IPL 12 talking points: Virat Kohli must prove he is a good captain, not just a captain of good sides
A look at the hot issues ahead of this weekend's opening match between Kohli's Royal Challengers Bangalore and defending champions Chennai Super Kings
Ideal opening match
For star-crazed cricket fans across the subcontinent, there cannot be a glitzier start to Season 12 of the Indian Premier League than when Chennai Super Kings host Royal Challengers Bangalore on Saturday.
Much as sporting heroes may want their followers to believe there is no "I" in team, stardust matters. So, when Chennai and Bangalore lock horns, much of the attention will be on their respective captains.
MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli are two of India’s biggest sports stars. They are long-time national teammates, with Dhoni being Kohli’s mentor and predecessor as captain.
Until 2015, they were king and crown prince together ruling the world. They continue to dominate the cricketing landscape but with Kohli wearing the crown these days and Dhoni moving into an advisory role.
During the IPL, however, they will resume their lopsided rivalry that is as old as the league itself. Aside from the fact Chennai are three-time champions and Bangalore have yet to win the title, Chennai have also won 14 of their 21 meetings with their fellow southerners.
Even in the two years Dhoni wore the Rising Pune Supergiant shirt, his team eked out two wins out of four against the more established Royal Challengers.
That said, neither Dhoni nor Kohli seems the type to spend too much time thinking about the past; it is all about the future. And in this future lies the prospect of another exciting showdown that both teams and their captains will hope to come away from with victory.
No team more super than Chennai
There is no doubt Chennai are the pre-eminent IPL franchise.
They have won the title a joint record three times along with Mumbai Indians and made it to four other finals. And therein lies an imperfection that probably endears them to fans across clubs; they could possibly not have been liked as much had they taken home more silverware.
That they are owned by a company run by former Indian cricket board president N Srinivasan does not win them many points with the public, yet their brilliant comeback in 2018 following a two-year suspension over a corruption scandal has only shown the importance of a tight, albeit ageing, unit.
It helps, too, they are led by a former India captain whose charisma continues to enchant much of the subcontinent.
The love is evident; close to 12,000 fans crammed into MA Chidambaram Stadium only to see their boys practise. “I personally wouldn’t want to call it a practice match. For me, it’s like a reunion of family members after almost a year,” one fan said.
In an age of "corporate" sides and plastic fans, Chennai’s staying power and grassroots popularity are endearing to see, offering lessons to other cricket franchises not just in the IPL but around the world.
Kohli captaincy under scanner
This week Gautam Gambhir criticised Kohli’s record as an IPL captain, which has been mixed.
"I don’t see him [Kohli] as a shrewd captain or a tactful captain,” the former India opener said. “And he hasn’t won the IPL. So ultimately a captain is only as good as his record till the time you don’t win the IPL.”
Leaving aside the spat they had on the pitch six years ago and whatever baggage there may or may not be in their personal equation, Gambhir’s remarks carry weight as they come from a man who led Kolkata Knight Riders to two titles.
They also make sense: Under Kohli, Bangalore have won 44 and lost 47 matches. In seven seasons under his stewardship, they have progressed to the play-offs on just two occasions. He once even conceded making poor decisions costing the side victory in crucial moments.
His challenge this season will be to prove to Gambhir and the lot he can indeed be a good captain and not just the captain of a good side, as has been suggested about his excellent record with India.
Remember the World Cup
Lokesh Rahul is an example of a top-class batter whose Test and one-day international form suffered because of the compromises he made for IPL success.
It is not an uncommon phenomenon as it is tough to make the necessary technical adjustments while switching formats especially at short notice give how much cricket gets played these days.
Some players are, therefore, likely to find it challenging to succeed in both the IPL and the Cricket World Cup that follows shortly thereafter. That the IPL will be played in the heat and dust of India and the World Cup in cold and wet of England and Wales won’t help the players’ cause either.
Kohli has spoken of his wariness of picking up bad habits at the IPL, and he is right. The last thing India need is a Rahul-type situation affecting others with the stakes so high.
Updated: March 23, 2019 05:51 PM