Rishabh Pant2
Rishabh Pant will lead India against South Africa after KL Rahul suffered a groin injury that rules him out of the series. Image Credit: AFP

Rishabh Pant’s elevation to India captaincy has come sooner than expected. It certainly wasn’t planned. A groin injury has put KL Rahul out of the South Africa cricket series, bringing Pant into the frame. Interestingly, Rahul took over the reins from Rohit Sharma, who is rested after a tepid show in the Indian Premier League 2022. So the India captaincy has become like a revolving door.

Ever since Virat Kohli quit Test captaincy at the end of India’s tour of South Africa in January, the task of leading India has been a subject of speculation. The Indian cricket board has been very clear that Rohit will be the white-ball skipper, and they chose the easy route by making him the Test captain as well. That’s in the hope that Rohit will lead India for at least a couple of years, giving the board enough time to groom or find a new captain.

Pant’s road to captaincy

All that has changed now. Pant, who was seen as a future captain, will lead India in the T20 International series against South Africa, starting in Delhi on Thursday. Hardik Pandya, who impressed while leading the Gujarat Titans to the IPL title, is his deputy. Pandya’s leadership has been so remarkable that he could have been India captain.

It’s easy to see why Pant has been given the India reins. It’s only natural that a vice-captain becomes the captain when the incumbent is indisposed. That has been the convention, and it would have taken a lot of courage to overlook that and name Pandya skipper. The Indian cricket board has always been unwilling to take risks, and the Indian coach Rahul Dravid is not one to buck tradition. So we have Pant.

Pandya backers can’t be blamed if they feel that his claims have not been considered. Pandya wielded such influence on the Titans that the newly assembled team melded into a unit in quick time. He managed the players well and rang out bowling changes boldly to keep the Titans in the front. Not only that. His form too soared. There was more discipline in his batting, and his bowling was incisive.

read more

Captaincy is not something that’s delivered on a platter. It has to be earned. One swallow doesn’t make a summer. But Pandya provided enough evidence of his leadership skills in one season, much more than Pant did in two seasons.

In contrast, Pant hardly impressed in his second season as skipper. His childish actions during the Rajasthan Royals’ game lost him many admirers. Those actions were hardly befitting a leader. He became vice-captain on the strength of a regular place in the Indian team. Moreover, he had played several game-changing knocks in international games. All that worked in his favour.

Pandya first has to regain his place, which he will in the absence of regulars. Can he retain his spot when the regulars return? That question will have answers in the South African series. Pandya will be a stronger contender for captaincy once he cements his place in the Indian team. That’s when Rohit hangs up his boots.