"What did you see in KL Rahul as a captain?" – Manoj Tiwary on selector decisions, India's ODI drubbing in South Africa, and more

KL Rahul (left) and Manoj Tiwary
KL Rahul (left) and Manoj Tiwary

Indian cricket is always in the headlines, but of late it has been for the wrong reasons. The team's group stage exit from the T20 World Cup in November 2021 was a premonition; what ensued thereafter was a domino effect as the bigwigs of Indian cricket started washing their dirty linen in public.

Virat Kohli announced his decision to quit the T20I captaincy in September last year, after the conclusion of the T20 World Cup. However, he wanted to continue leading India in Tests and ODIs.

Things took a dramatic turn when the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) removed Kohli from India’s ODI captaincy and handed over the reins to his then deputy Rohit Sharma ahead of the South Africa tour.

The justification given by the BCCI, through the Chetan Sharma-led selection committee, was that they wanted two different captains for the red-ball and white-ball formats. BCCI president and former Indian captain Sourav Ganguly went a step ahead and told the media that he had personally asked Kohli not to relinquish the T20I captaincy and apprised him of the BCCI’s preference for a single captain in limited-overs cricket.

Cut to December 15. Whilst addressing the media virtually before departing for South Africa, Kohli shockingly revealed that he had received “no prior communication from the BCCI”, thereby contradicting Ganguly’s statement.

A few days later, it was the BCCI’s turn to retaliate. Selection committee chairman Chetan Sharma refuted Kohli’s claim by stating that he was informed of his ODI captaincy sacking on 8 December – the day of the Test team selection for the South Africa tour.

The Kohli versus BCCI saga had its repercussions on the South Africa tour, as the “final frontier” remained unconquered. A 1-2 defeat in the Test series prompted Kohli to step down as Test captain, which sent shock waves across the cricket world. The ODI series piled further misery on the Men in Blue, as they suffered a 0-3 whitewash under stand-in captain KL Rahul.

There have been many questions swirling around Indian cricket circles ever since. Should the team undergo a complete overhaul in both Tests and ODIs? Is Rahul ready to lead India on a regular basis? Who leads the race to replace Kohli as India's Test captain? Should the BCCI have handled the Kohli issue more sensitively?

Sportskeeda recently caught up with Indian batter and West Bengal’s current Minister of State for Youth Affairs and Sports, Manoj Tiwary, to seek answers to these questions. A stylish stroke-maker who didn’t get too many chances in India colors, Tiwary scored 287 runs in 12 ODIs which included a hundred and a fifty.

Here are the excerpts from the conversation with Manoj Tiwary:

Q: The final frontier turned out to be a nightmare for India. What, according to you, were the major factors behind the twin losses in South Africa?

Tiwary: Our players didn’t perform to their full potential. In the Test matches, our middle order didn’t click at all. Despite the top order giving us a good start, India failed as a batting unit.

Apart from KL Rahul, nobody else went on to convert their starts into big scores. Our batters were not consistent, and I think that was the main reason why India lost the Test series. It's difficult to win a Test series unless you score 300-plus runs in an innings consistently.

I’ve not seen all the ODIs, but from whatever little I’ve seen I can say that every player has to perform irrespective of whatever is going on outside. None of our batters scored a hundred in the ODI series, whereas Quinton de Kock and two other opposition players scored hundreds.

South played really well in the ODI series. Temba Bavuma led his team fabulously.

Q: Speaking of the third ODI, India reached a winning position despite struggling at 195/5 at one stage. What do you think cost them the game? Would you blame the tail-enders for playing unnecessary shots towards the end, when only 10 runs were required off the last 18 balls?

Tiwary: I watched the last five to six overs of the last match. I thought it was a walk in the park for India after Deepak’s [Chahar] innings, but unfortunately he got out trying to play a big shot.

Although Chahar was India’s hero in that game, all his efforts went in vain due to his poor shot selection. There was no pressure on him towards the end; he could've just played along the ground and won the game for India.

It’s high time our tail-enders started contributing more with the bat. Deepak and Jasprit [Bumrah] tried their best, but all our fast bowlers need to improve on the basics of their batting. Unless our fast bowlers score more runs, it will be difficult to win ODIs.

If you look at the other teams today, most of the fast bowlers are able to score quick-fire 15s and 20s. They can win games with the bat even if their team is in a difficult situation.

Barring Shardul [Thakur] and Deepak, the other Indian fast bowlers need to improve on their batting. Our batters have certainly let our bowlers down, but cricket is a team sport.

