Captains have a shelf-life and the player usually outlasts the leader within the individual. This is true across sport and more so in cricket, with its three distinct formats and the attendant pressures. Seen through that prism, it is remarkable that Virat Kohli has had such a long run at the helm since his appointment as Test captain following M.S. Dhoni’s retirement from the longest format on December 30, 2014. Since that day in Melbourne, Kohli, both batsman-supreme and aggressive-captain, has striven hard for success and balance. Subsequently, Kohli also held the reins in One Day Internationals and Twenty20Is from early 2017. He got prolific runs be it in Test whites or in the blue shade and he savoured triumphs with his men even if ICC silverware in limited-overs cricket or in the World Test Championship proved elusive. He also leads Royal Challengers Bangalore in the Indian Premier League (IPL), which resumes in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Sunday. Be it finalising playing elevens, evolving strategies, having a word with the selectors or addressing the media, captaincy throws up manifold challenges. The pressure was immense, and Kohli took to social media and announced that he will step down from captaincy in T20Is after the ICC Twenty20 World Cup concludes in the UAE this November.
Over the last few months, there was chatter about the Indian team’s captaincy sweep-stakes. And Kohli’s move was not entirely a surprise but what remains piquant is that he has not relinquished captaincy in ODIs. Perhaps the 2023 ICC World Cup in India is too massive a brand for Kohli to ignore. Yet, it leaves his successor in T20Is, most likely Rohit Sharma, in an awkward position. Captaincy is usually split between red-ball and white-ball cricket but with Kohli preferring this nuanced choice of both Test and ODI leadership, he is only leaving the crumbs for the imminent captain in T20Is. It is a fact that Rohit has led Mumbai Indians well in the IPL, guiding them to five titles. His relaxed demeanour is in contrast to Kohli’s in-your-face aggression, but Rohit gets the work done, both as batsman and leader. With his credentials as Test opener gaining a fresh glow in England, the Mumbaikar, always a splendid batsman in limited-overs cricket, has grown in stature. At 34, Rohit is nearly two years older to Kohli, but for now he is primed for guiding the transition and has seemingly edged past the other candidate Ajinkya Rahane in Tests. But that will happen only if Kohli decides to remain a pure batsman or the selectors intervene. For now, a change, however feeble, has begun in T20Is.