Why Indian Cricket Team should consider multiple captains across different formats?
Now I know this is a very divisive argument. But hear me out before you lay down your judgement. Let’s just start by agreeing that a captain is the most important figure in the team. It is a great challenge to captain any side and comes with great responsibilities. Specifically in India, with the added expectations, suggestions and criticism of a billion voices to add to the mountain load of pressure. But we forget something, a captain need not be the best player in your team. Yes, it’s great to lead by an example, but that’s not the most important and definitely not the only job requirement. It requires you to have a slight mental, tactical and strategic edge not just over your teammates but also your opponents.
Team selection, setting up the fielders, which bowlers to use in powerplay and death overs, deciding the batting line up, inspiring the players and the ability to remain sane during the most chaotic moments are just some of the things which come to the top of my mind. Imagine being in charge of all of these along with the obligation to perform at your individual best. It’s too much strain for any individual. Now just increase it multi-fold when you have to maintain this across the three formats which are equally demanding in their own rights. That’s a tough ask and sooner rather than later results in the individual and team downfall. Most of the teams around the world have resonated with this thought and decide to take a multi captain route. What’s stopping India and the most important one, do we need this?
The apprehension with this policy in my opinion isn’t misplaced but outdated. First, let’s agree that cricketers play more matches currently as compared to the super seniors of the team. Introduction of T20 format along with IPL keeps players on their toes throughout the calendar. It’s great that you get more chances to perform and prove, but these opportunities are now stretched within a very short time for your evaluation. Hence, the results are expected thick and fast. However, some things haven’t changed much. Our core squad in the current dressing room is majorly consistent across all the formats. Given Kohli is the best player of that lot, that should put to rest why he should be the unanimous choice. Not so soon.
Sachin Tendulkar at the peak of his powers was asked to lead the team in the late 90s. With beginner’s luck, the team could manage some victories but he slowly began to feel the heat. We all know how that captaincy period ended up for the team and his performance. The next decade saw two of the best Indian captains in the history who brought all the laurels to the Indian team. Were they the best players on their team? On a given day, definitely yes. But not when looked at the major part of their captaincy. Even Kapil Dev for that matter of fact fits the example. I am sure when asked Kapil Dev, Ganguly and Dhoni would happily concede the title of the best player, but so would Sachin when asked about the best captain. There are always exceptions, in other corners of the world. But when we look at the Men in Blue, we haven’t defied our norms yet.
Let’s also look at the current best-ranked teams in the world. England tops the table in the shorter format with Australia the leader in test cricket. What’s common, both the teams follow multi captain policy? It might not be a direct correlation but let’s look at it the other way, where it might be the factor stopping us from being the best in any of these formats. Virat Kohli, to be honest, has seen his best days individually as the leader of the team. Ever since he took the responsibility of the Test squad, he has been the best batsman of not just his squad, but arguably the entire world. He has also been the most successful test captain in Indian history in terms of most test wins. But the same has not been true in the limited-overs format.
When Dhoni realised that he could no longer drive results for team India as a captain and a batsman, he retired and handed the reins to Kohli. Even though he chipped in with some significant contributions in limited-overs, Kohli took over as the leader shortly after. While Kohli is undeniably one of the Indian greats, his recent captaincy stints have come under huge scrutiny. It’s not at the cost of his personal performance rather the collective outcome. And just to point out we are not talking about any bilateral series to take the mickey out of him. 2017 Champions Trophy Final and 2019 World Cup semi-final. Arguably the best world cup squad India ever assembled. The pressure of the moment did get the best of him on both occasions. It’s not just the big picture, but the minutiae which also begs attention. Questionable picks in the team for important matches. Rushed DRS decisions in the heat of the moment.
If that’s still not convincing enough, we can talk about all his IPL seasons with Royal Challengers Bangalore. Especially the disappointment of the latest edition which added more wood to this fire. His individual performance wasn’t up to the mark this season but that doesn’t take anything away from him still being one of the most feared and dependable batsmen in the IPL. But why this debate out of the blue? Because we have someone in the dressing room who is a close second when it comes to limited-overs and have some trophies under his belt. If you haven’t guessed it yet, I am talking about Rohit Sharma. Multiple IPL championships including the latest one, Asia Cup and Nidahas Trophy. And these are all multi teams competition, something which Virat Kohli hasn’t been able to manage so far.
India is touring Australia and we could not have imagined a worse start to the tour. Even though India managed to score a minimum of 300 in every innings, it wasn’t enough. India lost the ODI series 2–1 and was outplayed by Australia in every department. This just validates this argument even further. It’s understandable that India missed Rohit Sharma’s services and the entire drama which played out. India could redeem itself in the T20 series by winning it 2–1. Another mixed bag of performances and results which is not a reason for grave concern but for a slight nudge towards taking the right decision. Even the test series performance for that matter of fact sheds more light on this topic.
India had abysmal performance in the second innings of the first test match at Adelaide. Something which will haunt the players for a while. While Kohli was bound to return back to the country for personal reasons, Rahane took over for the remaining series. And currently how it stands is not out at the crease with a century knock to his name in the second test with the team at a comfortable position. Now no one expected India to perform this way without their star player on such a bland pitch with a couple of debutantes in the playing XI. This also gives a glimpse into another captaincy prospect for India who can pick up the team from the slump.
Now this entire debate wasn’t talking about glass half empty but rather half full. We are not putting a target on Kohli’s back especially on the eve he has made into the ICC Test, ODI and T20I XI of the decade. But guess who else joins him on that ODI and T20I list, the Hitman. Australia and England have different captains who do not participate in other formats. Tim Paine does not participate in ODIs and Eoin Morgan isn’t a test pick. Rohit Sharma on the other hand has made a claim for the test opener spot with his recent heroics. With this, we have two great batsmen around the same age who can share this burden and yet contribute to India’s success. All the media talks about driving a wedge are just nonsense.
And this might just be the perfect time to think about the entire multi captain policy. We are on the verge of 2021 and we are looking at 4 ICC events in the next 3 years. T20 World Cup editions in 2021 and 2022, 50 over World Cup in 2023 and conclusion of the first ICC Test Championship in 2021. Since 2013 Champions Trophy, India hasn’t tasted any success in ICC events. Given the strength and talent of current Indian squad and the youngsters coming through, we need not think about the player selection as much as the one leading them. A taste of different leadership is needed in my opinion to get over the hump. Rohit Sharma in ODI and T20 and now Rahane in Test. When these players have shown some results outside the primary choice, a consideration to give them a bigger opportunity at ICC events doesn’t seem like a bad option.
It also allows respective captains to mould the teams for different formats rather than exertion by the same core in all three formats resulting in fatigue. With his fitness regimen, dedication and discipline, Kohli will still be the best batsman in the world for the coming years. The combination of his peak and longevity can be unparalleled to anyone in the history of the game. And Kohli the batsman is the need of the hour for team India. There aren’t major blemishes on his captaincy track record but why wait any longer for the worse to happen. This current team definitely deserves major silverware given their talent and performance. When we are trying pretty much everything to make it happen, it doesn’t hurt to also anoint a different captain on the field. Definitely worth a shot. Think about it!