Q: Indian cricket has been in turmoil over the last few months. How much do you think that has dampened the morale of the team, especially given that their former captain Virat Kohli is in the middle of various controversies?

Tiwary: It affects the team environment for sure. A healthy and good atmosphere is necessary to be in a good space - as a team and also as an individual.

Everyone has seen that things haven’t been going well between the BCCI and Virat. It shouldn't have happened in public. There are mature people on both sides, so these things shouldn’t come out in public.

As a sports fan, it has made me unhappy. What it does is it transfers the energy, whether good or bad, to others, because whoever is close to one individual will subconsciously keep thinking about the controversy.

The T20 World Cup was our priority a few months back, but Virat announced his intention to relinquish the T20I captaincy just before the tournament. Now that’s not what you would expect from a captain as a fan. All your energy should’ve been focused on the T20 World Cup.

Once the focus shifted to the captaincy issue, the problem began to snowball into a bigger controversy that could’ve been avoided. The problem could’ve been resolved via a face-to-face meeting, which I think didn’t happen.

Q: What are your views on KL Rahul's captaincy? Do you think he is ready to lead India?

Tiwary: Firstly I want to ask the selectors, 'What did you see in Rahul as captaincy material?' Suddenly, they’re saying that they’re grooming him as a future captain. I don’t understand how you can "groom" a captain. A person is either a born leader or he isn’t.

Captaincy comes naturally, it’s an inbuilt quality. Grooming a captain is possible, but the process will take a long time. It will take a player around 20 to 25 games to learn about decision-making, but even then success will not be guaranteed.

See, every international match is important for India. Considering the kind of players we had, we shouldn’t have lost the ODI series 0-3. A few wrong decisions cost us the series.

I’m not blaming Rahul for his captaincy, but I’m disappointed with the selectors, who should identify leadership skills in a player rather than "grooming" a captain. That’s why I want to ask the selectors what they saw in Rahul to make him the captain of India.

Q: Once Rohit Sharma returns to the ODI playing XI, how should the batting order shape up? Who would you have as Rohit's opening partner – Shikhar Dhawan or KL Rahul? And who would you prefer between Shreyas Iyer and Surya Kumar Yadav in the middle order?

Tiwary: Rohit is obviously India’s first-choice opener. If Shikhar continues to score runs, I think he and Rohit should open the batting and Rahul should bat in the middle order. Rahul has the ability to bat at different positions; his game looks sorted at the moment, and he has shown good temperament as well.

It’s up to the team management to choose one between Shreyas and Surya. Whoever scores more runs should get the opportunity, unless the management wants someone who can bowl a bit.

We saw Shreyas bowl a few overs of spin in the last ODI in South Africa. If they want an extra bowling option, they can go ahead with Shreyas. But if he doesn’t score runs, it will be difficult for him to get into the team.

Q: Do you think some tough calls need to be taken going forward? Is this the end of the road for Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane in Tests, and Bhuvneshwar Kumar in ODIs?

Tiwary: I think so, yes. Some tough decisions need to be taken because it’s the Indian team after all. If someone is not performing, you cannot pick him for a game because his confidence would be low. I think the Indian team should start looking for other options now.

Q: Who would you like to see as India's next Test captain, and why?

Tiwary: Rohit Sharma; there’s no question about that! Rohit is a born leader, so the selectors and the team management shouldn’t think about anyone else.

Let’s not think too far ahead at this point in time. Let’s only focus on the present, as Rohit still has a lot of cricket left in him. He has led Mumbai Indians successfully in the IPL, so just give him the captaincy. Irrespective of the format, he has been successful because of his decision-making, temperament and strong communication skills.

Q: You and Virat Kohli started your cricket journey around the same time. He was also at the non-striker's end when you hit your only international ton, against the West Indies. What do you think has been the hallmark of his Test captaincy, and what legacy is he leaving behind?

Tiwary: Virat has been a fighter. He has been phenomenal as a batter because of his work ethic and his desire to be the best in the world. We’ll miss him as our Test captain.

Virat's aggression on the field and never-say-die attitude, which rubs off on his teammates, were his greatest qualities as India’s Test captain. He has also inculcated a fitness culture in the team, which has transformed Indian cricket.

I wish him all the very best, and hope that he scores more runs in international cricket. We all want to see vintage Virat Kohli from here on.

Looking for fast live cricket scores? Download CricRocket and get fast score updates, top-notch commentary in-depth match stats & much more! 🚀☄️

Quick Links

App download animated image Get the free App now