Rahul’s elevation is a clear indication that the selectors and team management are looking at a transition phase and are in the process of identifying new leaders. Interestingly, Rahul had found a place in the playing XI of the Test team in England this year only when Shubman Gill and Mayank Agarwal were ruled out due to injuries.
For a while, it seemed Rahul’s Test career was at a crossroads given his inconsistency in the format. He had been picked in the Test squad for the tour of England only as a possible backup in the middle-order. However, Rahul’s sterling performance at the top of the order in challenging conditions won the confidence of the selectors.
He has already been named the regular T20I vice-captain and is most likely to play the same role in the ODI team once the selectors meet to pick the 50-over team for the South Africa series.
The move has also sent out a clear signal to the likes of Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara that they are on borrowed time.
Rahane had captained India to a historic Test series win in Australia earlier in the year but that the selectors feel it is difficult to put them in designated leadership roles when they are struggling to command their places in the playing XI.
The team management is also looking at carrying out a transition in the middle-order. Shreyas Iyer, Hanuma Vihari and Shubman Gill are seen as prospects to be groomed in manning the middle-order complementing the counter-attacking wicketkeeper Rishabh Pant.
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“The likes of Rahul and Pant are seen as leaders for the future. They are leading IPL teams as well. There is no point going back to Rahane or even Pujara because they are literally playing to save their careers at the moment. Rahane will find it very difficult to find a place in the XI of the first Test in Centurion which starts on Boxing day,” a source close to the selectors said.
R Ashwin was considered but the team management’s reluctance to play him in overseas Tests went against him. However, he is expected to play a role in this series with Ravindra Jadeja missing out due to a knee injury.