ignores how well India played. While home advantage was undeniable, these wins did not come on the wings of luck, but hard effort, top skills and fine captaincy.

Let me contextualise this. The West Indies may be in the doldrums where Test cricket is concerned, but over the last decade, have been competitive, particularly in T20 cricket, as two World Cup triumphs easily testify. Loaded with all-rounders and power hitters who are in big demand in T20 leagues across the world — 8 of them were bought in the recent IPL mega auction, most at fancy prices — they pose serious threat to any side anywhere.

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Like India, the West Indies had a disastrous T20 World Cup in UAE last season and have been looking for a quick revival too. Victory over England just before reaching here showed they were in decent form and not to be trifled with. To be quashed by India comprehensively redounds then to the credit of Rohit Sharma and Co who were able to put aside the travails of the South African.

The captain’s role is paramount in such situations, and Sharma went about his task with aplomb, tackling challenges with flair and tactical acumen, and holding the team together as a unit with control and authority without looking anxious or overwrought.

A good way to understand a captain’s influence on his team comes from how many players perform to ability or beyond. Using this as a parameter, Sharma comes out with flying colours as almost every player who took the field, in ODIs and T20s, made a contribution of significance leading to the team’s win.

Kohli, who struggled for runs in the ODIs, came up with a sparkling half century in the second T20 that set up the platform for Pant and Iyer to finish strongly. Bhuvneshwar, on the verge of being dropped after a series of shallow performances, conceded a measly 4 runs in the critical 19th over in the same match which helped stop the West Indies 9-run short of a win.

Among the players who shone were Yuzvendra Chahal and debutant Ravi Bishnoi. Before the T20 series, Sharma had talked of playing two wrist spinners in the playing XI and everybody thought he meant Kuldeep Yadav as Chahal’s partner. But the captain and coach Rahul Dravid plumped for two leg-spinners – of contrasting styles of course – and this paid of fabulously for India.

Deepak Chahar, Surya Kumar Yadav and Rishabh Pant lived up to reputation, which meant that India were not unduly hassled if some batsman or bowler didn’t deliver in a particular match. The only disappointment was Ishan Kishan who just couldn’t get going.

Kishan had a golden opportunity to cement his place in the playing XI what with KL Rahul being absent after sustaining an injury in the ODIs. But he failed to make impact. Only a week earlier, he had fetched a whopping Rs 15.25 crore in the IPL mega auction.

This was a reminder to him – and others who got paid fancy prices – that IPL bids may not necessarily be an index to ability and certainly do not guarantee runs or wickets. These have to be hard earned on the field of play.

Kishan’s disappointing form apart, the two series against West Indies have been high value to the Indian team looking to get a tournament-winning squad in place for the T20 World Cup scheduled to be played in Australia later this year.

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The experiment with Bishnoi has paid off, and with four more matches (1 v West Indies, 3 v Sri Lanka) coming up, there is ample scope for checking out the bench strength, particularly since Kohli and Pant have been deservingly rested after being in bio-bubbles for extended periods of time.

This home season is now just about white ball bilateral series and the IPL, however. On the horizon is the 2-Test series against Sri Lanka which is crucial too. On Saturday, the BCCI broke its silence on Kohli’s successor by giving the responsibility to Rohit. Another bold move was Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane, along with Ishant Sharma and Wriddhiman Saha, facing the axe.

The Lankans currently head the points and percentage table, India are languishing at no.5 and have to make a decisive move upwards to try and make it to the final again.

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