With the 12th edition of the Indian Premier League around the corner, and the schedule yet to be declared, let’s take a closer look at the eight teams, through the captains that lead them. For all these years, we have always looked at the best players, young guns, new picks and predictions, but we have never really analyzed the most underrated skill in the game. Captaincy. One would argue that in T20 cricket, players don’t need leadership for a 3-hour cricket game where all one has to do is out-hit the other team in 20 overs. But there is a reason the World T20 tournament is more relevant than the ODI World Cup today – the strategies and plans and thinking are as effective in the shorter format as 50-over cricket.
That said, let us rate the 8 captains at play in IPL 2019:
Chennai Super Kings
Captain: MS DHONI
IPL Titles: 3
Say what you will about MS Dhoni and his fading effectiveness as a batting finisher, but his leadership in T20 cricket is second to none since 2007. He is easily the most decorated captain in the shortest format, with his team never having failed to make the knockouts in the 9 (out of 11) editions they have played. When he was with Pune for two years under Steve Smith, it’s no coincidence that they reached the Final and almost won the title. 2018, though, was a revelation. After a mediocre two seasons with a different team, Dhoni was back with CSK after their two-year ban. With a team whose average age (let’s just say they weren’t spring chickens) defied logic in T20 cricket, he scored 455 runs at an average of 75. But it was his strike-rate (150) that turned things in his favour. The strike-rate in his previous three seasons were 116, 135 and 126, with his average less than 40 on all occasions. His career-strike rate is 139, with over 4000 runs scored – but no centuries. With just a two-week gap between the IPL and World Cup this season, a century, or even another season with an average of over 50 will go a long way in calming the nerves of everyone who wants Rishabh Pant to replace him in the Indian team in England.
Captain: SHREYAS IYER
IPL Titles: 0
Last season, young Mumbai batsman Shreyas Iyer took charge of a Delhi Daredevils team that went through an overhaul. The Delhi top order is most exciting in an Indian sense: Iyer, Prithvi Shaw and Rishabh Pant. As a result, they had a hit-or-miss season, but showed the kind of promise that augurs well for the future. Iyer had a fantastic opening season in 2015, where he showed glimpses of why many consider him to be a successor to Rohit Sharma at the top of the order. He scored a scintillating 92 last season (in 38 balls), one of the best innings of 2018, but will take a while to lead a team that needs the most leadership right now. Delhi Capitals have never won a title or reached the final, and remain an underperforming team, but Iyer can change that with a better understanding of his senior recruits. Shikhar Dhawan, Kagiso Rabada and Colin Munro are the names Iyer needs to bring the best out of.
Kings XI Punjab
Captain: KL Rahul
IPL Titles: 0
KL Rahul is the name of 2018. The talented opener enjoyed a mammoth first IPL season with Kings XI Punjab, with 660 runs at an average of 55 and a stunning strike-rate of 158 – one of the lone bright spots (along with bowler Andrew Tye) of the Punjab season that promised so much at one point. Under R. Ashwin, Rahul took charge of the batting like never before, scoring three nineties in his six fifties of the season. But he then went on to become the most maligned batting member of the Indian team, suffering a dip in form so bad that not even ardent supporter Kohli could justify his inclusion during the tour of Australia. His test form got him dropped, but he has recently been given one last change in the ODI side for the series against Australia. Those 5 ODI matches along with the IPL, his first as captain, will go a long way in defining the stuttering legacy of KL Rahul. Nothing like an IPL title to fix things.
Kolkata Knight Riders
Captain: Dinesh Karthik
IPL Titles: 0
Karthik, or DK, did a fine job of hustling his versatile KKR team to the knockouts last season. He enjoyed his role as a finisher. 498 runs at 50 as a finisher meant it was his most successful season yet. But this season, he will be a disillusioned man, especially after his dropping from the ODI side, and by extension the World Cup. He hasn’t done much wrong with his opportunities in the Indian middle order, but one senses that his failure to finish off that final T20 against New Zealand this month might have convinced selectors that he isn’t the finisher they need. Karthik remains a resourceful batsman and an able leader; he will be excited to further develop the talent of Shubman Gill for KKR, and will hope that an IPL performance pushes him to the forefront of the World Cup bench in England.
Captain: Rohit Sharma
IPL Titles: 3
Rohit Sharma took over mid-season in 2013, and Mumbai Indians have become one of two best teams in IPL cricket since then. 3 titles in 6 seasons means he has a success rate like no other captain in the league. It helps that he has been one of the most accomplished and frequent players in IPL cricket – 4500 runs in 173 matches with a century and 34 fifties. But despite his captaincy, what will worry Rohit is his performance in the last two seasons: just five fifties, and an average of 23 with just over 600 runs. For a batsman of his caliber, scoring more than 500 runs in a season only once in his IPL career, that too at the top of the order, is a record he would like to improve on. But he is a better captain than batsman in this format. The day the two sides of him combine, there is nobody more dangerous.
Captain: Ajinkya Rahane
IPL Titles: 0
In 2015 and 2016, there was no better IPL opener than Rahane at the top. He averaged more than 43 both seasons, but has averaged less than 30 since then. In 2018, they rode the might of Jos Buttler to sneak into the playoffs. It was Rahane’s decision to promote the mercurial England wicketkeeper to the top before all hope was lost. The Royals pulled off a miracle, but Rahane’s performance (just 1 fifty) might have prevented them from going further in a tournament where they always tend to overperform. The Mumbai batsman is still one of the better captains going around, and will look to build upon his own influence this season.
Royal Challengers Bangalore
Captain: Virat Kohli
IPL Titles: 0
If there is one medal missing from Kohli’s burgeoning cabinet, it’s an IPL title. He has been a terrific batsman, probably the best in IPL cricket in the last 5 seasons, with close to 5000 runs now at an average of almost 40. But his captaincy has left much to be desired, especially with the superstar-studded top order and some useful spinners. RCB reached the final on the back of his record-breaking season in 2016, but have again suffered since then, managing to finish last in the next season. Kohli will have his eyes on the World Cup right now, so he may not exactly aim for the stars in the IPL. But even an “average” performance by him can go a long way in changing the fortunes of his team.
Captain: David Warner
IPL Titles: 1
Last year, David Warner was banned from cricket and couldn’t play the IPL. Deputy Kane Williamson did a fine job and took an inspirational SRH team all the way to the final. But it is thanks to Warner that SRH has always been a world-class bowling side, because his batting has aided their all-round ability. The last time he captained SRH, he ended up as the top scorer for the season. He will be back from the wilderness this year, after having served his punishment, mainly with a spot in the World Cup squad up for grabs. All eyes will be on him, and he will have to tolerate crowds that might just go ugly with the chanting. He has been loved by the crowds, so 2019 will be interesting, and very important for the man.