“For me, it’s all about winning championships now. Not about how much I get. I just want to win championships, man.”
This was Rohit Sharma in August 2021, speaking with Dinesh Karthik ahead of the Test series in England.
Sharma wasn’t India’s captain officially in any format at that point. He was just a senior player in the team, now across formats, committed to chasing bigger things. He has been around for a long time and seemed hungry for the biggest titles the game had to offer, a hunger that was apparent in the determination with which he batted in the Tests that followed.
Cut to about four months later and Sharma is officially India’s captain in two formats – ODIs and T20s.
Virat Kohli announced his decision to step down as India’s T20 captain before the World Cup and despite some uncertainty, it was hardly a surprise to see Sharma take over. The ODI captaincy handover has been different, though. Kohli intended to carry on with ODI captaincy, as he quite clearly statedbefore the T20 World Cup. And the BCCI, after initially making just a one-line statement, finally explained that they didn’t want different captains in white-ball cricket.
Sharma was aiming to win championships as a player and now as captain, he will have a lot more control to mould that dream into reality.
There are a number of challenges in front of Sharma, though. In terms of tangible achievements, the big goal for him has to be winning a World Cup. Kohli’s overall numbers as ODI captain are among the best in history, and the only real way of going a step further is by winning an ICC trophy.
But for that to happen, there are a number of factors that need to be addressed. Firstly, Sharma, as well as coach Rahul Dravid, will need to ensure Kohli feels secure in the team. He remains among the best one-day batters in world cricket and it’s quite likely that the unceremonious exit shown to his captaincy will not leave him in a particularly good headspace.
Rohit will need a united team moving forward and for that, a secure and committed Kohli is crucial. There’s no real reason to believe that Kohli, arguably the greatest ODI batter, doesn’t have more left to offer. The onus is on Sharma to get the best out of him.
Another important task on Sharma’s hands is to identify the players he wants to back. And do that quickly. The absolute mess that was India’s middle order at the 2019 World Cup can be used as inspiration… inspiration to ensure that the team isn’t anywhere close to such a situation come the 2023 World Cup.
In his highly successful years as Mumbai Indians captain, Sharma has shown a propensity to search for a core group of players and stick with it. He will need to do the same for the Indian team as well.
One can always count on the IPL and India’s robust domestic cricket structure to put forth talents consistently, but it is Sharma’s job to identify players and back them in a way that the next time India enter a World Cup, there is a sense of stability in every department of the team.
Lastly, it will be interesting to see the captaincy style Sharma cultivates leading India. Eoin Morgan’s no holds barred approach for years did wonders for England in 2019, Mahendra Singh Dhoni has shown time and again, most recently in IPL 2021, that backing players to the hilt is one way to find success, and Kohli too chopped and changed his way to a high win percentage.
For Sharma, having a philosophy and getting his players to believe in it will be crucial. He has to be clear about what he expects from each player in the lineup. We spoke about striving for stability in the team… that starts with the captain’s approach.