Mumbai Indians bought Ricky Ponting, Australia's most successful captain, to lead them. Kings XI Punjab retained Adam Gilchrist, arguably the finest wicketkeeper-batsman ever, as their skipper. Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene have led Sri Lanka for years and were the logical choices for Sunrisers Hyderabad and Delhi Daredevils.
But all of them failed to inspire and struggled for form, with most of them dropping themselves in the course of this domestic T20 league edition. While Jayawardene has soldiered on, his Sri Lankan counterpart Angelo Mathews has now formally relinquished the Pune Warriors job, handing it over to Aaron Finch on a permanent basis.
In 2008, Rajasthan Royals coach and captain Shane Warne had set the template for leadership in the league. Along with assistant coach Darren Berry, he meticulously chalked out specific roles for every player. Shane Watson was 'The Enforcer' while Niraj Patel was the 'Innings Manipulator'. Speedster Munaf Patel was 'The Pace Setter'. People felt important, got involved and Warne's man management skills took Royals to their maiden title.
That early success only affirmed the feeling of franchises that foreign skippers were better suited to help a diverse group meld together. With the league into its sixth season, the on-field leadership dynamics have changed drastically.
Think on your feet
So what has caused this turnaround? “The most important quality a captain should have in the shortest format is the ability to make quick decisions,” says Maninder Singh, former India player and ex-spin coach of Mumbai Indians.
The T20 league, with matches every second or third day and the amount of travel involved, does not give a captain time to ponder. By the time things begin to fall into place, half the league is over.
“MS Dhoni has a calm head on his shoulders and it enables him to make quick decisions. So his team is the most successful side,” says Maninder.
Indians lead the way
At the moment, Chennai Super Kings, Royal Challengers Bangalore, Rajasthan and Mumbai are the top four. Three of them have Indian captains and the fourth recently relegated Ponting to the bench, passing on the baton to Rohit Sharma.
“An Indian captain knows our players and the conditions better than his foreign counterpart. This enables him to make optimum use of an uncapped domestic player,” says Maninder. “But the situation changes drastically for a foreign skipper if he is going through a bad phase himself.”
The vital numbers
The league allows just four off-shore players in the 11, and if one of them is the captain, then by default a foreign player's spot is booked. That means a non-performing foreign skipper becomes a liability more than an Indian captain. But Kings XI Punjab coach Darren Lehmann feels struggling to score runs consistently does not make a player like Gilchrist a liability.
“We'd like him to get a lot more runs. But he brings a lot more to the team than just as a batsman. He has been an exceptional leader and has done a very good job for us,” says the former Aussie batsman.
But a foreign skipper dropping himself need not always improve things as Pune Warriors sinking deeper into trouble after Mathews stepped aside has shown.
So it's not just about doing things right. It's also about doing the right things.