Can Sharma unlock India’s potential?

Rohit Sharma has stepped up to take the mantle of India’s Test match captain following the decision of Virat Kohli to resign from his position. Kohli boasted one of the greatest records as a Test match captain of all-time, ranking behind only Graeme Smith, Ricky Ponting, and Steve Waugh for most victories during his seven-year tenure.

The 33-year-old did earn criticism during his reign for a lack of tactical nous at times, and was more renowned for leading by example with the bat rather than his awareness on the field. Arguably India’s best moment during the tenure of his leadership came when Kohli was not present in Australia as Ajinkya Rahane led the team to a comeback 2-1 win over the Baggy Greens in their Test series in 2021. Expectations regarding India’s performances in all formats are always sky high, and the burden appeared to weigh on Kohli towards the end of his reign, notably after a lack of success in the World Test Championship along with India’s failures in the World T20 and 50-over World Cup.

Sharma’s Rise

Sharma inherits a talented team to take forward in the 2021- 2023 World Test Championship along with his responsibilities in the white-ball formats. He has ample leadership experience with Mumbai Indians in the Indian Premier League, therefore, the 34-year-old will be well prepared for the pressure of the role at hand. However, he will face a massive challenge to maintain not only his form at the crease, but the success of India’s red-ball outfit amid their underwhelming start to the 2021-2023 World Test Championship.

Sharma had struggled in the Test match format and his rise to the captaincy is a credit to the hard work and determination that he has put into his game. After an outstanding start to his red-ball career when he scored back-to-back centuries against the West Indies, Sharma experienced a four-year drought without a hundred. His revival began in 2017 when he was welcomed back into the Test fold and scored a century against Sri Lanka in Nagpur.

There were still doubts regarding his technique and style of play, which was more suited to the swashbuckling nature of T20 and one-day cricket rather than the resilience of the Test format. In 2019, Sharma proved that he belonged in the red-ball side once and for all, scoring three centuries in India’s crushing 3-0 home win over South Africa, scoring 529 runs at an average of 132.25. He was also on point in India’s victory over England on home soil with another vital ton to improve his statistics.

Sharma’s most important series to date came against England on tour, where he proved that he could play the seaming ball against James Anderson, Stuart Broad, and Ollie Robinson. His performance as described on ESPNCricinfo in the second innings fourth Test at The Oval swung the yet to be decided series in the favour of India, and they could yet close out a famous series triumph in 2022. The 34-year-old has made himself indispensable to the team. Now will come the test to see whether his technique and composure will stand up to the rigors of the captaincy.

India’s future

Sharma will inherit a team that is filled with talent and promise despite their surprise defeat at the hands of South Africa. He missed the tour due to injury, and the Proteas capitalized against a weakened batting unit. Placing Sharma alongside Lokesh Rahul at the top of the order should stabilize India’s batting line-up for a crucial 2022 campaign.

They will face Sri Lanka, England, and Australia over the course of the year. India will likely be favored among the leading betting sites for all three series given their form, especially on home soil where they will play Sri Lanka and Australia. To capitalize on the best markets and odds for those series, especially their clash with Australia, many fans will be doing their research to get the best value in matches that appear likely to be close. From sources like the Unibet Australia review detailing the options available with the bookmaker regarding cricket and other leading sports to HowSTAT’s report on the Australia side, it’s clear that there is much interest in how this will play out.

Sharma will be optimistic about easing past Sri Lanka on home soil given that India are unbeaten on their own turf since 2012. He will be hopeful that Kohli will return to his peak form with the bat now that the burden of the captaincy has been lifted from his shoulders. Kohli has endured a decline over the past three years by his high standards, and will be desperate to prove that he is once more the leading batsman in the game.

Sharma must also strike the balance of bringing forward the next generation of talent as Shubman Gill, Prithvi Shaw, Ruturaj Gaikwad and Devdutt Padikkal all have the talent to blossom, but are yet to make their mark on the Test match stage.

India is blessed with a talented array of bowlers, although a balance has yet to be struck regarding the use of Ravichandran Ashwin. Ashwin is arguably the best spinner in the game across all formats as we highlighted on Mentalitch due to his IPL prowess, but has been under-utilized of late. India needs to get the most out of the off-spinner to complement the outstanding Jasprit Bumrah leading the pace ranks with Mohammed Shami and Mohammed Siraj in support.

Sharma has a lot to work with as he gets to grips with his new role, but he will be under pressure to deliver immediate success.