@swaris16 5 minute read
Reports suggest Rohit Sharma could lead India in the T20 World Cup next year while Virat Kohli could miss out, but it’s time the team moved on from both, writes Sarah Waris.
Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli both last played a T20I in the 2022 T20 World Cup. Even though the former remains India’s official skipper in the format, with the BCCI yet to announce a captaincy change to regular stand-in Hardik Pandya, it had seemed as if the playing days of the two stalwarts in the format had come to an end.
That is until recently, when reports of Rohit leading the T20I side for the 2024 World Cup emerged. The opener led the way for India with his aggressive batting in the powerplay in the recent 50-over World Cup, batting at a strike rate of 125.94, the highest in the tournament among players with more than 400 runs. He hit 31 sixes, the only player to breach 25, and his approach made it look possible that he could revolutionise his T20I batting as well.
Rohit has a strike rate of just below 140 in the shortest format and while that is impressive, his recent form in T20s has been below par. In 29 games last year, he struck just over 134 and his batting in the T20 World Cup arguably played the biggest role in India’s lacklustre performance in the event. Rohit averaged 19.33 but, more importantly, struck at 106.42, which included a 28-ball 27 in the semifinal. He only hit four sixes in six innings, three of which came against the Netherlands.
A look at his recent IPL record is even more striking, further proving why he should not be an automatic pick for the T20I side. Rohit last struck over 135 in a season in 2015 and the eight years since then have seen him average 26.66. For four successive years, between 2019 and 2022, Rohit had an IPL strike rate below 130, which improved improved to 132.80 in 2023. While his international career has seen his strike rate at 142 since 2016, dig deeper and the difference in his showings against top-ranked and lower-ranked sides paint a drastic picture.
Combine it with his IPL numbers and it is increasingly evident that he has consistently struggled against quality bowlers in the format, finding it tough to score quickly in different conditions.
But his 50-over World Cup batting gave hints of an aggressive Rohit as he shed his conventional exterior to provide India starts he admittedly wanted to give in 2022 as well.
The ease of his stroke-making, irrespective of conditions and quality of bowlers, has forced the BCCI to go back on their decision and reportedly consider him as their T20I skipper once again. With Hardik’s ankle injury expected to rule him out for the foreseeable future, the board were keen to have Rohit lead the T20I team in South Africa despite his excellence having come in another format, but with the wounds of the 50-over World Cup loss still fresh, he decided to skip the white-ball series, along with Kohli.
Kohli, on the other hand, is a T20 World Cup legend, having played several astonishing knocks and having taken India to safety innumerable times over the editions. He has often defied logic and stats to emerge as India’s biggest positive through the competition, the prime example being in 2022 when he returned from an extended dip in form to shine in Australia. His 82 not out against Pakistan stands as one of the greatest T20I innings of all time. Scratch that. It is the greatest T20I knock of all time.
But past laurels shouldn’t be a reason for Kohli’s selection in the 2024 T20 World Cup, just like recent improvements in another format shouldn’t prompt Rohit’s. Even if the two have significant IPL tournaments in 2024, which will just precede the World Cup, it will make little sense to include them in the side.
Over the last year, India have looked to overhaul their T20I set-up, handing debuts to 11 players. The likes of Yashasvi Jaiswal, Shubman Gill, Tilak Varma and Rinku Singh are now seen as the future and are expected to lead the charge of Indian cricket for at least the next decade, starting with the 2024 T20 World Cup. They also can strike big from the word go, which both Kohli and Rohit have struggled with recently.
With the game rapidly speeding up, keeping up the pace throughout the innings is necessary, especially in conditions that demand otherwise. Though Rohit has shown he can still play the role of aggressor, his IPL numbers for eight seasons suggest he is prone to getting stuck in the format. Kohli’s middle-order woes have continued as he struggles against the spinners and the best option is to have him opening and getting off to a start against the pacers before the slower bowlers stall the run-flow. In the last three seasons of the IPL, Kohli has struck at 121 between overs 7-15, which falls to 106.1 against the spinners.
Also, the inclusion of either or both Rohit and Kohli seven months before the T20 World Cup will only force India team to go back on the vision they have adopted for over a year now and will keep one or two promising youngsters out. Shubman Gill and Yashasvi Jaiswal offer different skills as openers, also providing a right-left combination, while there is a point to be made about having Suryakumar Yadav at No.3, allowing the best T20I batter to face as many deliveries. Tilak Varma, Rinku Singh and Jitesh Sharma are also in the reckoning and the current T20I batting line-up looks formidable, with each player having their own skill set.
Ruturaj Gaikwad, who recently made a T20I ton, is lurking around to stake a claim as well as is Rahul Tripathi. Sai Sudharsan, recently picked for the South Africa ODIs, is another exciting prospect.
The temptation to persist with the warhorses and give them the best possible chance to walk away with a World Cup trophy is irresistible but it will also take away from the exposure the younger players would receive. Going back on one or both of the senior players was unlikely if they had won the 50-over World Cup – desperation won’t do any good. The bigger picture should be in focus despite the failure to win any ICC event since 2013, with a new skipper and younger players being pushed towards challenges, and even if they fail, the learnings will hold them in better stead.
Mission 2024 is something the management has been working on since the 2022 T20 World Cup ended and scattering the plans because of the inability to win a trophy in another tournament of a different format with another set of players makes little sense. This could also be a massive opportunity to start afresh with a new mindset and without the baggage of unfulfilled expectations, akin to what MS Dhoni’s young troops managed to achieve in the 2007 T20 World Cup.
It led to the ushering in of a new era and it’s sometimes those leaps of faith that can change the future even as you so fiercely want to hold onto the past.
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