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There is a reason why IPL is spelt with an 'I'. The big stars are roped in, the celebrities make an entry and the cheerleaders try their best to drag our attention away from the action. At its core though, it still is a platform to let local players mingle with the big stars from other countries. India's international commitments have made it impossible for their top players to participate in the Ranji Trophy. The IPL ensures that local players get to share the dressing room with their idols - cricketers whose posters have adorned their walls in their formative years. An Indian captain for each IPL franchise would have been the icing on the cake. That hasn't quite transpired, though.
Rajasthan Royals, because of their lack of resources, handed the reins to Shane Warne, a tactical genius, an astute student of the game and a charmer. Soon, Kings XI Punjab followed suit, handing Kumar Sangakkara the baton, a move that perhaps adversely impacted Yuvraj Singh's returns in the IPL.
IPL 2013 has an interesting mix. Chennai, Rajasthan, Kolkata and Bangalore went for Indian captains. Delhi, Pune, Hyderabad, Mumbai and Punjab went for foreign options. The message was loud and clear from the team owners: local players don't possess the tactical nous and ability of the foreign players. Interestingly, the Indian captains have outperformed their foreign counterparts. Mumbai Indians turned it around midway with Ricky Ponting dropping himself, allowing Rohit Sharma to take over. Coincidentally, the team has responded with three wins in four games. Delhi, Pune and Punjab are languishing on the wrong side of the table. The results perhaps don't say much about the abilities of the respective captains, but there are a few points worth delving into.
One reason why captaincy is an important consideration is the mix of players - four foreigners and seven Indians per XI. Most squads have a huge Indian contingent, so you'd expect communication channels to work far more smoothly with an Indian at the helm. Given the professional grounding that the foreign players already have, they would find it easier to work with an Indian captain compared to local players having to deal with foreign captains. Players will always respond better to a captain who can pronounce their names perfectly, no offence given or taken.
All the teams have huge contingents for man management and planning. In such a scenario, the captain's job doesn't really imitate the pressure-cooker situation of international cricket. The IPL is a great opportunity to groom leaders, and a wonderful testing ground of their maturity. Bangalore did that by handing Virat Kohli the captaincy, instead of taking the easier option of going with AB de Villiers. Perhaps, a lesson was learnt when Anil Kumble swung their fortunes around after a disastrous start to the 2009 campaign under Kevin Pietersen. Kohli commands the respect of his team on the strength of his batting and fielding. What he lacks in experience, he makes up in flair and passion. De Villiers and Chris Gayle aren't too far for a quick word either. Surely in years to come, the heir-apparent to Indian captaincy will ruminate upon the lessons learnt in the IPL.
Mumbai took a bold step with Rohit at a crucial juncture and it seems to have paid off. Had Ponting been more successful with the bat, we wouldn't have seen Rohit in this role. Mumbai have got into a winning run under him, and Rohit's batting has also blossomed.
With Shikhar Dhawan back from injury, perhaps the Sunrisers should've considered him as a captain. Neither Cameron White nor Kumar Sangakkara has consistently figured in the playing XI. With Angelo Matthews standing down as Pune captain, it might be a good idea to give Yuvraj another run to see if he can rediscover his batting touch. Of all the teams, Delhi is the only one that probably has no choice, Virender Sehwag being reluctant to lead.
The IPL is at an interesting point in its evolution. The third auction will initiate a new round of shuffling, with players changing colours and loyalties. What the IPL has lacked so far is the long-term fan loyalty that is seen in football. Chennai and Mumbai have the most loyal fan following - helped by the fact that they retained more players than any of the other franchises in the first reshuffle. Perhaps there's a message there for the other franchises.
An Indian captain will find it easier to get the best out of the Indian contingent, and will also get the crowds going. Additionally, he will definitely fuel fan loyalty. Even if one wants to be a die-hard fan of the Delhi, for example, it is hard to not support RCB led by a Delhi lad when pitted against Jayawardene's Daredevils.
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