Rohit Sharma’s Test captaincy faces its first huge test
It’s been a little over a year since it officially began, but has the Rohit Sharma era as India captain really begun at all?
It’s made a spluttering sort of start in Test cricket: Rohit missed three of India’s five Tests since he became their all-format captain. Injuries, in fact, have forced Rohit to miss eight of India’s last 10 Test matches. He was Player of the Match in India’s last Test before this stretch of games, a landmark victory that took them to a 2-1 series lead in England, months after they had beaten Australia 2-1 in Australia.
Since then, India’s world-beating aura has faded somewhat – they lost Tests they could have won in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Birmingham, and won one they could quite conceivably have lost in Dhaka – and Rohit has mostly been an absent figurehead.
He has had more of a chance to make an impact as a white-ball captain, and his overall results have been fantastic. Rohit has the best win-loss ratio of any India ODI captain who has led at least 10 times in that format, and only Hardik Pandya, who has only captained in 11 matches, sits above him on the corresponding T20I list.
Reaching the semi-finals of the 2022 T20 World Cup a year after exiting the same tournament at the group stage could be seen as a significant achievement for both Rohit and Rahul Dravid, who took over as head coach after the 2021 tournament. But it wouldn’t be lost on either of them that, for all the gains India made as a T20I side between the two tournaments, particularly in terms of batting approach, the same failings cost them in both 2021 and 2022.
Dravid knows from experience that tournament results end up defining captains, and that one bad tournament can cancel out the goodwill earned via bilateral results, especially in white-ball cricket. He could be remembered as the captain who turned India into a world-class chasing team in ODIs, but it’s likely that far more remember him for leading India to a group-stage exit at the 2007 World Cup.
Process dominates cricket discourse far more in Rohit’s era than it did in Dravid’s, but results – specifically results in “big” games and tournaments – eventually come to define the tenures of captains, coaches and selectors.
That Rohit succeeded Virat Kohli was itself, in part, down to a sense that he would be a big-tournament captain, and India had been starved of big-tournament titles since 2013. At the time he took over the white-ball teams, Rohit had just won his fifth IPL title as Mumbai Indians’ captain, and there were three ICC trophies up for grabs in the next two years.
Tournament results are, of course, heavily dependent on how good a team is relative to the competition, the format – one or two bad days are enough to send a strong contender out of the T20 World Cup at the group stage than they are to prevent one from reaching the IPL playoffs – and luck.
When teams win, though, the complicated story of their success is often simplified, and retold with the captain cast as some sort of all-knowing, benevolent mastermind. In the media, this premise is usually backed up with player testimonials – it’s a fresh surprise each time players in winning teams say good things about their captains, no doubt – rather than any analysis of how this superhero captain’s decision-making differed from that of other captains in similar situations, and no one ever asks whether the same team, filled with so many other winning ingredients, could have just as easily won with a different captain.
For whatever it was worth, then, Rohit came to the India captaincy with something of an aura. Now, just over a year since becoming all-format captain, there are threats to his leadership in every format.In T20Is, the threat has a name. Hardik has captained India in every T20I they’ve played since the World Cup semi-final against England in November. Rohit scored a scratchy 27 off 28 balls in that match, and he hasn’t played a T20I since. Now this is mostly because India are building up to an ODI World Cup and are looking to rest their senior players from T20Is, but it’s not inconceivable that one or more of the young top-order contenders who are now getting their chance could make themselves exceedingly difficult to leave out by the time T20Is become top priority again.
The future of Rohit’s ODI captaincy, meanwhile, could hinge on whether or not India translate their status as favourites for this year’s home World Cup into actually winning it. It’s an unfair amount of pressure, but it is what it is.
His Test captaincy, of course, has barely begun at all.
It’s against this backdrop that Rohit will lead India in one of Test cricket’s highest-profile contests. The 2016-17 Border-Gavaskar Trophy was perhaps the greatest Test series India has hosted this millennium – yes, arguably even greater than 2000-01 for the range of quality performances from both sets of players – a series where Australia made them reach into their deepest reserves of skill and stamina to complete a 2-1 comeback win.
The Australia of 2022-23 could be an even better collection of players than the one that toured in 2016-17, and could be an even better team if they address one key structural issue – the seeming lack of a quality second spinner.
India will, as ever, begin the series with a formidable spin attack and, despite the absence of Jasprit Bumrah, a group of quicks who are often deadly in home conditions. The batting will give them a few more headaches: India will be without Rishabh Pant’s genius and – for the first Test at least – Shreyas Iyer’s counterattacking flair against spin. This is a worry because they’ve been India’s best batters in subcontinental conditions since the start of 2021, a period in which Cheteshwar Pujara has averaged 34.61 in Asia and Virat Kohli 23.85. Rohit’s red-ball rhythm, meanwhile, is a bit of an unknown, since he hasn’t played a Test match since March 2022.
For all that, India should still be favourites, but if you’re an India fan and your normal pre-series anticipation is tinged with a sense of nameless dread, it could be because of this: R Ashwin is 36; Rohit, Pujara and Umesh Yadav are 35; Kohli and Ravindra Jadeja are 34; and Mohammed Shami is 32. Ishant Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane, both 34, may already have played their last Tests.
It’s fallen upon Rohit to captain India’s most successful generation of Test cricketers when they’re ageing at the same time. Managing this transition could be an exceedingly tricky task, and quite a lot of it – what can a mere captain do, for instance, to unearth successors to all-time greats? – is beyond his control, but it’s one other thing he’ll be judged on, for better or worse.
