In the end, it was another Indian captain who got his hands on the Indian Premier League trophy in 2015. It highlighted yet again the growing trend of local skippers being more successful than their foreign counterparts. After all, it was the sixth time in eight summers that an Indian captain held the trophy aloft; the only exceptions being 2008 and 2009, when the tournament was in its infancy.
When Rajasthan Royals defied the odds and caught even their staunchest fans by surprise to win the inaugural edition, they were led by the inspirational Shane Warne. He threw young players into the deep end, exposed them to high-pressure situations and eventually converted the unknown into household names, Yusuf Pathan and Ravindra Jadeja being the perfect cases in point. Most importantly, Warne led by example.
This year, Rajasthan huffed and puffed their way to the play-offs despite starting the tournament with five wins. They lost momentum in the middle because of change in leadership and eventually fell by the wayside. Shane Watson, the designated skipper, sat out the first four matches, which they won under Steven Smith. But with Watson’s return imminent, the team had to juggle their foreign personnel. Tim Southee, who hadn’t done much wrong in his limited opportunities, had to make way for Watson. The team looked unsettled and shaky, and there was a feeling that the captaincy shift disturbed the dynamics somewhat.
Watson is just one of several high-profile foreign captains who have faced the heat in the past. It begs the question if foreign players have a shorter rope to perform or if they are easily burned by the hot seat if their form is a primary concern.
Adam Gilchrist, the only other foreign captain apart from Warne to have lifted the silverware with Deccan Chargers in 2009, dropped himself midway through the 2012 season. Gilchrist, who was leading Kings XI Punjab, wasn’t in the peak of his prowess. His decision to sit out allowed the team to beef up their bowling stocks by bringing in a seasoned campaigner in Azhar Mahmood, while a slot opened up at the top for a young Indian batsman. The tectonic shift didn’t boost their chances that year.
Then there is the curious case of Delhi Daredevils. Mahela Jayawardene and David Warner shared captaincy responsibilities in a disastrous 2013 season where they finished last. Mumbai Indians’ decision to appoint the retired Ricky Ponting as captain also fell flat; he dropped himself midway through the season owing to poor form. Rohit Sharma, who took over the duties, led the side to a historic IPL and Champions League T20 double that year.
The revolving door syndrome spread down south to Sunrisers Hyderabad too. Kumar Sangakkara, Cameron White and Darren Sammy played a game of musical chairs at different stages – the team was definitely not the winner.
“Captaincy means there will be pressure and expectation, whether it is an Indian captain or a foreign captain,” explained Warner, one of three foreign captains in IPL 2015. “From the team point of view, since there are only four foreign players, you don’t want to be in an awkward situation where you aren’t scoring runs, but have to play purely as a captain. That isn’t an ideal situation to be in. The only way to ease all those worries is to score runs.”
In comparison, Indian captains seem to have got more leeway. Virat Kohli was retained captain this season despite Royal Challengers Bangalore faring miserably for three seasons in a row. A wretched run of three ducks to begin IPL 2014 didn’t seem to cast its spell on Gautam Gambhir as he led Kolkata Knight Riders to their second IPL title, with shrewd selection changes and making the best use of the foreign resources being the contributing factors.
MS Dhoni, who led Chennai Super Kings to the title in 2010 and 2011, hasn’t been the destroyer we know in 2015. His strike-rate and hitting at the death has paled in comparison to his past records, but as a leader, there has been no doubting his credentials.
It could be said that someone like a Warner or Smith or George Bailey doesn’t always have first-hand information about all members of the squad. Dhoni’s handling of Pawan Negi or Kohli backing Yuzvendra Chahal and Mandeep Singh are shining examples of captains who have managed local talent on the basis of a strong understanding of an individual’s cultural background.
That Iqbal Abdulla was his teammate during India’s victorious Under-19 World Cup campaign could have prompted Kohli to press forward his case to the team management during the IPL transfer window. Praveen Kumar, who found himself in the wilderness owing to bad form and disciplinary issues, was given a second lease of life at Mumbai Indians courtesy Rohit Sharma. Today, Praveen, who was fighting depression not too long ago, is back on his feet.
“Trust is the most important thing,” said Praveen. “When I wasn’t picked in the auction, nobody was there for me. Then when an opportunity came up, Rohit phoned me up. Of course we’re friends, but more importantly he believed in my ability. Those performances were noticed this year and I was bought by Sunrisers Hyderabad. If I hadn’t got that call from Rohit last year, who knows where I would have been now? I can’t even imagine what would have been had Mumbai Indians had a foreign captain last year.”
Eight years is a considerable sample size to consider. With Indian captains offering more value in terms of the overall package, it makes things easier with respect to team composition and strategies. Unless, of course the foreign captain in question is either Warne or Gilchrist.
This article appeared in issue 8 of Wisden India Extra. Download your copy here.