By Yajurvindra Singh
In cricket, more than in any other team sport, the captain plays a significant role. The onus of all the field placements, bowling changes and behaviour of the players solely rest on his/her shoulder.
The shorter the format, the more difficult it is for the captain to make plans, ascertain his thoughts and execute them. The field restriction rules amplify his problems further, and one can see a helpless leader in the T20 format hoping for divine blessings at most times.
The Indian team under the flamboyant Virat Kohli has been an enlightened side, looking to make a mark in the history of the game. India, one of favourites to win the upcoming World Cup in England and Wales, have all the ingredients to emerge as the worthy winners.
They have a strong and well-established batting and bowling line-up along with a very good fielding unit. Everything seems perfect.
However, the performance of Kohli after the series of recent losses in the shorter format against New Zealand, Australia and now in the Indian Premier League (IPL) has sparked concern amongst the millions of Indian cricket followers.
Fortunately for Kohli, he has the backing of the brilliant cricketing mind of Mahendra Singh Dhoni when playing for India. But in a crunch situation and on a world platform like the World Cup, Kohli will have to stand on his own two feet.
The two World Cup winning Indian captains — Kapil Dev and Dhoni — are both strong personalities who led through their natural cricketing instincts.
Although lots have been written on leadership and how it is important to strategise towards a goal, in cricket, however, one’s basic instinct is more important than in any other field.
I remember making fielding and bowling changes as a captain based on my natural gut instincts, which often proved successful. I was reprimanded when they failed, but I could bear with that failure rather than the other way around.
Kohli has shown that he is a decisive leader when he leads the Indian side in Test matches. After all, India are the number one side in the world. But he seems to struggle when it comes to the shorter formats. He needs to control every aspect of the game for his franchisee Royal Challengers Bangalore and use the experience of a Gary Kirsten only as a sounding board.
Dhoni is the only captain in the IPL who’s in control at the moment. Maybe his long standing equation with coach Stephen Fleming has compartmentalised his responsibilities well.
The IPL franchise owners must realise that they are not in the same league with football and rugby in Britain or basketball and baseball in the United States. The IPL is a commercially viable tournament of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) that has a two-month calendar each year and nothing more.
During the inception of the tournament, one of the criteria was to encourage cricket and develop cricket academies and centres of excellence. But domestic cricket in India already had an existing structure for it.
This, therefore, makes it unviable for the private establishments, which are direct threats to the cricket associations which are present here. The IPL team owners have gone totally awry in the recruitment of support staff and other personnel who are part and parcel of the franchises.
Each IPL team has former cricket legends as mentors, well-known international coaches, batting, fielding and bowling experts with assistants and many more helpers who accompany all of them.
Majority of them are with the teams during the initial months before the tournament and then during the event. But the senior and established players take the centre stage only a few days before the start of the IPL, as the cramped international calendar makes it impossible for them to be released. Even the Indian domestic cricketers remain busy, as with three different formats of the game, cricket has almost become a 365-day affair.
I can well imagine the confusion in the minds of a captain and a player in many of the IPL teams. The other day, while watching the IPL, I imagined myself in the position of Shreyas Iyer, the captain of Delhi Capitals.
The young captain has Ricky Ponting, Sourav Ganguly, Mohammad Kaif and Pravin Amre as advisors. All of them have been successful, not just on the field but also off it. Ganguly and Ponting were acclaimed as the best captains during their playing days.
And hailing from Mumbai, Iyer must have interacted a lot with Amre. So one can well imagine Iyer and his teammates’ dilemma as to whom to listen to. I am sure the other players in the IPL are also facing the same problem.
This kind of support staff is ideal if one has a full year programme or if its for a national side. But it is a futile exercise, as well as expenditure, for a two-month tournament which has no permanency for a junior or a senior player.
Unfortunately, the player, in order to please the authorised individuals, becomes a “yes man” to all concerned. After all, “money does make the world go round.”
Although the IPL is great for Indian cricket, especially for the young talent to get recognised, a more compact staffing and performance-based leadership of a captain and a coach is the best way forward.
Presently, the IPL teams are functioning like the popular saying “too many cooks spoil the broth”. The franchises are not the messiahs of Indian cricket and it should be the responsibility of the BCCI to unearth cricketing talent, not theirs.
(Yajurvindra Singh is a former Test cricketer)