Rohit Sharma is all set to lead India for the first time in a major international tournament at the Asia Cup 2018, and on the eve of the match, he said he was “a bit nervous, but very excited”.
With Virat Kohli rested for the tournament, Sharma will call the shots over the next week-and-a-bit in the United Arab Emirates.
He’s donned this role before, though, and to considerable success: He led India to the Nidahas Trophy title against Sri Lanka and Bangladesh in March, and 2-1 and 3-0 victories in one-day internationals and Twenty20 Internationals against Sri Lanka in December.
Despite that, there are some nerves. “Captaincy is a big responsibility,” he told reporters on the eve of India’s tournament-opener against Hong Kong. “I’ve done it before in a series, but this is a very big tournament for me. I’m quite excited. A bit nervous, obviously, but very excited.
“It’s an important tournament, and I’ve played with these boys quite a bit, so we understand each other. I’m looking forward to it.”
While Hong Kong represent a tricky challenge, Sharma was, unsurprisingly, asked of the subsequent clash against arch-rivals Pakistan. He said it was too soon to talk about that particular game, but was glad his team would get to suss the conditions on Tuesday, 18 September.
“We’ve not played here. The last time a lot of the boys played here was during the IPL [Indian Premier League] in 2014,” said Sharma. “It’s been a long time since we played at this (Dubai International Cricket Stadium) particular venue. Tomorrow is a good chance to assess the pitch, the grounds, the dimensions – it’s important you understand all of that and take it into your game.”
India have some concerns to address, though. The middle-order isn’t settled – all of Kedar Jadhav, Ambati Rayudu, Manish Pandey, Suresh Raina and KL Rahul – have been tried out in recent times, and India are yet to settle on the best options.
With the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 a little under eight months away, there’s a sense of urgency to get it right, and the Asia Cup will play a big role in that.
“There are a lot of spots up for grabs – No.3, 4, 6. All these guys are eyeing that,” said Sharma. “We’ve got to see what the best combination can be for this particular series. We want to give chances to as many guys as possible, make sure that No.4 and No.6 spot is sealed.
“A lot of guys have played that position, and of course, going forward, we want everything to be settled. (The tournament) gives opportunities to guys to come play the cricket they like to play and seal the spot. I wouldn’t say it’s a concern.
“If you look at the future, of course, you want your team to be settled. Even the guys who are eyeing those spots, they want to be settled. Nobody likes being dropped and then brought back. We want everyone to feel safe and settled, so that they can play freely.”
Sharma also spoke highly of Khaleel Ahmed, the 20-year-old left-arm pacer from Rajasthan, who is in the squad after his maiden India call-up. In a tournament with plenty of left-arm pacemen, he gives India another dimension – but Sharma said he was more than just a back-up option.
“He’s a great variation to the squad, but he also generates quite a bit of pace. He’s young, quite talented and can swing the ball as well at the same time,” said Sharma. “I’m looking forward to him playing and doing well for the country.
“From whatever I’ve seen of him, he can get batsmen into trouble – I can surely say that. He’s got great skillset. It’s a matter of going out there and doing it. He’s not played any games, but again, he’s got all the tools required to play at the highest level.”