With Virat Kohli announcing his resignation as T20I captain, and his impending, if eventual, departure from all formats slowly sinking in, a new question awaits the side: who are India’s future captaincy candidates? Sarah Waris weighs up the options.
Despite Rohit Sharma’s presence, talks of instating him as the next leader seem based on his IPL credentials rather than a focus on the future of Indian cricket. At 34, the opener is not getting any younger, and having a fresh face, who could be in charge for the most part of the upcoming decade, should be the priority of the BCCI top-brass.
Here’s a list of the potential captaincy options for India in white-ball cricket.
Yes, Iyer isn’t a part of the T20 World Cup squad, and Suryakumar Yadav is slowly replacing him as India’s No.4, a slot that the former had seemingly sealed, but his IPL record and his captaincy skills in the last edition of the tournament show that he should be at the forefront of the race to become India’s next white-ball skipper. One of the most dynamic players around, Iyer was given the role of leading the Delhi franchise midway through the 2018 campaign, and he sparked a turnaround the very next year as the franchise qualified for the play-offs after a long gap of seven seasons. The team bettered their showing in 2020, advancing to the finals, with Iyer’s leadership in sharp focus as he maneuvered his bowlers well and ensured that the strong core of Indian batters combined well with the bowling exports to ensure Delhi’s best-ever finish.
Though Punjab Kings have not had the best record under him — since he was appointed captain of the franchise in 2019, the side have failed to make the playoffs on both occasions — he has been a revelation with the bat, though his strike rate could remain a sore point. He has amassed over 590 runs in each of the last two completed seasons and ended the first half of IPL 2021 with 331 runs at an improved strike rate of 136.21.
The team’s floundering returns cannot solely be blamed on Rahul: the make-up of the Punjab side is such that you are left searching for options as you go down the order. Rahul, aware of the shortcomings of the squad, has, thus, taken on the responsibility to bat through the innings on most occasions, and you’d expect that if he were to become the leader of India, which should have a more settled line-up, Rahul will become an even bigger beast.
The wicketkeeper was in the news for having turned down Chris Morris for a single when five were needed off two in an IPL game earlier this season. Samson, who was batting on 119 then, decided that he was the best bet to win Rajasthan the game, over Morris, who was new to the crease. Though he was unable to get the win for the side, following which he was heavily criticised, it displayed his ability to take on the responsibility in crunch situations, and his desire to never back down from a fight.
Samson is not the most consistent batsman around — he flatters only to deceive on plenty of occasions — which has proved to be his shortcoming while sealing an India spot, but a few good seasons to go with the added advantage of captaincy with Kerala makes him a dark horse.
Hear us out. He’s young, and you don’t want any added pressure on him, but you can’t deny his role in ensuring Delhi finished on top of the Indian leg of IPL 2021 despite being handed over the reins at the last moment following Iyer’s injury. Pant did struggle for consistency through the first eight games this year, and it appeared that he had let go of his fearless self to take on the responsibility and bat till the end, but this is where his age becomes a boon. With senior pros Kohli and Rohit in the side, the wicketkeeper can adapt and learn the tricks of the trade, and if his handling of the established players in DC this year is anything to go by, there is no reason why Pant cannot be a successful India captain.
An unlikely choice, you’d say, but his handling of pressure has remained top-notch thus far. The biggest example of it remains his heart-winning gesture towards Quinton de Kock in the nerve-wracking IPL final in 2019. With 13 to win off seven, the South Africa player was unable to complete a clean take as the ball burst through his gloves for a four. Any other bowler would have found it tough to keep his emotions in check, but Bumrah walked over to de Kock before wrapping his arms around the South African. However, he knows when to get riled up: if not for his batting heroics at Lord’s after his run-in with James Anderson, India might not have taken a series lead. After the aggressive streak of Kohli, having a captain like Bumrah, who exudes a Dhoni-esque calm, might not be the worst move.
Special mentions: Prithvi Shaw and Shubman Gill
The two made headlines after their performances in the successful under-19 World Cup in 2018. Led by Shaw, the Indians looked formidable through their campaign, and the two have, since then, emerged as the next big things in Indian cricket. While Shaw has overcome an indifferent IPL 2020, Gill has started his Test career with a bang. The latter was Mumbai’s captain in the Vijay Hazare Trophy this year, taking them to the title whilst scoring a record 827 runs. Gill too has been added to the leadership group by KKR in the IPL, and the two have shown plenty of promise to be termed as possible India captains in the future.