Indian Premier League January 18, 2010

The Indian Premier Lead

While the IPL boasts of a popular lineup of reputed players, it also proves to be a Mecca for domestic players waiting in the wings to make their big International debut of sorts

What was the Kings XI Punjab management thinking when they decided to replace Yuvraj Singh with Kumar Sangakkara? © Associated Press

Yuvraj Singh has been replaced by Kumar Sangakkara for the top job of Kings XI Punjab for IPL 3. Some may call it a wise decision to ease off Yuvi from the responsibility of leading the side, which, in turn, may result in him prospering as a player. Some (the right wing people) may take it otherwise – “Alas! Yet another ‘essentially-Indian’ Premier League team is to be led by a non-Indian.”

Well, to the detriment of camping with the rightist, I’d insist that perhaps, for once, the wing might just have a point there. My endorsement of it though is based purely on reasons Greek to them. Of course, unlike them, I’m talking cricket.

Now don’t they say – “When in Rome, do as the Romans do!” Let’s face it – a) seven out of 11 playing members of any given IPL team are Indians, b) The setup, right from the board, management and the owner(s) are all Indians, c) Spectators/viewers are also mostly Indians. One certainly needs to understand the dynamics of the IPL. While it boasts of a popular lineup of reputed players, it also proves to be a Mecca for domestic players waiting in the wings to make their big International debut of sorts. Playing along side their Indian idols means a world to them and trust me on this; they would go through a wall for them.

They would certainly not appreciate their heroes getting marginalised, or perhaps, getting a raw deal in the hands of a certain ‘foreigner’. I don’t have to remind you of the furore Brendon McCullum’s choice over Sourav Ganguly created in the last IPL. Deccan Chargers may have lifted the trophy, but were an unhappy side when it came to Laxman not being given the place he ought to get.

Most teams, in any case, hire foreign coaches and if the captain too happens to be a non-Indian, the majority of the players in the team (read Indians) feel that they don’t have a representative in the decision-making process. Yet, this isn’t just about high-riding emotions.

Kevin Pietersen, the Bangalore Royal Challengers captain, had a tough time remembering the names of his seven Indian team-mates. Could you then possibly expect him to understand their individual game, their strengths and weaknesses, and to then exploit it lucratively? Perhaps not, which is why, the team called in Anil Kumble to relieve Pietersen of his duties. A move which did them wonders.

The obvious question of how well informed a ‘non-Indian captain’ is about the Indian playing conditions also pops up, especially now that the IPL is all set to move into unchartered territories like Visakhapatnam and Dharamshala.

So what was the Kings XI Punjab management thinking when they decided to replace Yuvi with Sanga? Stats drop a hint.

Yuvraj’s team, in the last two seasons, hasn’t managed to win the trophy and in this corporate world one failure is enough for a few heads to roll. Captain Yuvi’s animated and overtly aggressive behavior on and off field hasn’t found too many admirers either.

Wonder if all this makes for a strong case against him. In fact, a closer look at the team’s performance might tell a different story. Kings XI Punjab hasn’t done as bad as it is perceived to have. After all, they reached the last four in the first season when Yuvi’s team managed to turn it around after a disastrous start. There weren’t in the bottom two in season two either.

Yes, things could have been better but then most things can be! Also a captain is only as good as his team and Punjab were missing a few key players for the most part of the second season. And the impact was there for everyone to see. Even a magician called Shane Warne could do little (in IPL II) when his resources were limited. A captain can make plans, but the execution depends on a concerted team effort.

I’m neither a fan of Yuvi’s leadership skills nor am I a critic of Sanga’s. In fact I think that Sanga is a level-headed guy with a great knowledge of the game. Yet, I may, in the same breath, also voice my utter disappointment of the way he led Sri Lanka in the last couple of months, all thanks to his tactical bloopers. No, I’m still not holding that against him in my assessment of the issue at hand.

The big question here is about the practicality of such a decision. In my opinion, the owners/coach should strongly consider the option of having an Indian leading the IPL team. Exempting an odd exception of the Rajasthan Royals who couldn’t boast of a single big Indian player. Shane Warne was perhaps their biggest catch and hence became the captain by default. But the other teams aren’t facing such a problem.

Perhaps, the Indian/non-Indian issue may become null and void if the captain happens to be a really good one - someone who’d be willing to go that extra yard to ensure that every member of the team is on the same page; someone who’d cross the language/nationality barrier and gain everyone’s confidence.

Former India opener Aakash Chopra is the author of Out of the Blue, an account of Rajasthan's 2010-11 Ranji Trophy victory. His website is here and his Twitter feed here