BY YAJURVINDRA SINGH
The Indian Premier League (IPL) has brought cricket once again into the lives of millions of Indian cricket enthusiasts. Most of the matches have been exciting and to have two of them as tied encounters have given it the extra boost, especially to the absorbing and thrilling T20 viewers. The Super Over tie-breaker concept that comes into play when teams are tied is a very interesting one, better than the previous law of a bowling shoot-out.
This is a very important area which many of the IPL team management have not given much thought to. The teams seem uncertain as to who from their side should be the ones to play in the Super Over. The bowler and the three batsmen who are to be involved should have been identified well ahead, something which was seemingly not done from what one could gather from the two Super Over tie-breakers that took place recently. The players identified need to be mentally and physically prepared for the task, as a cavalier approach may not be the best option to undertake. One saw that in the way Mumbai Indians performed.
All eight IPL teams are very evenly matched this year. The first fortnight has clearly shown that each one of them can on their day conquer the other. Consistency will be important, but it is how a team gets the better of their opponents in close encounters will ultimately make the difference. The mental preparation for that to happen will be a prime factor on every team’s agenda. The tournament is at its initial stage and one has already seen some very close encounters and two unbelievable finishes.
The IPL has through its elaborate media coverage let several distinguished cricketers give their words of wisdom vis-a-vis teams, players, and the game plans. Words from renowned coaches, mentors and legends have somehow missed out on the most important issue and that is related to captaincy in the IPL.
This is an area that one feels has not been at its best. An IPL team is a franchise-owned outfit which has professional players from different countries and from different states of India. The team that is finally put together by a franchise has been selected through the options and budgetary constraints and regulations put forth by the IPL organisers. Unfortunately, the IPL has still not matured enough in the way professional sports sides have done in baseball, basketball, football, and other sports around the world. Most of these franchise-based sides do not have auctions every three years like the IPL and, therefore, players remain consistent and their roles are well defined.
For someone to captain such a side becomes far easier, as apart from one’s growth as a player in that side, one is familiar with the management, coaching and fitness staff, as well as the emerging talented youngsters. This is very much similar to what one encounters in India, when one plays for one’s state team and also for one’s country. A captain has an insight into each one of his players.
However, one gets the feeling that some of the captains are at sea in this IPL. The reason for that is that most of them have not had enough time to gauge for themselves the capabilities of their players. The Covid-19 pandemic has required players to be in quarantine and many of the international players joined their outfits only a few days before the commencement of the tournament. Normally, there would have been a conditioning and get-to-know camp, where a captain would have had all the opportunity to discuss players and strategies of not only his own side, but also of the venues and opponents that the league would unfold.
Unfortunately, IPL 2020 has thrown the captains into the deep end on account of the current situation. Their strategies, players, and thought processes are being governed by the coaches and support staff and are presently being controlled from outside. One can see the faces of bewildered captains raising their eyebrows and wondering what bowling changes to make, what batting order to follow, and even what field placements they need to adopt. This is quite understandable as with insufficient knowledge about each individual, their form and capabilities, they are uncertain as to what to do.
Their captaincy, however, will come into its own once each of the leaders of their respective sides gets to know their players better. Even the well-known legendary captain of the Chennai Super Kings (CSK), Mahendra Singh Dhoni, seems to be struggling in getting his bowling and batting line-up in order. CSK have been unfortunate to not have the services of their earlier stalwarts like Suresh Raina, Harbhajan Singh, Dwayne Bravo and even Ambati Rayudu after the first match. Unable to replace these match winners and not shuffling his existing players perfectly was what caused their subsequent losses. Similarly, one can see some of the coaches and mentors directing their side from the sidelines and captains being fed what to do while fielding on the boundary line.
The captains have many professional advisers. Most of the teams comprise well-paid mentors, senior and assistant coaches, along with coaches and their assistants for batting, bowling and fielding. Each one of them is doing their professional duty and is well accomplished. Therefore, with so many different advisory heads to listen to, the captain has a very difficult task to please them. The additional pressure is also faced at times from the franchise owners who feel they have the capability to think more astutely than the captains.
Therefore, unfortunately, when a side is not doing so well, the captain, in order to keep their respective owners happy, succumb to their way of thinking.
To be a captain of a 2020 IPL team is not an enviable task at present. However, to be a winning one is all that each one of them is aspiring for. But in order to do so, they will need to get their act together very quickly or the frustration that one sees now will continue to remain entrenched.
(Yajurvindra Singh is a former Test cricketer. Views expressed are personal)