Shane Watson (left), George Bailey (centre) and Kevin Pietersen (right) are the three overseas captains in IPL 2014 © IANS & Getty Images
By Shrikant Shankar
The Indian Premier League (IPL) 2014 has eight teams in the fray and five will be captained by Indian players. This includes Indian captain MS Dhoni, vice-captain Virat Kohli, former vice-captain Gautam Gambhir, Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan. Now, it goes without saying the remaining three are led by foreigners. All those three captains have been or are still captains of their national team in some form or the other. So, they have the required experience to lead a side. Now, before we analyse as to whether it is wise to have foreign players captains, let’s look at the Indian captains.
Defending champions Mumbai Indians (MI) have Rohit as captain. He took over from Ricky Ponting early in IPL 2013 and led the team to victory. People got to see a composed side to Rohit and he was someone other senior players in the squad responded to. He is an unassuming captain and gets on with his job. His performances too were not too bad. He gave the Indian selectors something to think about, as at the time Kohli was in-line to captain the Indian side after Dhoni more as a default. Chennai Super Kings (CSK) are led by Dhoni. There is nothing more to say about the most successful team and captain in IPL history.
Kohli leads Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB). He has a considerably better team when compared to their previous campaign in IPL, where their outcome depended solely on Kohli, Chris Gaye and AB de Villiers’s contributions. But ever since Rohit was made Mumbai’s captain, Kohli has become an even better player and his stature in the Indian team has no longer made him a default choice to be made the captain. He has very well earned it. Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) have Gambhir to captain them. Gambhir has become sought of a forgotten man in Indian national team, at least from the outside. He led them to the IPL 2012 title and has all the attributes to be a fine leader.
Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) will be led by Dhawan. Now, Dhawan is their most important Indian player and when he was made the captain, his form was as good as anyone in the game at that moment. Since then though, his form has dropped considerably and Dhawan lost his place in the Indian starting XI for the last three matches of the ICC World T20 2014. But this could only be a momentary thing, as he is a quality player. Sunrisers are a better team, on paper, than the one which finished fourth in IPL 2013. Dhawan’s skill as a leader will come to the test in IPL 2014.
Now, we come to the foreign captains. Rajasthan Royals (RR) are led by Shane Watson, Delhi Daredevils (DD) by Kevin Pietersen and Kings XI Punjab (KXIP) by George Bailey. The first two editions of the IPL were won by teams which were captained by foreigners. Shane Warne inspired Rajasthan in the inaugural edition in 2008. Then Adam Gilchrist led an unfancied Deccan Chargers (DC) to glory in 2009. Ever since, the IPL title has been won by teams captained by Indians. A foreign captain has led a team in an IPL final only once since 2009. Daniel Vettori captained Bangalore to the 2011 final, but Dhoni’s team prevailed.
This brings us finally to the question — is it wise to appoint foreign captains in IPL? Well, the answer is actually inconclusive. First and foremost, this is an Indian Twenty20 (T20) tournament. So, ideally most of the franchises will have Indian as captains. When it started, the IPL had stalwarts of India like Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh and Dhoni. The teams had no choice but to make the above players as captains. Most of them were even icon players. Warne was the only foreigner to be captain in the first edition.
This changed dramatically in the second edition. Laxman had withdrawn himself as captain, so, Gilchrist took over. Then Kolkata made Brendon McCullum their skipper over Ganguly. This generated a lot of controversy. Bangalore made Kevin Pietersen their captain, only for Anil Kumble to take over later. So, the IPL had four Indian and four foreign captains. This kept changing as the years went by. Now, those stalwarts have retired and there is no obligation to make anyone captain.
One has to realise that this is after all a sporting tournament and that it is a results-based industry. The rewards for winning the IPL need not be elaborated on as they are significant. Not all the teams have won this tournament and that is the sole objective. This is a T20 tournament, so, in a matter of one over the outcome of the match can change. This provides the opportunity for any of the eight teams to win on their day and eventually the title.
The franchise owners and management want their team to win. Full stop. If that means appointing a foreigner as captain, then so be it. Victory is all that matters. The owners may not care enough about Indian players being the captain of the setup as long as they play well. In cricket, a captain has far more responsibilities when compared to other sports. So, if a Watson, Pietersen or a Bailey can lead their respective teams to the IPL 2014 title, then it makes perfect sense to make them captain. Besides, making too many Indian players captain may spoil the broth for the national team!
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(Shrikant Shankar is a writer/reporter at CricketCountry.com. Previously he has done audio commentary for various matches involving India, Indian Premier League and Champions League Twenty20 for ESPNSTAR.com. You can follow him on Twitter @Shrikant_23)