KL Rahul's IPL captaincy more a test than a treat

By, Mumbai
Feb 02, 2022 09:17 PM IST

New franchise Lucknow Super Giants will provide the set-up for Rahul to shine, but will also expect him to rise to the challenge

For new Indian Premier League side Lucknow Super Giants, getting KL Rahul is like pulling off the coup of the season. A highly consistent batter who piles on the runs and can be as explosive as the best there is, pulling off audacious shots with a mere flick of his wrist, Rahul is also earmarked as Team India's future leader. There's no one in Indian cricket right now whose star is as clearly on the rise as Rahul's. 

KL Rahul's captaincy for Lucknow Super Giants will be the cynosure of all eyes. (Getty ) PREMIUM
KL Rahul's captaincy for Lucknow Super Giants will be the cynosure of all eyes. (Getty )

That coup needed money of course, and the RP-Sanjiv Goenka Group-owned franchise has shelled out R17 crores to acquire Rahul's services, making him the joint highest-paid player in the IPL ever, along with Royal Challengers Bangalore's Virat Kohli. It looks like the captain will be given all he wants by his new management. 

But in the world of IPL, the honeymoon period only lasts till the action starts and the results are delivered. Going into the tournament, Rahul knows he can’t fail. It’s not just about the IPL for him. It's his leadership credentials - at the moment, despite all the talk of his potential, he has never actually delivered in the limited opportunities he has got as skipper. 

Under him, Punjab Kings has been resolutely middling, finishing sixth in both 2020 and 2021. But a harsher spotlight shone on him when he led India in four games in South Africa, one Test and three ODIs, all of which India lost. 

Under the scanner

What would have made the Lucknow franchise more nervous is the timing of the results in South Africa - they had announced him as their captain at the same time. Returning home after the 3-0 rout, it needed some serious public relations work to talk up his leadership skills.

Straight up in SA, Rahul had to live up to comparisons with his predecessor, Kohli. The previous captain had such explosive body language that anybody else who will follow will be measured by that yardstick. The mercurial player was a livewire on the field, shouting, yelling, whipping up his players every ball. In comparison, Rahul’s body language was tame. 

Neither did he show any edge in tactical decision making. In the ODIs, the team needed urgent changes which were not made. Keeping Ruturaj Gaikwad, coming off a terrific season in the IPL as well as the Vijay Hazare Trophy, out of all three games even as the batting line up struggled, defied logic. 

This IPL season's other big star, Venkatesh Iyer, got his chance, but not the right push. In the first ODI, he was not used at all as a bowler. Ishan Kishan did not get a look-in either, even as the Proteas spinners dominated. 

When Rahul was leading in the second Test match against South Africa, on the final day he was found wanting in his bowling changes while defending 122 with eight wickets to get. 

Opening the day with R Ashwin backfired as Dean Elgar picked up runs off the off-spinner to help SA settle down in their chase. The advantage of applying early pressure was lost. Pace spearhead Jasprit Bumrah was completely off the radar, being needlessly aggressive, and it was the time he needed his captain to show him the way. To the dismay of the Indian cricket fans, their main weapon went wicketless, returning with figures of 17-2-70-0, conceding runs at 4.11. The game slipped out of India’s hands. 

Finally, with less than 40 runs to get, he threw in the towel by bringing on an unfit Mohammed Siraj, hampered by a hamstring injury. Siraj was taken for 18 runs in his second over (24 in his first two overs) allowing SA to race to victory.

IPL Problems 

The results were nothing spectacular in the IPL at Punjab too. In the last two seasons under Rahul’s captaincy, Punjab Kings finished at 12 points from 14 games. 

If captaincy is about getting the best out of the players, then the Glenn Maxwell saga adds another question mark to Rahul's leadership potential. At Kings, the Australian struggled badly, with 108 runs in 13 innings at an average of 15.42, one of the biggest hitters in the game unable to hit a single six in the tournament. 

Next season at Royal Challengers Bangalore, Maxwell was a transformed player, aggregating 513 runs to finish as the fifth best run-getter in the tournament. 

The Kohli path

Being with a high-profile team attracts intense scrutiny, but to look at the other side, it comes with great benefits too. Kohli is a classic example. 

In 2013, he was handed the captaincy of the most glamourous IPL team ever, RCB. From there his career simply took off. His stature in the India side grew and within a year he was leading the national side as well, even though RCB has remained a team without an IPL trophy. 

Another positive for Rahul is that despite not getting the desired results with Kings, the franchise was still desperate to retain him in the leadership role. It shows that they were happy with his work. 

Also, the added burden did not weight down his batting. The runs flowed from his blade - he won the orange cap in 2020, scoring 670 runs at an average of 55.83 and followed it up with 626 runs at an average of 62.60 in 2021. 

Results at a franchise are also a reflection of the management’s ambition and organisational skills. As far his average record with Kings is concerned, the counter argument is that the team has never done well under any captain. They have never looked a settled house like Mumbai Indians or Chennai Super Kings. 

You can trust the Goenka-led franchise to establish a solid set-up. They know the IPL success mantra having seen their previous team, Rising Pune Supergiants, reach the final in their very second season (2017). 

Looking for leaders   

Rahul’s decision to leave Punjab Kings means the franchise’s biggest job at the upcoming auctions is to get a captain. Kolkata Knight Riders is the other team who need a leader. The challenge is that there are not many candidates with a proven record. The fight is expected to centre around one of four people: David Warner, Shreyas Iyer, Eoin Morgan and Pat Cummins. Warner will be most in demand because of his tremendous overall record at Hyderabad. His recent form for Australia has been sensational too. Iyer and Morgan have been successful when they led Delhi Capitals and Kolkata Knight Riders respectively, but Morgan is far from his prime now. Cummins will be in demand after leading Australia in the Ashes but the franchises will have to take a hard look at his availability.

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