Captain Ashwin makes instant impact

R. Ashwin is the only bowling captain in the 2018 edition of the IPL as he aims to take Kings XI Punjab to its first play-off since 2014.

Ravichandran Ashwin is captaining an IPL franchise for the first time this season since his debut in 2009.   -  Akhilesh Kumar

There was this interesting question posted on one of the world’s most popular social-network sites in early January: Can R. Ashwin captain an IPL team?

At the time, not even the player auction had begun, so little wonder several answers were in the negative. Only Nostradamus could have said that Ashwin would not be playing for Chennai Super Kings, but for Kings XI Punjab, whose management would also come up with the masterstroke of naming him the captain.

Ashwin has delivered. He has turned KXIP into a formidable, balanced unit, even while earning a reputation for himself as one of the shrewdest captains at this IPL.

Not since Shane Warne of Rajasthan Royals has a bowler impressed so much as an IPL captain. And Ashwin is just 10 matches into the job.

History would tell us that many more batsmen than bowlers have led teams.

Warne never captained Australia in a Test, but of the 11 matches he led the men in yellow in ODIs, he was successful in 10. Anil Kumble, by his own admission, got the top job in Indian sport when nobody else wanted it and that too, 17 years after making his international debut.

“I am not at all surprised with Ashwin’s success as a captain,” former Indian opener V.B. Chandrasekhar, who is doing television commentary in Tamil at this IPL, told Sportstar on Tuesday. “I had even thought that he could lead the country some two or three years ago. What he has done at this IPL in his first year as captain is remarkable.”

Interestingly, it was the IPL that gave Ashwin the first stage to showcase his skills as a crafty off-spinner; he helped CSK triumph in 2010 and 2011. Dhoni’s men have done well without his services this year, but the past few weeks have proved that KXIP needed someone as capable as Ashwin at the helm in its quest for a place in the play-off for the first time since 2014.

He seems to be a natural for the job. Look at the way he has nurtured Mujeeb Ur Rahman, the mystery spinner from Afghanistan. Ashwin has used the 17-year-old, with success, both as a defensive bowler – like against Delhi Daredevils, which needed 17 off the last over – and an attacking one, as in the match here against Rajsthan Royals on Sunday.

He is one of those captains who makes things happen. “Yes, he is very proactive, maybe sometime too much so,” said Chandrasekhar. “He commands a lot of respect as a cricketer. Another good thing I like about his captaincy is that he does not allow emotions to influence his decision, like dropping someone like Yuvraj Singh when he was struggling.”