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          A Men in Blue question: To split captaincy or not?

          A Men in Blue question: Should the team split captaincy or not?

          Does the make-up of Team India across formats allow the peaceful co-existence of two leaders?

          Virat Kohli (right) became full-time captain of the Royal Challengers Bangalore the same year that Rohit Sharma took charge of the Mumbai Indians. Credit: AFP File Photo

          The debate was bound to arise the moment Royal Challengers Bangalore, after a surprisingly promising start to their campaign, lost their way in the recently concluded Indian Premier League. Virat Kohli stretched his title-less run with the franchise to a 13th edition, eight of them as captain. This dubious record was only exacerbated by Rohit Sharma, his deputy in the Indian limited-overs sides, leading Mumbai Indians to a record-extending fifth IPL title.?

          When Rohit steered Mumbai to their maiden IPL title in 2013, after taking charge midway through the season from the under-performing Ricky Ponting, you could have put it down to beginner's luck, even if he himself topped 500 runs for the season. With a backroom establishment that boasted stalwarts Anil Kumble and John Wright, among others, the then 26-year-old completed a double the same year by annexing the Champions League T20, the last edition of the global event before it was scrapped. Since then, Rohit has added four more IPL trophies to the MI cabinet; surely, he must be doing several things right – be it man-management, a calm demeanour, a sharp cricketing brain, or a combination of all three.

          Coincidentally, Kohli too became full-time captain of RCB the same year Rohit took charge of MI. But the similarity ends there. The Indian skipper has repeatedly drawn a blank in all his attempts, with the best showing being a runner-up finish in 2016. Surely, there is something Kohli is doing - or rather not doing - that is causing issues for the team.

          It's astonishing for anyone to survive as captain for this long without any achievement to show. His stature as batsman and his image as a brand are so immense that all of Kohli’s captaincy misadventures have been glossed over. But for how much longer?

          What started off as murmurs about his underwhelming record as captain in previous years has snowballed into shrill and harsh overtones. While it may seem a just demand to have him removed from the helm at RCB, is it fair to also insist that he be replaced as India's white-ball captain, with the accent on T20 leadership? And if so, does the Indian cricketing culture allow for the smooth functioning of two captains without personal egos coming in the way of the team's interests, like in England or Australia?

          India first had different designated captains for white and red-ball cricket for nearly a year, from late 2007. Following Rahul Dravid’s resignation from captaincy after the tour of England in 2007 – this after he led the team to a 1-0 win in the Test series – MS Dhoni was appointed the T20 and ODI skipper, while Anil Kumble, retired from limited-overs internationals, was entrusted with the Test leadership role until he retired in November 2008.

          Subsequently, when Dhoni announced his shock retirement from Test cricket in December 2014, Kohli took charge as captain?even as the Ranchi man continued at the helm of white-ball squad for two more years before passing on the baton at the start of 2017. "Split captaincy doesn't work in India," Dhoni had said after stepping down as white-ball captain.

          More than the culture unique to each country, it's the composition of the teams across formats that discourages dividing captaincy responsibilities. In England, Eoin Morgan leads the team in ODIs and T20s, but isn't part of the Test squad. It's even "better" in Australia. Test captain Tim Paine last played an ODI in 2018; he hasn’t played a T20I since 2017. Aaron Finch, the limited-overs skipper, is no longer in the running for a place in the Test team.

          Granted that Dhoni wasn't playing Tests at the time, but his position as limited-overs captain became untenable on multiple fronts. Dhoni’s struggles as batsman had started to reveal themselves, while India weren't winning as many white-ball matches as they were red-ball battles. And with Kohli unquestionably emerging the best batsman across formats, the pressure on Dhoni to relinquish captaincy was immense. Perhaps, when he did so eventually, it was because he saw the writing on the wall.

          You don't have to be a behavioural scientist to know that it helps not to have to receive commands in one format while being the commander in another.?

          That's precisely the conundrum India are grappling with. A fit Rohit Sharma is an automatic choice in all three formats, especially now that he has made a name for himself as Test opener?too. Legendary all-rounder Kapil Dev, who played under multiple captains even after masterminding the 1983 World Cup triumph, understands a thing or two about marshalling?troops and taking orders.??

          "In our culture, it is not going to happen that way," he said to a pointed question on splitting captaincy duties between Rohit and Kohli. "In one company, (do) you make two CEOs? No. If Kohli is going to play T20s and he is good enough, let him be there. Even though I would like to see other people coming out, it's difficult.?

          "Our 80 per cent, 70 per cent of the team across formats is the same team. They don't like captains having different theories. It may bring more differences between the players who look up to the captain. If you have two captains, players might think he is going to be my captain in Tests. I will not annoy him," he explained.

          That said, Kohli will be under humongous scrutiny when the limited-overs leg of the Australia tour gets underway on Nov.?27. With a stronger Australian outfit to contend with this time around and without the services of his star white-ball batsman Rohit, it's going to be a tough ask for Kohli. It might not be a litmus test of his leadership skills?but a series loss would only give ammunition to the advocates of split captaincy.

          For the record, Kohli the captain hasn’t exactly flourished in multi-team events. The U-19 World Cup-winning captain has an impressive bilateral record?but hasn't won a tournament involving more than two teams, including the ICC Champions Trophy (2017) and the 50-over World Cup (2019). Rohit, on the other hand, has led India to title triumphs in the Asia Cup (50-over tournament with six teams) and the Nidahas Trophy (T20 tri-series). Does that tell a tale in itself?