Dhoni, Gambhir and Kohli could be given reins of the three formats. (AFP)
Sourav Ganguly, the former captain who played a huge role in leading India from the damning match-fixing controversy at the turn of the millennium, recently expressed his view that India's selectors need to appoint three different captains for the three formats of the game.
Critical of India's current rotational policy for the CB Series in Australia, Ganguly said that the amount of cricket played today was taking its toll on India's cricketers and that one solution would be to identify three different leaders and give them the job.
The multiple-captain theory is nothing new. Australia pioneered this development and teams like South Africa and England followed suite. India too had MS Dhoni captain in limited-overs cricket until Anil Kumble retired. England, in fact, have three different captains for all formats.
Whether the selectors pay heed to Ganguly's advice is a different matter, but the concept is indeed worth thinking of. India desperately need a re-jig, and the murmurs of a rift in the team are growing stronger with each defeat. Dhoni has said he will reassess his ODI career in 2013, and there is enough doubt over his Test credentials following two overseas Test whitewashes to identify a new leader in the longest formats. With an eye on the future of Indian cricket, we pick out the three probable leaders for all three formats.
Test captain – Gautam Gambhir
Dhoni is struggling after overseeing eight straight overseas Test defeats, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid are ruled out, Virat Kohli is still finding his feet in the five-day format and Virender Sehwag can barely keep his place in the line-up. That leaves just Gambhir.
Sehwag reportedly believes that he "has been denied his due" but on the basis of his leadership he isn't cut out for the job. His handling of India's bowlers in the Adelaide Test was poor, and the way he gave the ball to part-timers in the recent Brisbane ODI was shocking. Currently he cannot even walk into the Test team, and even if he manages to do so, India cannot afford to employ a struggling and unfit captain who is not getting any younger.
Gambhir hasn't been in good form in Tests of late, but he's got the attitude. Having tasted success while captaining India in ODI cricket, he would have an idea of what the job requires. As a senior player, Gambhir can earn the respect of the younger lot as India prepare to say farewell to Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman. He is 30, an age at which batsman are said to grow stronger. He is a fighter, and there are shades of Ganguly in the way he commands himself on the field.
India don't play Test cricket for a while, and this could be the right time to relieve Dhoni. It would be a big leap of faith, but appointing Gambhir as captain for Tests is the way forward.
ODI captain - MS Dhoni
Dhoni is a proven leader, and his success in ODI cricket - as a leader and batsman - merit little criticism. A batting average of 51.44, which crosses 100 in successful chases, nearly 7,000 runs, series wins in Australia, Sri Lanka (four times), New Zealand, and the West Indies and the biggest crown of them all - the World Cup in 2011, ending a 28-year drought for India.
As a batsman alone Dhoni is immense for India in ODI cricket. He is a proven finisher, a batsman capable of building an innings and then teeing off explosively at the end. He played a key role in shaping the Indian team in the aftermath of Greg Chappell's tenure and building a winning unit for the World Cup.
With his Test batting record (career average 37.32) not being up to scratch - he averaged 31.42 in four Tests in England last year and 20.40 against Australia on this tour - and his aura of a shrewd leader being ruthlessly exposed in consecutive four-Test whitewashes overseas, Dhoni has appeared a frail figure. Unable to command his place in the Test team as a batsman, he is best suited to leading India in 50-over cricket where he transforms into a dangerous batsman.
In a word, exhaustion has affected Dhoni's form in Test cricket. Apart from captaining India in all three formats he has had to lead Chennai Super Kings in the IPL and Champions League Twenty20. He needs a break, and relieving him of the Test captaincy could extend his career.
Twenty20 captain - Virat Kohli
The player whom Ray Jennings, coach of Royal Challengers Bangalore, once termed "a very talented kid [who] sometimes thinks he is better than the game,” has matured into a skilled batsman. A stellar 2010 - he was the highest run-scorer in ODIs - was followed by Kohli forcing himself into India's World Cup squad. He began the tournament with a century and finished with by lifting Sachin Tendulkar on his shoulders while giving us the quote of the year.
From the time he made his India debut, on the tour of Sri Lanka in the summer of 2008, Kohli drifted in and out the ODI side until he turned in an outstanding 2010. He was the year's second highest run scorer after South Africa's Hashim Amla, and his form forced the Indian management to play him in every World Cup match.
A former World Cup winner with the India Under-19 team, Kohli's leadership was singled out when he was playing for Delhi as a youngster. The theory that he could be a strong leader was endorsed by Jennings, and in the few matches that Kohli led RCB in IPL 4 he seemed to be at ease in the role. He was a key player for RCB as they made the final; quietly, almost unobtrusively, he tallied over 400 runs this IPL season, with two Man-of-the-Match awards. His efforts were seminal to RCB's success, and though he was completely overshadowed by the big-hitting exploits of Chris Gayle, Kohli's role in the top order set RCB up nicely.
"It feels nice that people think of me that way, but I've not thought too much about what can or will happen,” said Kohli after the World Cup. "It [the captaincy] could happen a few years down the line and I'd be really honoured. But at this age I can't think about it. I've got a lore more to do, and can't think along the lines of such statements.
Having won the inaugural ICC World Twenty20, there are not more Twenty20 mountains left to scale for Dhoni and the 20-over format is the ideal platform to groom his successor. Considering that Kohli has cemented his place in the limited-overs teams and is shaping up to be a crucial Test player, India would do well to gamble on him and give him a chance in Twenty20. After all, it was less than five years ago that they gave the job to an inexperienced Dhoni ahead of a small Twenty20 tournament in South Africa that eventually changed the landscape of Indian cricket.