“Captaincy is 90 percent luck and 10 percent skill. But don’t try it without that 10 per cent,” Richie Benaud famously said.
It’s not yet known which part of the equation Ravindra Jadeja fell foul of at Chennai Super Kings before relinquishing the job, handing the reins back to Mahendra Singh Dhoni. But judging by what happened in Pune on Sunday evening, it’s clear that the latter is not short of either luck or skill.
Now, Jadeja is a player with vast experience at the international level, though he has done precious little captaincy even in domestic cricket. Nevertheless, he was considered the heir apparent of Dhoni, who is winding down his playing career. CSK is considered a loyal franchise, not prone to trigger-happy decisions. But it seems a record of two wins in his first eight games in charge got to Jadeja himself, more than anyone else.
Not the fall guy
CSK, four-time IPL champions and the winners last year, are known to get the best out of players who may be rejected as too old by other franchises. But the squad assembled for the 2022 season seems lightweight in comparison to those from earlier editions. There is still some way to go in this season, but just maybe it was a season too many for the likes of Dwayne Bravo, Ambati Rayudu and Robin Uthappa while the youngsters like Shivam Dube and Ruturaj Gaikwad have not delivered with consistency on the promise of earlier seasons. As a result, neither CSK’s batting nor bowling sports a formidable look, which is more to do with what happened at the mega auction in February than on the field of play.
— Chennai Super Kings (@ChennaiIPL) May 1, 2022
Dhoni has always been active in offering advice to Jadeja and other bowlers, as well as fine-tuning field placements from behind the stumps (with Jadeja being one of the best outfielders in world cricket, he often spends a lot of time near the boundary), so regardless of the win against Sunrisers Hyderabad, to expect that putting him back in the formal leadership role will result in a long winning streak may be a bit far-fetched.
IPL captaincy theories
The league has experienced captains like Rohit Sharma, Kane Williamson and Faf du Plessis on one hand, with the likes of Rishabh Pant, Mayank Agarwal, KL Rahul, Hardik Pandya and Shreyas Iyer relying more on inputs from the coaching staff. All the players in the latter category made their international debuts long after Jadeja’s, so if they are deemed to be doing a satisfactory job – according to the team management, franchise owners and officials – it may hurt Jadeja’s ego even though relinquishing captaincy is said to be his own call.
But he can take heart from history with several top all-rounders having cut a sorry figure when the burden of captaincy was thrust on them. Ian Botham and Andrew Flintoff are names that readily come to mind (though one has to wait and watch how Ben Stokes does after being anointed England Test captain). Maybe, with the responsibility of setting fields and making bowling changes taken away from him, Jadeja will contribute more with both bat and ball, in a season which has not gone to plan till now. The statement released by the franchise says the change at the helm has been affected to allow Jadeja to focus on his own game. One doesn’t know what effect it has on his captaincy credentials going ahead.
What happens next?
Dhoni is never keen to give too much away regarding his plans, so one doesn’t know whether he will be out in the middle in a yellow jersey next season. The CSK statement says “Dhoni has accepted to lead CSK in the larger interest.” He is already 40 and doesn’t play any other competitive cricket. Father Time catches up with the best of them and it remains to be seen whether CSK will be game for a Mike Brearley-type specialist captain.
But if the 2022 season is going to be Dhoni’s swansong, and he takes up a coach/mentor role next year, it queers the pitch. There’s no name in the current squad that jumps up as a leadership candidate, especially in the medium to long term. In that case, the think tank of the franchise will have to look for a captain before the 2023 edition.
Having a franchise identifying so much with one individual works to create a connection with the fans. There will only be one Thala for CSK fans, who have adored Dhoni through thick and thin.
But it always pays to have a plan. Virat Kohli stepped down from the Royal Challengers Bangalore captaincy last year, and the franchise got Du Plessis in the auction to lead them. In a few years’ time, Mumbai Indians will have to look for Rohit’s successor.
As for Jadeja, he may soon come around to the idea that he is better off without the captaincy, which allows him to do what he does best – getting crucial runs for his side, snaring key wickets and excelling all round the field.