All good things come to an end. Rohit Sharma has been an exceptional T20 captain for more than a decade, but it is time for Hardik Pandya to take over from him in T20Is, much like he has in the IPL, writes Naman Agarwal.

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Over the last two years, India have used seven different captains in the shortest format. While Rohit Sharma has been the official full-time captain of the team ever since the 2021 T20 World Cup in the UAE, he has missed more matches than played, particularly since India’s exit from the 2022 T2o World Cup. Hardik Pandya has led India in 16 games in this period, the most by anyone after Rohit.

Rohit’s non-participation in T20Is for over a year had naturally raised question marks over his future in the format. When Pandya made his much-talked-about move from Gujarat Titans to Mumbai Indians ahead of the IPL 2024 auction, the question marks turned into rife speculations and gave rise to a whole spectrum of “source-based” reports on who will lead India in T20Is going forward.

As it turned out, despite his rather unceremonious exit from captaincy at Mumbai Indians, Rohit returned as India’s T20I captain for the Afghanistan series, all but confirming that he is going to be the man in charge for India in the 2024 T20 World Cup in the Caribbean.

Should that be the case, though?

Rohit’s credentials as a T20 captain don’t leave a lot to be desired. A joint-record five IPL titles, a Champions League trophy, the joint-most wins by an Indian captain in T20Is at the time of writing, and an Asia Cup title – he has won much more than he has lost as a leader in this format.

He is known to be data-oriented on the field, and youngsters under him usually have had good things to say about his leadership off the field over the years.

Pandya, on the other hand, is relatively new to the leadership role, having captained an IPL or international team for the first time in 2022, nearly a decade since Rohit first led in the IPL. But he has taken to it like a duck to water. An IPL title in his first season as captain, inches away from another in his second, and a win percentage of 62.5 in T20Is – Pandya, with his natural flair and flamboyance, has risen as a long-term captaincy candidate in the last couple of years.

[caption id=”attachment_600374″ align=”alignnone” width=”1024″]Rohit Sharma Rohit Sharma has had a tough time in the T20I series vs Afghanistan, getting out for ducks in the first two games. (Photo by Punit PARANJPE / AFP)[/caption]

With an age difference of six years and with Pandya being arguably the most valuable white-ball player in the country given the uniqueness of his skills, a captaincy takeover from Rohit in the shortest format is inevitable as the IPL 2024 trade window has already proven. The sooner it happens, the better it will be for India.

While Rohit has not done much wrong as a leader in T20Is (or T20s in general), he has failed to create a positive impact with the bat in the format for several years now. The last calendar year when he had struck at above 140 was 2018. Since then, his strike rate has crossed 135 only once in five years in all T20s. The last two years have been particularly tough, with strike rates of 129.95 in 2022 and 132.8 in 2023.

Several aggressive top-order Indian batters have sprang up over this period. Since 2022, Yashasvi Jaiswal has struck at 153, Shubman Gill at 149, and Ruturaj Gaikwad at 144. All three have been in and around the T20I setup as well. Rohit’s T20I returns may be slightly better than in the IPL, but his complete ghosting of the format in 2023 has meant that he has had very little time to get up to speed with the current T20I structure, which Pandya had largely been in-charge of in his absence.

“I wasn’t in the team for the entire last year, but I’ve been talking to Rahul [Dravid] bhai about what we are doing and understand what we need to do as a group,” Rohit said at the toss during the first T20I against Afghanistan in Mohali.

You wouldn’t want the designated captain of a team to get just three matches to understand the long-terms plans that have been in place for over a year before a World Cup. More so if at least three first-choice players are unavailable for those three games. And even more so if the captain himself has had a poor time in the format in the recent past. Add to all of that Rohit’s underwhelming record in T20 World Cups and the case for Pandya becomes even stronger.

Pandya, one of the finest seam-bowling all-rounders in world cricket at the moment, provides the sort of balance not many others can. Despite his batting style having undergone a change in the last couple of years, he still remains one of the most valuable white-ball players India have at their disposal, if not the most valuable.

He is undergoing rehabilitation at the NCA for the ankle injury he suffered during the 2023 World Cup, and is expected to be fit for the IPL, where he will lead Mumbai Indians with Rohit playing under him. An active India captain not leading his IPL side is not usual, particularly if his replacement is another Indian.

If Mumbai do well under Pandya and Rohit has another poor season with the bat, the role reversal between Rohit and Pandya at the T20 World Cup starting a week after the culmination of IPL 2024 will be difficult to justify. Even if Rohit does warrant a place in the team as a batter, Pandya would still remain the one with a better understanding of the current T20I team, having led them for over a year. His leadership career might not be as glittering as Rohit’s yet, but if it’s good enough for the most successful T20 franchise in the world to decide to hand him the reins, it should be good enough for his national team to do the same.