The Rohit Sharma era, then, could be a short one. And if this series against Australia – upon whose outcome hinges India’s qualification for the World Test Championship final – doesn’t go to plan, it could threaten to end before it’s even had a chance to properly begin.
Rajapaksa, Arshdeep deliver winning start for PBKS
A power-packed, collective performance with the bat set the platform for Punjab Kings’ winning start as they downed Kolkata Knight Riders by seven runs (DLS method) at the PCA stadium in Mohali on Saturday (April 1). Bhanuka Rajapaksa (50 off 32) registered his maiden IPL fifty while Shikhar Dhawan struck a 29-ball 40, and along with useful contributions from the rest of the batters, PBKS posted a formidable 191/5. Andre Russell top-scored for KKR but they lost wickets at regular intervals and eventually fell short of the DLS par score as they finished with 146/7 in 16 overs when rain forced the players off the field.
Punjab Kings 191/5 in 20 overs (Bhanuka Rajapaksa 50, Shikhar Dhawan 40; Tim Southee 2-54) beat Kolkata Knight Riders 146/7 in 16 overs (Andre Russell 35; Venkatesh Iyer 34; Arshdeep Singh 3-19) by 7 runs (DLS method).
Ruturaj 92 in vain as Titans win opening game
A brilliant 92 from Ruturaj Gaikwad went in vain as defending champions Gujarat Titans beat Chennai Super Kings in Ahmedabad on Friday (March 31) in the tournament opener. Gaikwad’s innings was nullified to an extent initially by Shubman Gill before a few vital blows towards the end of the game from the Titans middle order got the job done for them with four balls to spare.
Chennai Super Kings 178/7 in 20 overs (Ruturaj Gaikwad 92; Rashid Khan 2/26, Mohammed Shami 2/29) lost to Gujarat Titans182/5 in 19.2 overs (Shubman Gill 63; Rajvardhan Hangargekar 3/36) by 5 wickets
Bowlers, Stirling lead Ireland to their first win in Bangladesh in any format
Ireland finally notched a win on their tour of Bangladesh by scoring a seven-wicket win in the final T20I in Chattogram on Friday. Mark Adair led the bowling charge with three wickets as Bangladesh were bowled out for 124, and Paul Stirling, later named Player of the Match, was at his inventive best as he struck a 41-ball 77 to headline the chase. It was Ireland’s first T20I win over Bangladesh since 2009 and their first win in any format in the country.
Bangladesh had already taken the series after winning the first two games earlier in the week, and made two changes, perhaps to try out alternatives. Mehidy Hasan Miraz and Mustafizur Rahman went out; Rishad Hossain was handed a debut and Shoriful Islam made a comeback. It was the batting that came unstuck, though.
After opting to bat, Bangladesh were 61 for 7 in nine-and-a-half overs. Shamim Hossain, however, scored his first international half-century, making 51 off 42 balls with five fours and two sixes to give them a competitive 124. One of those sixes was a particularly eye-catching shot, when he reverse-whipped Curtis Campher hit over backward point for six.
But with Stirling in blistering form, and playing a few inventive shots of his own, the chase was done and dusted in 14 overs.Bangladesh’s slide started in the second over. Litton Das’ slash towards deep point against a wide Adair delivery landed in George Dockrell’s lap. It was the first time Bangladesh had lost a wicket in the powerplay after three matches.
Najmul Hossain Shanto was next to go, hitting a slog-sweep off Harry Tector straight to deep midwicket. Campher juggled the catch but clung on. In the next over, Campher himself got a wicket, when Rony Talukdar holed out at deep midwicket.
Towhid Hridoy and Shakib Al Hasan, however, went for their shots in keeping with Bangladesh’s new approach, and hit a couple of big ones, but both were gone in the space of three balls. Shakib was caught at short midwicket mistiming a pull off Adair, while Hridoy holed out off Ben White in the seventh over
Matthew Humphreys had two wicketless ODIs in Sylhet, but the left-arm spinner had a better start to his T20I career. He took a wicket off his first ball when he yorked Rishad for 8.
That made him the first Ireland bowler to take a wicket with his first ball in T20Is. This was, however, not the first time a debutant had done this against Bangladesh. Previously, Rory Kleinveldt, Pragyan Ojha, Lockie Ferguson and Cole McConchie have all achieved the feat.
Humphreys added his second off his third ball, when Taskin Ahmed was caught at deep midwicket for a duck.Shamim and Nasum Ahmed added 33 runs for the eighth wicket before Nasum was caught in the covers off Gareth Delany’s legspin. Adair took his third when he removed Shoriful, before Fionn Hand took Shamim’s wicket in the final over.
Stirling didn’t get going at the start, as there were two early wickets, of Ross Adair and Lorcan Tucker, but once he was set, there was no stopping him. He cut and swept Shakib for fours to kickstart the chase, and then deposited Hasan Mahmud’s half-tracker for his first six next over. No bowler escaped his wrath, or his inventiveness, as he hit ten fours and four sixes in his 41-ball innings.
Many of those came in one Shoriful over, the 11th of the innings, when he pulled a six and hit three fours to take 20 runs. Rishad put an end to the mayhem when he had Stirling caught at long-on in the 13th over – it was Stirling’s 22nd half-century in T20Is and Rishad’s first international wicket – but Campher closed out the chase with a four and a six off Taskin.
Ireland 126 for 3 (Stirling 77, Campher 16*, Tector 14*, Rishad 1-19) beat Bangladesh 124 (Shamim 51, Adair 3-25, Humphreys 2-10) by seven wickets
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