Afghan series: Is India not ready to do without Rohit, Kohli in T20Is?

Coach Rahul Dravid resorts to a safety-first policy ahead of World Cup in June

Virat Kohli (left) and Rohit Sharma wished to quit T20s after the World T20 (photo: National Herald archives)
Virat Kohli (left) and Rohit Sharma wished to quit T20s after the World T20 (photo: National Herald archives)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

The addition of Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli in the squad has overnight infused a lot more gravitas into the three-match T20I series against Afghanistan, beginning on Thursday. It has, however, polarised opinions and thrown up a bigger question in its wake — is Indian cricket still not ready to do without the Big Two

The ground was being prepared when chief selector Ajit Agarkar flew down to South Africa during the last Test series to ostensibly discuss the white ball future of the big guns and going by media reports, both had expressed a desire to bow out of the shortest format at the T20 World Cup in the US & West Indies in June. It certainly put paid to the endless speculation about their future in white-ball cricket ever since India’s shattering defeat in the 50-over World Cup final.  

There were any number of possibilities on the table, one of them being Rohit being reinstated as T20 captain with an eye on the World T20, while Kohli’s berth was not guaranteed, given that his strike-rate hovers around 100 in the middle overs. However, a former national selector was spot on when he was quoted telling PTI on condition of anonymity: ‘’Decisions on Rohit and Virat can’t solely be taken by the selection committee. There is a lot at stake, broadcasters, sponsors... and you can’t pick one and drop the other. Ajit and his team needed to maintain a status quo.’’ 

Kohli, however, will be available for only the second and third T20Is as he has pulled out of the first one due to "personal reasons".

It must have been the mother of all selection dilemmas once the duo decided to make themselves ‘available’, no matter that they, along with K.L. Rahul, were panned for sticking to an archaic style of batting in the powerplay during India’s unsuccessful campaigns in the last two World T20s in the UAE and Australia, respectively. There must have been some method in the madness then, as neither Rohit nor Kohli were part of the T20 side in the last 14 months and Hardik Pandya was being foisted as the future leader. 

It’s a classic case of one step forward two steps back by the powers that be in Indian cricket — though there do seem to be some credible reasons behind it. The injury-prone career of Pandya, who was recently named captain of Mumbai Indians under controversial circumstances, has failed to inspire enough confidence in the selectors to hedge their bets on him as the leader in an event like the World Cup. It was then a no brainer to try and convince Rohit for the role, albeit on a short term basis. 

Moving to their form with the bat, Kohli and Rohit were the top two scorers in the last World Cup at home with 765 and 597 runs, respectively. While Rohit as captain believed in taking the attack to the rival camp in the powerplays, Kohli excelled in playing the anchorman’s role at no. 3.

The likes of Shreyas Iyer, who finished at no. 7 among the scorers with 530 runs or Shubman Gill (354 runs from nine matches) fared reasonably well — but the team management clearly wants to to weave the batting around these two senior pros in the upcoming World Cup. It will be interesting to see where it leaves the likes of Yashasvi Jaiswal or finisher Rinku Singh in the scheme of things.  

A safety first approach no doubt, quite contrary to what head coach Rahul Dravid had himself practiced as captain ahead of the inaugural edition of the T20 World Cup way back in 2007. Back from a disastrous campaign in the 50-over World Cup that year in the Caribbean, Dravid convinced other senior team members like Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly not to play the format as it was perceived to be a young man’s game.  

The responsibility was thrust on one Mahendra Singh Dhoni to lead a new-look team and the rest, as they say, is history. It’s a question that begs to be asked of Dravid during one of the media sessions.  

Meanwhile, time alone will say if bringing the two back for the T20s is a masterstroke or an opportunity wasted by the Indian team management to think ahead. Will it be now the turn of Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane next in the five-Test series at home against England?               

Catch the match 

India vs Afghanistan 

First T20 International, Mohali 

Start: 7.00 pm IST 

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