Aussie sandpaper takes some sheen off IPL too!

Cricket Australia banned Steve Smith and David Warner for a year. Just before the verdict became official, Smith and Warner had stepped aside as captains from their IPL sides. The final nail driven by Cricket Australia meant that the BCCI also had to adopt a higher moral plane and the duo was banned from the IPL.

Warner had led Sunrisers to a title triumph in 2016.   -  Sportzpics

The gargantuan world of hype in which the Indian Premier League is marinated, got its latest buzz-additive when television commercials propped up the ‘Best vs. Best’ tagline as part of the build-up towards another bout of frenzied Twenty20 cricket. The IPL, which Rahul Dravid once succinctly described as a domestic tournament with an international flavour, will put its 11th edition on the boards on April 7.

Just as the marketing spin-masters maximised the league’s financial muscle, the franchises too commenced their preparatory camps in various cities. So far, so good as these are the regular building blocks that marry crisp currency to sweat-soaked jerseys and what’s IPL without the allure of athleticism shimmering in some stardust?

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But that old cliché — it’s a small world — revealed its fangs. Cameron Bancroft’s attempt to scuff the ball with sandpaper in the third Test between Australia and host South Africa at Cape Town’s Newlands Stadium, caused schisms in the IPL. Bancroft may not be a part of the squads here but Australia’s skipper Steve Smith and vice-captain David Warner, were originally pencilled in as leaders of Rajasthan Royals and Sunrisers Hyderabad respectively.

And as the cricketing world lapsed into tumult after Smith admitted that Bancroft’s act was thought up by the leadership group, a gut-wrenching anguish spread through Australia and sanctions were inevitable. Sadly, the fineprint of South Africa’s emphatic 322-run victory to go 2-1 up in the series was forgotten. Closer home, the officials linked to the IPL, attempted to get a sense of what transpired in the land of the Proteas.

The International Cricket Council (ICC) may have been mild in its censure as Smith suffered a mere one-Test ban but Cricket Australia was more scathing in its indictment, banning Smith and Warner for a year besides benching Bancroft for nine months. Just before the verdict became official, Smith and Warner had stepped aside as captains from their IPL sides. The final nail driven by Cricket Australia meant that the BCCI also had to adopt a higher moral plane and the duo was banned from the IPL.

Taking Charge: Kane Williamson with head coach Tom Moody during a Sunrisers Hyderabad practice session at the IPL last year. With David Warner gone, Williamson is captain now.   -  RAJEEV BHATT

Smith, Warner will be missed

Smith and Warner are outstanding players, which in turn lends heft to their captaincy styles. They have been justifiably put to pasture but for Rajasthan Royals and Sunrisers Hyderabad, their absence will be felt. Warner had led Sunrisers to a title triumph in 2016. It was also in keeping with the winning formula perfected by fellow-Aussies Shane Warne and Adam Gilchrist, who led Royals and Deccan Chargers respectively to the champions’ podium in the 2008 and 2009 editions.

The critical role that a captain plays in nerve-shredding Twenty20s was subtly highlighted during the inaugural year when Warne pointed to his head and said that the brain matters more than laptops. It was his interpretation of street-smart intelligence while also taking a veiled swipe at Australian coach John Buchanan, known for his techno-centric approach.

Cut to the IPL, Royals quickly anointed Ajinkya Rahane as the captain while Sunrisers Hyderabad took its time before giving the hot seat to New Zealand’s Kane Williamson. And with that the possibility of an IPL with all teams concurrently led by Indians, at best a trivia question for eager quizmasters in the future, evaporated.

The Twenty20’s primary imagery paints a portrait of a batsman slamming a massive six while a breathless commentator provides ear-splitting acoustics. In this din, the captain’s role is often overlooked. Staying calm and marshalling resources when a rival willow wielder is on the rampage or setting a template for a fruitful chase despite inflationary required rates, the skipper’s role is critical.

And like always, captains come in different avatars in the IPL’s latest version. Obviously, attention will be on M. S. Dhoni and Chennai Super Kings. The outfit, just like Royals, returns after a two-year ban following the betting scandal. Interest around Dhoni will be twin-fold. Can he inspire CSK, one of the most successful IPL teams, to discard the rust and embrace greater glory? More importantly, given the limited overs schedule of the Men in Blue leading up to the 2019 World Cup in England, will Dhoni extend his longevity while challengers like Dinesh Karthik snap at his heels? ‘Captain Cool,’ seemingly oblivious to pressure, could obviously be the best leader on view once the IPL kicks in.

Rajasthan Royals skipper Ajinkya Rahane will have to lead from the front.   -  PTI

Karthik, who belatedly strode into the limelight thanks to the last-ball six against Bangladesh in the recent Nidahas Tri-series final in Colombo, was already named as the Kolkata Knight Riders’ captain. It is a move that now seems prescient. He has to anchor the team that was earlier well guided by Gautam Gambhir, and also contend with an ocean of expectations which a packed Eden Gardens symbolises. Once considered as future India captain material by Greg Chappell, Karthik’s has been a stop-start journey and he gets a chance to make amends.

Gambhir, meanwhile, moved back home and will helm Delhi Daredevils. If Karthik’s motto is about reiterating his value to KKR besides proving that he could seal a spot in the national colours, Gambhir’s is fixated on showing that despite his India days long gone, he can stay relevant even if it is within the confines of the IPL. Unlike a CSK that banks on continuity, Gambhir returns to a bunch in perennial flux and that is a problem he needs to solve before embarking on strategy and goal-setting.

Interesting too would be the gravitas and chutzpah that R. Ashwin and Rahane could possibly lend as supremos of Kings XI Punjab and Royals respectively. Both are captains-in-making under the larger shadow of Virat Kohli while turning out for India in Test whites. Ashwin especially has made no bones about his captaincy ambitions, be it with his erstwhile CSK or in the India jersey. To shepherd their teams while also revealing their captaincy potential to national selectors, can be an onerous task.

Kohli, the fiery captain, steps in with a lone regret — the inability to help Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) seize the numero uno slot in the IPL so far. Among his old guard, AB de Villiers remains, and together the duo has to find a way to excite the fans, who throng Bangalore’s Chinnaswamy Stadium.

Kohli is a supreme batsman but equally prone to combust on the field. A few years ago, Kohli and Gambhir were locked in an ugly spat in an IPL fixture. If Kohli’s aggression is chained to his bat and acrobatic fielding, he could be RCB’s game-changer especially after the franchise overlooked an ageing Chris Gayle.

Daniel Vettori and Virat Kohli will be hoping to turn things around for RCB.   -  Sampath Kumar G. P.

 

Rohit Sharma is one Indian batsman whom Kohli rates very high. It got to such an extent that Test vice-captain Rahane was dropped to favour Rohit’s inclusion in the XI during the last tour of South Africa. The faux pas was corrected a wee bit late and though Rohit’s Test ventures largely lack substance, he is in his element against the white ball under lights. The transformation is remarkable and he has led Mumbai Indians well and helped them win three titles. His franchise expects him to extend that golden streak and Rohit, often more expressive in the IPL arena, has the skill sets.

As the outsider among home-bred captains, Williamson has to pep up Sunrisers Hyderabad. The circumstances of his elevation may have been odd but he has to find a way beyond Warner’s legacy.

The IPL’s latest group of captains are indeed varied and they would do well to honour the league’s primary pledge of playing it in the right spirit. It is a document they sign with ostentation during the inaugural night. They better follow it or else they might go the Smith way with television cameras becoming conscience keepers.