IPL5: Nightmare for captains Ganguly, Sangakkara, Vettori & Harbhajan

Sourav Ganguly, Kumar Sangakkara, Daniel Vettori and Harbhajan Singh © AFP (from left to right)

By Nishad Pai Vaidya

 

The Indian Premier League (IPL) 2012 has had mixed fortunes for the men at the helm. While Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and David Hussey have led from the front with stellar performances, other captains such as Sourav Ganguly, Daniel Vettori, Kumar Sangakkara and Harbhajan Singh have failed to contribute and make a mark on the competition. When the leader struggles, it starts affecting the team as the personal questions start interfering with leadership. It reached a point where Vettori, Ganguly and Sangakkara were forced to bench themselves for the greater cause.

 

As discussed in previous articles, the decision to appoint Ganguly as captain of Pune Warriors India seemed an emotional one. At 39, Ganguly is way past his prime and isn’t in best physical shape. His lack of fitness was evident on a number of occasions, particularly during running between the wickets. There was a lot of indecision while he was in the middle and his partner was left stranded a few times. Sanjay Manjrekar rightly pointed out that Ganguly’s inability to maintain fitness pulled him down this season.

 

During the season, Ganguly has shown flashes of brilliance, but they have been few and far in between. He played a few trademark shots through the off-side and gave one the impression that he still had the fight to succeed in the IPL. However, a strike-rate of 100 would suggest that he hasn’t been able to lift the tempo and that has affected Pune as he bats in the top order. His struggle when coupled with the inconsistency of the other batsmen has been the coup de grace for Pune.

 

The IPL 2012 has seen a number of left-arm spinners coming to the fore and bowling remarkable spells. Keeping that in perspective, Vettori’s poor form as one of the world’s finest left-arm spinners was astonishing. At one point, Bangalore’s bowling was in bad shape as some of them were very expensive. In contrast, Vettori’s economy rate wasn’t an issue, but his wickets column was a huge worry. In nine games, he had taken only five wickets. Muttiah Muralitharan was in good wicket-taking form and yet found himself on the bench.

 

Following the loss against Kings XI Punjab, Bangalore had tough decisions to make and they have done just that in the three games that have followed. Vettori has had to make way for Muralitharan as Bangalore needed somebody to take wickets and not merely contain the run-flow.  The Sri Lankan great has had an instant impact and has already bowled two crucial spells since his return. To add to that, Bangalore have won all three games since Vettori sat out – an indication that they are finding the appropriate balance and combination.

 

The trend of captains benching themselves was set by Sangakkara – the skipper of the Deccan Chargers. The Hyderabadi team is going through a forgettable season so far and has only pride to play for in the dying stages of the tournament. Cameron White and Shikhar Dhawan have scored most of the runs for Deccan with Sangakkara being uncharacteristically inconsistent. Apart from his 44 against Rajasthan Royals at Jaipur and the brilliant 82 against Pune at Cuttack, he has failed to score over 20 in nine other outings.
Sangakkara dropped himself for the game against Mumbai Indians at Wankhede Stadium. Deccan lost that game and the captain had to make a comeback for the next encounter against Pune at Cuttack. Sangakkara’s return was fantastic as his 82 set-up a win for the struggling side. However, since then his inconsistency has returned leaving Dhawan and White with a lot to do. Deccan and Sangakkara would want to put the horrors of this season behind them and start afresh next year.

 

The decline and fall of Harbhajan has been baffling to say the least. From a premier bowler who made batsmen dance to his tunes in Test cricket to someone who struggles to pick wickets in the IPL, the ‘Turbanator’s’ downfall is inexplicable. However, unlike some of his counterparts in the competition, Harbhajan hasn’t dropped himself despite his poor form. In fact, a wicket-taker like Pragyan Ojha had to sit out at the expense of his captain. It was obvious that Harbhajan’s reputation and the fact that he is the captain perpetually saved him from the axe.

 

In 13 games, Harbhajan has taken only five wickets. In the first eight games, he had picked only one wicket and these figures changed with respectable spells in back to back matches (i.e. 2 for 13 vs Deccan and 2 for 19 vs Pune). It has been three games since he has picked a wicket. Against Chennai Super Kings (at Wankhede) and against Bangalore he bowled good economical spells, but like the Vettori case it simply isn’t enough. In Mumbai’s latest encounter against Kolkata he bowled the solitary over and his spell was compensated for by Dwayne Smith and Kieron Pollard – two bowlers who aren’t considered as frontline options. As one of the commentators pointed out, his decision to bowl the single over was indicative of low confidence.

 

It is too late for Mumbai to make Vettori or Sangakkara like decisions as they are inching towards play-off qualification. If Harbhajan is benched, they may have to find a new leader and it isn’t the right time to do it. Mumbai’s passage through to the next round depends on the results of the next few games and a change in leadership would be unsettling and unnecessary.

 

(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a club-level cricketer with an analytic mind and a sharp eye. It was this sharpness which spotted a wrong replay in IPL4 resulting in Sachin Tendulkar’s dismissal. Some of his analytical pieces have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. Nishad can also be followed on Twitter)