IPL going the football way – coaches hold the power to hand-hold ‘weak’ captains

Nitish Rana, Shikhar Dhawan, Sanju Samson and KL Rahul are not names that readily come to mind when one is looking for cerebral captains or leaders of men. But all four have been nominated ‘captains’ for their respective IPL franchises. Even Suryakumar Yadav, with little captaincy experience, may have to step in as Mumbai Indians captain if Rohit Sharma decides to sit out a few matches owing to fitness concerns.

Last year, Ashish Nehra was seen slumped on the staircase leading up to the dressing room with a paper in hand. He would later term it as a “menu for the night” but the menu seemingly included who should bowl when. Or so the perception went. Often, he would be seen animatedly gesticulating from the dugout to Hardik Pandya, Gujarat Titans captain, which bowler should bowl the particular over. ‘Give one more over to Rashid Khan’, ‘bring a particular fast bowler now’. Hardik has not only not minded it but has actively sought and taken such advice.

“Hardik has no ego in that sense. Advertisements are one thing, the real Hardik is another. He has always been a good listener, has always followed good advice, he might do his thing in the end but always listens first to the people he trusts. And he trusts Nehra a lot. He is not a fool to say ‘I know everything, I will do it my way or what will people think?’ He knows and values good suggestions.” Hardik’s childhood coach Jitendra Singh had told this newspaper.

T20 is pushing cricket into a fascinating space now. Daniel Vettori, who coached RCB in the past and who would be seen having a word with the captain Virat Kohli in the end overs, believes the time has come to have a communication channel open between the coach and the captain. Mike us up, was his cry.

Vettori talked about how it would help an “inexperienced captain”. And that’s where cricket finds itself in T20 leagues with so many teams that it’s not always possible to find a charismatic and tactical leader. Instead, the coaches are slowly gaining the upper hand.

Pandit and Rana are as good a prism to view this new dimension. Pandit, a hugely successful coach at Ranji Trophy, is known for handholding captains in domestic cricket. He not only is strict old-schooled coach off the field, but also gets involved with micro management on the field. And he has repeatedly produced results. On Tuesday, he talked about how IPL would be “a different challenge” with so many “big players” but the way things have played out, it might be right up his alley. It’s not prejudging Rana the captain, but Pandit clearly wins the stature stakes. And he can, in theory, continue to do what he does in Ranji Trophy with similar statured captains.

KKR has experienced players like Shakib Al Hasan and Tim Southee in their squad, men who have led their countries, but apart from locking up one of the four available overseas spots in the playing XI, they would have come with their own theories and probably couldn’t be relied to follow the coaching staff’s instructions to the T. It seems captaincy is too important to be left to the captain alone, or maybe the franchises consider captaincy to be an overrated skill.

Similar scenes can play out in Mumbai Indians with Suryakumar, when he leads in a few games. With them, not just Mark Boucher the coach, but Rohit can pull the strings from the dugout. With Mayank Agarwal and KL Rahul as captains, Anil Kumble played a strong role as coach of Kings XI Punjab. Even Lucknow Super Giants have retainedRahul as captain, despite him being underwhelming as captain. He has Nicholas Pooran, who has led West Indies, and Saurashtra’s successful Ranji captain Jaydev Unadkat with him, and is largely expected to go by what coach Andy Flower advises. The scenario was similar with Delhi Capitals when Ricky Ponting moved to centerstage especially when Shreyas Iyer was the captain.

Even Rana felt that the added responsibility of the ‘c’ after his name was no big deal, as it’s not his team alone, so to speak. “I will benefit from their experience and the guidance of Chandu sir. So, I’m not feeling any pressure from the added burden of captaincy,” the left-hander said.

It’s not just with newbie captains that coaches are likely to take over a bigger role in the future. The past in fact offers a window to the future. The game has come a long way from the 1999 ODI World Cup, when a big hue and cry was raised about South Africa coach Bob Woolmer sending instructions to skipper Hansie Cronje through an earpiece. The device was promptly taken off after the communication was spotted. The two must be laughing in their graves now.

Cronje was a great captain (until he gave in to greed), Woolmer was a strong coach – and yet they gelled really well and wanted to take the game to the next level. And T20 is the perfect vehicle for that to eventuate. In a whirlwind format which places a lot of emphasis on skippers thinking on their feet, quick decision-making is often of the essence. Hence, either these franchises have taken a genuine leap of faith believing in their captains’ leadership credentials, or they will be relying on the coaching staff in the dugout to ‘guide’ the men in the middle through messages and pre-decided moves.

Rajasthan Royals have kept faith in Sanju Samson, after the team reached the final last year. However, how much of the credit for that goes to Samson, and how much to Sri Lankan legend Kumar Sangakkara in the dugout, is open to question. In the 2023 squad, Royals have in their ranks pedigreed players and captaincy material like T20 World Cup winning skipper Jos Buttler, Ravichandran Ashwin, Jason Holder and Joe Root, but chose to stay with Samson, who may be more amenable to directions from beyond the boundary.

However, sometimes a captain, who is considered only a titular leader to begin with, grows into his role and pleasantly surprises everyone. Hardik Pandya was expected to be a ceremonial skipper who will go by coach Gary Kirsten’s inputs, but led Gujarat Titans to the title in such dynamic fashion that it catapulted him to the role with the Indian T20I team, and he is now touted as a potential white-ball successor to Rohit.

Sign of the times

Increasingly in T20 cricket, data and pre-game analysis plays a big role, which often puts the coaching and backroom staff in major decision-making roles. In any case, IPL matches provide four strategic timeouts in every game for the coaches to influence games without resorting to hand signals from the dugout, papers with codes, or sending messages through boundary fielders or squad members.

When the team is batting and the captain is in the middle, it logically will fall on the coaching staff to make decisions about the batting order and from this season onwards, the use of the Impact Player.

How far this remote-controlled decision-making will go is anybody’s guess.

“There will definitely be communication because the dugout is the best place to begin, but it is also not the place where you discuss everything. It is not ideal in cricket to run or captain a team from the dugout. Cricket is a game where the captain runs the show on the field.. if you are sitting in the dugout, you can do it to an extent, but not entirely. You won’t be in full control. You can certainly do a few things provided the captain and coach are in full sync,” former first-class cricketer R Sridhar, who has been on the coaching staff of the Indian team as well as in the IPL team dugout, told The Indian Express.

But the likes of Daniel Vettori, and Dale Steyn, who too has been vocal about coaches calling the shots, think otherwise and want the coach-captain to be in each other’s ears. IPL and cricket is at a crossroad.

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *