Where do India go from here? To Visakhapatnam, for a five-match T20 series against Australia, and then to South Africa in another busy winter of bilateral tours, one more IPL leading to—as a ridiculous ICC schedule would have it—a T20 World Cup, this time in June in the Caribbean.
But where do India really go from another World Cup defeat, with another gifted generation set to wind up their stellar careers sooner than later?
Rohit Sharma is 36, Virat Kohli 35, Ravindra Jadeja 34 and Mohammed Shami 33. Even though Jasprit Bumrah will be 33 by the next ODI World Cup, he will have to choose between formats to keep himself viable. And ODIs seem to be the most obvious sacrifice. “I’m not really thinking about 2027 and who’s going to be there and who’s not going to be there,” said India coach Rahul Dravid at the post-World Cup final press conference on Sunday.
“There’s a lot of time for that. A lot of water will flow under the bridge before that. So to be honest, I just do not know how to answer this question because I have just walked off. I haven’t really had time to reflect on these things.”
No one wants to think about the future after a soul-sapping World Cup final defeat. But so transient has been international cricket of late that it hardly allows time to reflect, introspect and recuperate.
Professional cricketers are expected to move on. But to where, some might ask after a point in time. Retirement isn’t the right word, especially at a time when the game offers multiple stages to perform. Some become Test specialists, some T20. And then, there is IPL, where loyalty and dominance is often rewarded with unconditional extensions. Ask MS Dhoni.
Not everyone is blessed with Sachin Tendulkar’s longevity. Options, thus, need to be exercised. Kohli’s adulation for Test cricket is well-known. And Sharma is a bonafide IPL honcho. Predicting their career curve from here is fairly a risk-free exercise at this point. It might be shattering to imagine a time when Kohli and Sharma stopped playing, but it isn’t great contemplating the day they decide to give up ODIs.
Which only makes it more difficult to let go of. Sharma is the cool act in one-dayers, the double-hundred specialist, the bindaas captain. Kohli is intensity personified, all earnestness even in solid defence of the ball. All the staggering records aside, no one has made chasing—and to a greater context, batting—more engaging than Kohli. Shami steaming in, exerting every ounce of himself will probably be a more regular sight in Tests and IPL. Similarly, trust Bumrah to keep himself relevant.
It’s not about next year; it is about every year. And since change is inevitable, this isn’t really about when or how it will occur but if the next generation is ready to take over. While Hardik Pandya has an overwhelming mandate to lead India in T20Is, there could be some discussion over KL Rahul as a likely candidate for the ODI captaincy in future because Pandya can’t be burdened with two formats. The fluency of some of his innings apart, Rahul’s understanding of the game is exceptional. And it’s quite evident that his evaluation of dismissals and review appeals is impeccable. With Rishabh Pant set to join in soon, it’s likely the selectors will make him Rahul’s deputy.
Shreyas Iyer is another option for the position, unless he wants to focus on batting alone. Shubman Gill is already set as one opener, Ishan Kishan is expected to take Sharma’s place once the transition is set into motion. Not only will that allow India another left-right opening pair but also a rare combination of two double-hundred scorers.
If Iyer is promoted to No 3, Rahul to 4, Pant comes at 5 with Suryakumar Yadav—who could get some more game time before the 2025 Champions Trophy—at 6, India still have a strong enough batting order. Pandya or Shardul Thakur could be persisted with as pace bowling all-rounders, with Axar Patel and Washington Sundar representing the spin bowling options.
Bumrah and Jadeja giving ODIs the miss is expected to be their call but even if they don’t, India can look forward to a new bowling set up comprising Mohammed Siraj, Prasidh Krishna, Deepak Chahar, Umran Malik, Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal. Only time will tell whether they can weld properly to take India to another World Cup final, and hopefully win it.