The women’s selection committee sprung a surprise on Saturday, when they appointed hitherto vice-captain Harmanpreet Kaur as the captain of the Indian women’s cricket team in the Twenty20 format. Incumbent skipper Mithali Raj retained the leadership of the One-Day International squad. India will play three ODIs and three T20Is at home against the World Twenty20 champions West Indies from November 10, followed by the Asia Cup Women’s Championship in Thailand.

It means that, for the first time, the Indian team will have different captains for different formats. With a 50-over World Cup less than eight months away, the selectors seem to have opted for continuity in ODIs, and it is likely that Raj will lead the team into that tournament. Meanwhile Kaur will have time to grow into her role, as the next women’s World Twenty20 tournament is not until 2018.

Significantly, for the first time, the Indian team seems to have implemented a succession plan for the captaincy. With the 33-year-old Raj having almost single handedly carried Indian cricket through the 2000s, the stage seems set for the 27-year-old Kaur to take over in the long run. Also, Raj will play under Harmanpreet in the T20 format. This has dual advantages.

Different captains for different formats

Freeing Raj of captaincy responsibilities may allow her to find the freedom and aggression that the T20 format demands. Also, should Kaur need guidance in the nuances of captaincy, she can rely on the experience of Raj, who has more than 200 international caps.

More significantly, the move gives all parties involved clarity as to how things will pan out in the long term. It is a step forward from the unhappy tradition of captains being dropped and appointed in a harum-scarum manner, one that has been the norm in Indian women’s cricket.

In the last decade and a half, Indian cricket has seen the captaincy change hands six times, not counting Kaur’s recent promotion. Twice, there have been instances of senior players, not a part of the incumbent squad, being recalled and given the captaincy on their return.

Too much chopping and changing

The first of these instances came in 2003, when Mamatha Maben, then 33, made a second comeback into the Indian team, and was handed the captaincy. She replaced Anjum Chopra after India finished last in the World Series of Women’s Cricket (featuring the top four teams). Maben’s rule was a brief but fruitful one. She retired in 2004 after a series loss at home to Australia, but before that, she had notched up a tough home series win against New Zealand and two easy series wins against the West Indies and in the Asia Cup.

The second instance came in 2012, when Anjum Chopra, who had last played for India in 2010, was recalled and appointed captain. She led India in two series, away to the West Indies, and at home against Australia. Both were losing efforts though. She was dropped from the team and replaced by Raj after the visit of the Australians. More glaringly, all this chopping and changing served as an unwelcome preamble to a World Cup at home less than 12 months away. The deleterious effects were felt on the campaign, as India crashed out in the first round after a promising start.

Even putting aside these outliers, the appointments and removal of captains of the Indian women’s team has often been handled in a slipshod and unprofessional manner. Most professional sports outfits ensure that statements from all parties involved accompany the news of a change in leadership. The removal and consequential retirement of England women’s captain Charlotte Edwards, a tricky matter considering her stature, was handled with grace and honesty by the England and Wales Cricket Board.

The most recent announcement from the Board of Control for Cricket in India though had no statements from either the selectors or the captains. Scroll tried to contact the chairman of the selection committee, but her phone was not reachable.

The BCCI remains tight-lipped

Expecting explanations – for selections of captains or otherwise – from the BCCI is much like hoping a tree will outrun a bushfire. The same was true of Raj’s removal from captaincy in 2008, the first captaincy change under the BCCI regime. Raj had lead the team with some success from 2005, including a first (and till date only) World Cup final the same year.

But after a 4-0 drubbing away by England, she was replaced by Jhulan Goswami, a move few saw coming. “England was miserable and that’s the reason I think the selectors chose to name another captain,” she had said at the time. Her words point to little communication between her and the selection committee of the day.

Which is why it is refreshing to see the captaincy being handed to Kaur for one format, with an eye on all three. It will go a long way in dissipating the pernicious uncertainty that goes with a change in leadership in a team, and that can have a liberating effect on the players. It will throw up a new challenge for the team though, of adjusting to dual leadership.

After having been a single captain team for so long, this will be unknown territory for all involved. Both the staff and the players will need to re-align their approach after the ODIs against the West Indies, when Kaur will lead the team in her first full series in the T20Is. The transition is a delicate matter, one that will require both nous and maturity from all parties. But it has the potential to turn India’s fortunes around in the T20 format.