In-form opener KL Rahul will lead India in the three ODIs against South Africa, as Rohit Sharma, the recently-appointed white-ball captain, has yet to recover from a hamstring injury that had ruled him out of the Test series in South Africa, the selectors informed after the committee met on Friday evening. While Rahul, the designated vice-captain, taking over was on the expected lines, the decision to upgrade Jasprit Bumrah was a surprise call.
Sharma’s propensity to pick injuries of late—he was injured for the Test series in Australia as well as missed some of the IPL games too—-is worrying, with the T20 World Cup just 10 months away and the much coveted 50-over World Cup at home only a year-and-a-half from now. The regular captain missing important series is not an ideal build-up to the big-ticket tournaments, not least after the drama that had unfolded in the last couple of weeks. But Rahul is touted as a regular skipper in the future, and the games he would have to stand-in for Sharma, would be an audition of sorts, as India are short of captaincy alternatives in white-ball cricket. “We are looking to groom KL Rahul. He has proved his leadership qualities. KL is the best one who can handle the side,” said Chetan Sharma, the chairman of selectors.
The dearth of candidates probably explains the reason Jasprit Bumrah was chosen as Rahul’s deputy. But the selectors were left with few other choices. After Rahul, Sharma and Virat Kohli, he is the only certainty in the transitioning playing eleven. A case could be made for Rishabh Pant, who has captained Delhi Capitals in the IPL. But the selectors might have thought he is too raw at this international level. A clever bowler, with flashes of leadership streaks and a keen game-awareness, it would be interesting if he gets the chance to lead at some stage of the series, if Rahul decides to take a one-game break. Rare as fast bowlers are thrust with leadership duties—no fast bowler has led India since Kapil Dev and no once since has been officially designated even as a deputy—the decision speaks volumes of Bumrah’s burgeoning stature in Indian cricket. It could be Bumrah’s first step towards becoming an Indian captain, as he is the most certain among the certainties in the squad.
The squad has a raft of openers—freshers Venkatesh Iyer, Ruturaj Gaikwad and veteran Shikhar Dhawan, besides Rahul. Dhawan, an ODI regular and one half of India’s most successful opening pair in this format ever, would get the precedence in the only format he is preferred, but Iyer and Gaikwad would be breathing down his neck. Suryakumar Yadav and Shreyas Iyer would vie for middle-order slots while Ravi Ashwin would likely make his ODI comeback after four-and-a-half-years in the cold.