KL Rahul may replace Kohli as Test captain, while Pujara and Rahane may be on their way out
In the high-stakes game of cricket leadership in India, transitions are never boring
Virat Kohli gave a cryptic response when asked about the future of his fellow 30-plus batters – Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane – in the Test team earlier this week. It now appears to be a foreshadowing of things to come. "I can't pinpoint when we'll have a transition in the team … I feel transitions do happen, but they happen naturally, you can't force them," he had said.
That much-anticipated transformation in Indian cricket happened in a matter of days, and it wasn't forced. With Kohli standing down as Test captain, the team that had only recently welcomed Rahul Dravid as a new coach now appears to be completely different. The image of an excited Kohli sitting next to an indulgent Ravi Shastri, which India had become accustomed to seeing in the dressing room, is now part of history. That magnificent era of Indian cricket has come to an end, and the game has gone on.
Who will take Dravid's seat now? Rohit Sharma is the most obvious heir apparent because he is the white-ball captain. But that would be far too easy. In the high-stakes game of cricket leadership in India, transitions are never boring. The Test series adds to the excitement of the captaincy battle.
The emergence of underdogs The whispers of change have become a deafening chorus thanks to India's relationship with a comparatively weak South Africa. The elderly and infirm are increasingly viewed with distrust. The age of 'The Rahuls' could be approaching.
KL Rahul, the chosen vice-captain, has a good chance of winning the Test captaincy. The fact that Rohit has a long history of injuries could work against him. India cannot afford to have a captain on protracted sick leave during this period of transition. There's also Ravichandran Ashwin, a once-in-a-lifetime bowler who may be India's all-time leading wicket-taker, but there's a well-known bowler bias in Indian cricket when it comes to captaincy.
What about the team's seasoned batting lineup? Pujara and Rahane have lost form at the worst possible time in their careers. If they had been in the lead, Rahane, who led India to their greatest Test victory ever in Brisbane last year, would have been the inevitable successor. There would have been no disagreement. Before MS Dhoni, he, like Anil Kumble, would have been the ideal interim captain.
Indian cricket benefited greatly from Dhoni's internship with Kumble. If Pujara had turned those many 30s and 40s into a few 100s, he might have thought he had a shot.
The two are staring at the end of a tunnel now, in the season of fault-finding and limited patience. If the BCCI's leading voices are to be believed, they will be lucky to keep their places for next month's home Test series against Sri Lanka. The middle order in India is predicted to change. Kohli's surroundings, both on and off the field, are rapidly changing. India's regular No.4 may no longer be with his old friends – Pujara at No. 3 and Rahane at No. 5.
Kohli is no stranger to transition; he has been coping with it for some years. For the most of his captaincy, he was the all-powerful leader. He loomed over Indian cricket in the same way that Imran Khan loomed over Pakistani cricket. He received what he desired. The BCCI, which was then administered by the Committee of Administrators (CoA), agreed. Kohli preferred Shastri to Kumble as his coach. That's OK