Virat Kohli averages 72.65 with the bat as captain of the Indian One-Day International team. This is more than anyone in the history of the game who has led for at least 75 matches. AB de Villiers, considered one of the best all-format batsmen of all time, comes in second at 63.94. It is not easy to lead an international team when you are also the best batsman in the side. At times it becomes unclear whether your runs are more important or your leadership.
For now, that question has been answered for Kohli by the Board of Control for Cricket in India, their selectors and the team management. Kohli has been relieved of captaincy in One-Day Internationals, not long after he stepped down from his leadership role in Twenty20 Internationals. Kohli cited workload management as his reason for doing so, just ahead of the International Cricket Council Twenty20 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates. Given India’s sparse T20 engagements, it did not appear that letting go of captaincy in this format alone backed up his argument.
Kohli did not take part in India’s home T20I series against New Zealand immediately after the World Cup, and when the Board of Control for Cricket in India announced their Test squad for the series in South Africa, they added a line, at the end of their media release, that Rohit Sharma would be the captain of the 50-over team as well. This is a moment in time where a line is being drawn in the sand, whether anyone will accept it or not.
As part of the Test squad announcement, Ajinkya Rahane was relieved of his vice-captaincy, the baton being passed on to Rohit Sharma, who is no stripling at almost 35 years of age. But, when you make Rohit the captain in two formats out of three, it makes sense for him to be the vice-captain in the third, especially with Rahane struggling for form and clinging onto his place in the Test team by a thread. The injustice of it all, if you look at it from Rahane’s point of view, is that he led India to one of their greatest Test series wins, less than 11 months ago. He scored a Test hundred of the highest class that took a team from being 36 all out to winning a series with players who were at best second string.
Today, Rahane, who does not feature in white-ball cricket, is looking at not so much an uncertain future but an unceremonious end to his career. Rahane will be the first to admit he has not scored as many runs as a batsman of his undeniable quality should have, in the recent past. In two years, Rahane has played 16 Tests, averaging 24, which is completely unacceptable for a top-order batsman. But, he has kept his place because those who come before him, Cheteshwar Pujara (average 27 in 17 Tests) and Kohli (average 26 from 13 Tests) have been just as poor.
What kept Rahane going this long was his position as vice-captain. And even when he was in this position he has been dropped from the playing eleven in the past, when he was still returning much better numbers than he is now. With that said, unless he gets a big one in one India’s early Tests in South Africa, it’s hard to see him surviving the axe.
For Indian cricket, though, this is only another phase of transition. Could it have been managed better? Of course. Could the change have happened more organically? Naturally. Could explanations have been more honest and straightforward? Yes. But, that is not how Indian cricket works these days. Or, at the very least in the recent past. The winds of change may be blowing, and this starts with captaincy, coaching and leadership positions. But, one thing is for sure, with Indian cricket, the more things change, the more they stay the same.