Will it be a new India on the park against the Kiwis?

It would be a stretch to think the BCCI would look beyond Rohit Sharma to lead against the Kiwis. — AFP
It would be a stretch to think the BCCI would look beyond Rohit Sharma to lead against the Kiwis. — AFP

Mumbai - Rohit Sharma in line to take over the captaincy

By Ayaz Memon

Published: Mon 8 Nov 2021, 11:36 PM

The cricket juggernaut rolls on. Just over a week after leaving the T20 World Cup prematurely, against all predictions, the Indian cricket team starts a three-match T20 series against New Zealand at home. At this point in time, it is unknown how the Kiwis will fare in the knockout phase of the World Cup, but irrespective of that, will start favourites in India.

What the Indian squad will look like that will play the Kiwis is somewhat of a suspense. A new cluster of coaching staff, headed by Rahul Dravid, we know will be in place, though who the batting, bowling and fielding coaches will be is still unknown. With Virat Kohli having signed off as T20 captain, there will be a new man at the helm too.

The captain’s not been announced yet, but it is surely a one-horse race and should be a mere formality. Rohit Sharma has been vice-captain in white-ball cricket for a fair while now, has excellent credentials with a slew of IPL titles and the Asia Cup to his credit, and by all accounts has not fitness issues. It would be a stretch to think the BCCI would look beyond him to lead against the Kiwis.

However, what will India’s squad be in this three-match series is open to speculation, and has already been the subject of much debate in cricket circles in the country. India’s poor performance in the T20 World Cup has understandably left fans dejected and angry. There have been calls for heads to roll, indeed there have also been demands for a total shake-up.

While fans suffer from extreme mood swings in defeat and victory, there is no doubt that there is a challenging task ahead for the selection committee headed by Chetan Sharma — and by extension, Rahul Dravid and captain designate — on several considerations when the squad is picked.

The mental trauma of staying in the bio-secure bubble is something that players and coaches, directly or indirectly, have been talking about for a while now. Estranged from family and friends for extended periods has mentally bogged them down, some have said. Also, fatigue from work overload. Most India players have been on the road for virtually 12 months. The breaks have been brief, few and far in between.

This does not excuse the poor performance in the T20 World Cup, but will be a matter of priority discussion when the selectors meet. After the T20 and Test series against New Zealand, India are off to South Africa, and 2022 is a packed year too. Burn-out, physical and mental, is what the selectors and new coach Dravid will want to avoid.

Will players like Virat Kohli, KL Rahul, Rishabh Pant, Ravindra Jadeja, Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami — who have been playing in all formats international and in the IPL — be rested for the T20 series against the Kiwis? I haven’t included Rohit in this cluster because as captain, there will be no leeway for him.

Lack of fitness and poor form would be another strong determinant in this selection. Hardik Pandya hardly bowled in the World Cup because he wasn’t completely fit, which affected the balance of the Indian team in the competition. Bhuvneshwar Kumar looked short of form. Will they make way for some new players, or will they be given this series to prove themselves?

While the situation is complex for the selectors, it is not that the players are free of worry. Physical and mentally fatigued they may be, but missing out on a place in the side is also fraught with danger, except for a few star players. The mega auction of the IPL takes place in January, and those wearing the India colours at that time will be in greater demand than most others. To be rested at this point in time, while badly needed, could have negative ramifications elsewhere.

It will be an interesting selection!

Ayaz Memon is an Indian sports 
writer and commentator

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