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Who, After Virat Kohli, is India’s Best Bet to Take Over the Test Mantle?

Virat Kohli leaves behind a legacy that would live on for long as India’s Test captain. He announced his decision to step away from India’s Test captaincy – the only format he was left at the helm – on Friday and as we celebrate the seven years for the ascendency of Indian cricket witnessed under Kohli, especially in the longer format, the obvious question that arises is –who’s next? When MS Dhoni decided to call it quits, Kohli – always earmarked as Captain’s Cool successor – took over the mantle and that transition from an experienced campaigner to a Young Turk seemed natural. However, this time around it might not be as simple or as straightforward. We take a look at the candidates who could potentially be ushering in a new era for Indian cricket.

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Rohit Sharma

Rohit Sharma, recently announced as the white-ball captain for India, will be the frontrunner. However, the fact that he missed the South Africa Test series and will be unavailable for the ODI series puts his position in a bit of jeopardy. After all, the question will be, ‘Can Sharma be looked at as a long term prospect?’. A year older than Kohli and with injuries woes, Sharma might not even last the distance in comparison to Kohli. Then again, there is no doubting Sharma’s credentials as a skipper. 5 IPL titles and a stellar international captaincy record, whenever he has got the opportunity, will play into his hands. He has more or less established himself in the Test squad as well, albeit a bit late, but he seems the most suitable for the job as the Indian Test squad looks to turn a fresh page.

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KL Rahul

KL Rahul, who just over six months back was struggling to find a place in the playing XI, found himself as Kohli’s deputy for the South Africa series and then went on to captain in the 2nd Test as well. As for Rahul the batter, he finished as India’s highest run-getter. The KXIP skipper may not have the kind of experience in leading sides as compared to Sharma, but when things start happening for you, you find yourself being at the right place, at the right time. Sharma and Rahul are India’s first-choice openers in the longest format and the one thing that works for Rahul is that the age is on his side. If the selectors and the team management are looking for a long-term prospect for the Test side, Rahul could very well fit the bill. – provided he does enough to merit a place in the XI. Then again, as KXIP skipper Rahul transformed himself into a run machine in the IPL in the past two seasons and led his team from the front, clearly showing traits of a leader. He can not only shoulder the responsibility but can very well thrive under it.

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Jasprit Bumrah

One of the certainties in the Indian Test side, Bumrah’s place in the playing XI is undebatable. He has been appointed the deputy to Sharma for the SA ODI series and that’s a huge reward for his consistent performances for the team in the recent past. Similar to Rahul, age is on his side and he fits the bracket of that long term prospect. Bowlers, especially pacers, are not generally considered for this position, but Pat Cummins has proven that fast bowlers can be good leaders as well. It is all about workload management and by what we have seen of Bumrah so far, he is someone who can very well compartmentalize things. Someone with a level head on his shoulders, Bumrah has, time and again, showed his cricketing acumen – be it on the field or off it. It could very well be a left-field pick, but definitely worth a gamble

Rishabh Pant

Pant is probably Indian cricket’s most polarizing figure currently and any discussion involving this mercurial player is bound to evoke many varied emotions. So, Pant as captain at the age of 23? Well, Indian have had younger captain in the past who went on to have a great career as a skipper and a player, namely Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi. Not say that Pant is in the Pataudi mold, far from it. However, there is a possibility the selectors can look at him. Apart from Bumrah, Pant is the other certainty in that Indian Test playing XI, and once again age is on his side. Sunil Gavaskar mooted this idea on a TV channel and his argument is if Pant is given that added responsibility he will change – for the better – as a batter. His cute little cameos of 40 and 50s, may get converted into substantial knocks on a regular basis.  Something similar happened with Sharma when he was handed the Mumbai Indians captaincy after Ricky Ponting had stepped mid-season in 2013.

R Ashwin

If you have to pick someone as Kohli;s successor purely on the basis of the cricketing brain – there is no chance you will be able to look past R Ashwin. The last spinner to captain India was the legendary Anil Kumble – again someone with a sharp cricketing brain and aggression equal to none. Ashwin has loads – on both accounts. The trouble is his place in the playing XI, especially overseas, and age. He is already 35 and has had fair share of injuries. But, being a spinner he can very well push playing till 40 or so; and even if selectors may not look see merit in him as a long term prospect, he can very well fill in for a bit, till the time let say a Rahul or a Pant are ready to pick up the mantle.

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