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Skipper vs skipper

Just before the beginning of 2018 IPL auctions, there were just three captains who were assured their top place in eight teams

Just three weeks into the Indian Premier League’s Season XI, Virat Kohli is showing different traits of his personality. Ever since he took over Team India’s captaincy three years ago, Down Under, he has never been put under public scrutiny. But then this is the highly demanding world of Indian Premier League and he has been fighting it out with none other than Rohit Sharma, Ravichandran Ashwin and Ajinkya Rahane. His predecessor Mahendra Singh Dhoni may be counted out of the race for the top job in the Indian cricket team.

For the record, Kohli has only played for one franchise, Royal Challengers Bangalore, till date. His massive contribution of 4,767 runs in all can put any other batsman in the shade. And 3,128 runs have only come after 2013’s season when he realised his potential as top batsman in the world.

He may not be as devastated as his other colleagues in the RCB, AB de Villiers, who has a strike rate of as high as 165-plus as compared to his own of around 137. But then the amount of runs he has amassed over this period has been enormous. Though, it’s still far from curtains for Bangalore in 2018 as they need to win all their remaining five games. But knowing the nature of T20 games, one would say that Kohli has lost the plot one more time to win the IPL title. RCB could win five games and still make it, or if luck favours then, even four wins could do the magic for Kohli’s team. But that’s all that can be said with a great deal of probability factor attached to it.

Tale of two veterans

Just before the beginning of 2018 IPL auctions, there were just three captains who were assured their top place in eight teams. Mumbai Indians showed faith in Rohit, Chennai Super Kings never thought beyond Dhoni and RCB retained the men they wanted to lead — Kohli. One can say the same for Rajasthan Royals and Sunrisers Hyderabad, who had Steve Smith and David Warner as first-choice skippers but destiny had other plans for the two Australians, as they were banned for a year following the ball-tampering controversy in South Africa.

Kolkata Knight Riders and Kings XI Punjab seemed clueless about their leader at the start of auctions, and so were Delhi Daredevils like many other times in the past, with a habit of replacing all in the squad. But the elevation of Dinesh Karthik and Ashwin solved the puzzle for the first two before Gambhir’s late pick helped DD reach their decision well in time before the start.

The wheel of fortunes swung almost 360 degrees for two most experienced skippers of IPL. Both are celebrating their 36th birthday and have literally proved their worth at international level. They are none other than heroes of India’s 2011 World Cup victory, Dhoni and Gambhir.

Preparing for 2018 season, it was Dhoni who was under pressure because CSK was returning after two-year ban post spot-fixing saga of 2013. He was the one who had to prove that he is still the force to reckon with and his ability to perform under pressure has not been taken away by situation he was in due to reasons out of his control.

He knew that in a tournament where Karthik, Rishabh Pant, Sanju Samson and Ishan Kishan are more than capable of grabbing headlines, this season could well be the most important for him in order to retain his place for the 2019 World Cup. It won’t be easy!

But every single person in CSK’s dressing room knew that Dhoni was back with the franchise that he loves so much, in a city that is as much in awe of him as he is fond of it. CSK without MSD is unthinkable and the adopted son of Chennai was determined to perform for the sake of his fan.

Gambhir, on the other hand, looked set to excel on his return to his hometown Delhi. The bitter memories of why the Shah Rukh Khan-led team didn’t show any interest in retaining their most successful leader looked to have settled by the time of IPL’s start. But he had other problems, unlike Dhoni.

His return to Daredevils wasn’t as celebrated because of his poor record back home. It was his failure during his three-year stay here, in fact, which triggered his departure to eastward in 2011. Gambhir’s success in IPL can be judged by the fact that though he won two titles for KKR — in 2012 and 2014 — he failed to lift Daredevils from the bottom as skipper during two seasons.

But Delhi owners were happy to have him for as low as R2.8 crore. Together with former Aussie skipper, Ricky Ponting as a coach, it looked like a good cocktail of sorts for gritty Delhite.

Out of the national team now for various reasons, Gambhir became 2018’s first victim as he stepped down after team’s only one victory from the first six outings, thus ending any more hopes of his comeback into the international arena. And expectedly, he was replaced by promising youngster Shreyas Iyer who already figures in the future plans of all Indian selectors, for sure.

For Dhoni, 2018 has been business as usual. Having scored 286 runs in eight innings with a career-best strike-rate in IPL, this former Team India’s most successful captain has reset the clock once again.

Good beginning

Those who follow Team India closely know that Ashwin has a burning desire within him to lead the national team. And when he actually got a chance to showcase his prowess as leader, his record for Kings XI Punjab shows why he can be as cunning as Dhoni or why he can be as aggressive as Kohli, if it comes to that.

Known as a cool customer, Ashwin has handled his team well to take it to third place.

Much credit goes to his leadership, which has handled openers Chris Gayle and Lokesh Rahul so well. With Karun Nair in good form and young Bangla player Mujeeb Ur Rahman proving to be the crucial factor in the ongoing IPL, Ashwin’s ability to manage the limited resources have impressed all till half stage.

But Ashwin has good competition from his own state-mate, Dinesh Karthik. Having picked to replace KKR’s most successful skipper Gambhir, it was a do-or-die effort for Karthik to keep the momentum going not for his team but for his own international career.

And, he has done that successfully with his contribution in the middle-order as well as the leader. The four-win and four losses so far keeps his team in hunt for yet another triumph in the league. The only issue that he still has to solve is to his “decision making at the death overs”.
Mumbai Indians hitman Rohit Sharma’s inconsistency from bat has hurt his side’s chances badly. His bowlers have done well, but the batsmen have let holders down, winning two and losing six so far.

MI have traditionally started the IPL season slowly. Their loss against Daredevils off the last ball was the third instance this season that they ended up on the losing side with the result being decided in the final over of the match.

All is not lost for MI as Rohit & Co have it in them to come back from the death-like in 2015 when they went on to win their second IPL crown. Put into a situation where defending champions are languishing second last in eight-team table, Rohit needs to make his bat count to keep his team in hunt.

Last but not the least is Rahane’s track record so far as skipper of another comeback team Rajasthan Royals. Despite having resources at his disposal, Rahane’s team is languishing at sixth spot at half time. And his own form with bat, scoring 225, cannot be termed as that of a leader.

The man who is termed a silent killer needs to be more ruthless in his approach if his team has to go further in the tournament. With Shane Warne also accompanying his side in the dugout, he has no excuses to offer if his team fails to crack the code in the remaining games