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Ashwin or Rahane, Smith or Pant? Who will Delhi Capitals pick as captain this season?

ESPNcricinfo runs you through the pros and cons of each of the four frontrunners for the job

Nagraj Gollapudi and Gaurav Sundararaman
Anrich Nortje broke a steady opening stand, Delhi Capitals vs Mumbai Indians, IPL 2020, Dubai, October 31, 2020

Rishabh Pant has never been handed the captain's role in the IPL before - but he is the Capitals' official vice-captain  •  BCCI

To be a captain at T20 leagues like the IPL is a demanding job, and there are several variables at play. For starters, the player and his skill should fit into the first XI all the time, without affecting team balance. Overseas captains always come with risk of a dip in form - how long a run could you give an out-of-from captain if he is filling one of the key (and limited) overseas slots? The chosen leader also needs to have mass appeal to further enhance the franchise's brand.
So, it will not be an easy choice for the Delhi Capitals, picking a replacement for regular captain Shreyas Iyer, who will sit out IPL 2021 due to an injured left shoulder. Who is the best man to replace Iyer as the Capitals' stand-in captain? Here's ESPNcricinfo's shortlist of frontrunners.
R Ashwin
Captaincy experience in IPL: 28 matches - won 12, lost 16
In terms of experience R Ashwin could be seen as a natural and logical choice: the premier offspinner has already performed the role at the Kings XI Punjab (now the Punjab Kings) in 2018 and 2019. In 2018, the Kings finished one win short of a playoffs spot, while in 2019 they lost out due to inferior net run rate.
A self-confessed nerd, Ashwin is an animated and passionate player and leader. In the past, he has managed to outsmart oppositions with flexible strategies. Ashwin also shares a good relationship with the Capitals' head coach Ricky Ponting, and both men are among the best readers of the game.
Ashwin will enter the IPL on the back of phenomenal success as an allrounder in Test cricket during India's tour of Australia, followed by the home series against England. In the last IPL, Ashwin took 13 wickets in 15 matches, finishing as the fifth-highest wicket-taker among spinners and the second-most among fingerspinners. Ashwin's seven wickets in the Powerplay was the most by a spinner.
Rishabh Pant
Captaincy experience in IPL: None
Under normal circumstances, Pant, who is the Capitals' vice-captain, would automatically be the frontrunner. He was the first player retained by the franchise ahead of the 2018 auction and will once again be expected to earn that honour before the 2022 mega auction. This is the second time Pant has been in contention for the leadership position, having lost the race to Iyer, who was identified by the franchise as the replacement for Gautam Gambhir who stepped down midway into IPL 2018. At the time the franchise leadership group felt Pant would be better off focusing on his batting and keeping.
Those two skillsets still remain Pant's key responsibilities, but three years later Pant is more experienced and brings with him the confidence of having become successful in international cricket, especially Test cricket. Not only has Pant grown confident as a wicketkeeper - as was revealed in part by his constant chirping behind the stumps during the Test series against Australia and England recently - he is also reading the game better.
Pant, who is 23 years old, has long been identified has a long-term prospect by the franchise. The only thing that counts against Pant taking charge here is that he has never led in the IPL. But he has led Delhi in domestic cricket, so if does take charge, Pant has some experience to fall back on.
Steven Smith
Captaincy experience in IPL: 43 matches - won 25, lost 17
Steven Smith must be pinching himself. Having been let go by the Rajasthan Royals on the eve of the 2021 auction, Smith was picked by the Capitals, and now he might just find himself captaining an IPL side again.
Parth Jindal, co-owner of the Capitals, admitted that the franchise was "shocked" to have got Smith for just INR 2.2 crore (USD 301,000 approx) at the auction. Despite already having half a dozen specialist batsmen, Jindal pointed out that Smith presented the Capitals with options. Could one of them be captaincy? Smith's record as captain in the IPL is mixed. He led Pune to the finals in 2017, but finished last with the Royals in 2020.
However the Capitals needs to first answer this key question: can Smith be expected to fit into their XI across all the matches as a top-order batsman? Last season Smith's form with the bat was under par despite him playing in various positions. As an overseas captain, if Smith struggles as a batsman, it can have a negative impact on the team. That is one reason franchises have previously replaced overseas captains during a season.
Ajinkya Rahane
Captaincy experience in IPL: 25 matches - won 9, lost 16
Ajinkya Rahane was dropped as captain by the Rajasthan Royals to correct a stuttering campaign in 2019. A few months later the Capitals procured Rahane through a trade. According to Jindal, Rahane and Ashwin were the choices of former India captain Sourav Ganguly, who, during his time as the Captials' mentor, felt the Indian Test vice-captain could be a handy batsmen on the turning pitches at the Feroz Shah Kotla, the franchise's home base (of course, no franchises will be playing at home this season).
Rahane has the experience and the respect of the players, and is an aggressive leader. However can Rahane the batsman be relied upon? Rahane has two IPL centuries, but he has seemingly been struggling to cope with the evolving demands of batting in the top order in T20 cricket, where batsmen need to manoeuvre gears swiftly. Last IPL Rahane managed just 113 runs in eight innnings in his first season for the Capitals. That included two ducks, a highest score of 60 and a strike rate of just over 100.