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Indian Premier League

IPL 2019: The captains

by Wisden Staff 6 minute read

There isn’t a sure-shot way of lifting the Indian Premier League trophy, but there is one factor that can make or break a campaign: the skipper. Here we examine the IPL captains that will feature in the 2019 campaign.

Defending champions Chennai Super Kings have become one of the most successful sides in the tournament, thanks in no small part to Dhoni. Much like Mumbai Indians with Rohit Sharma, who took over from Ricky Ponting midway through the 2013 season and led them to the first of three titles.

Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni will once again go head-to-head in the IPL

Similarly, David Warner succeeded Shikhar Dhawan as Sunrisers Hyderabad captain in 2015, and that made all the difference as they won the title in 2016.

Ahead of the 2019 edition of the tournament, most teams have their captains firmly in place, but there is uncertainty among a few. Does that mean they start on the back foot? Not entirely, but it certainly isn’t ideal. Here’s what we know so far about the IPL teams and their captains in 2019.

MS Dhoni (Chennai Super Kings)

Chennai's main man

Chennai’s main man

The last IPL was a terrific one for Dhoni. After a lean 2017, when calls for his axing from the national side grew louder, Dhoni put forward his best at the IPL – both with the bat and as captain – to lead an ageing Chennai to another trophy. While that didn’t really put a stop to all those doubting his capabilities, it did shut them up for a while.

So far in 2019, Dhoni has had a better time of it. The runs have come again, albeit not as destructively as they used to, and though the strike-rate is still a problem, he’s managed to come through after taking chases deep for India. It seems he is fine-tuning his game for what will be a massive World Cup for him.

Another victorious IPL season will do him wonders. As to whether this team can defend its title – it still looks like a veterans’ unit – remains to be seen.

Virat Kohli (Royal Challengers Bangalore)

Kohli desperately needs an IPL title

Kohli desperately needs an IPL title

Virat Kohli – the man who can do no wrong in international cricket, but just can’t get it right in the IPL. It’s curious how, despite possessing some of the stalwarts of the T20 game, Bangalore haven’t managed better than two runners-up finishes in the tournament.

This is a big year for Kohli. He could lead India to a World Cup trophy, which will cement his legacy as captain, but you sense he’ll be desperate to win the IPL before that. It’s the one trophy that has eluded him, and winning it will only sharpen his pursuit of more serious silverware.

Bangalore finished sixth in 2018, with their big problem once again a somewhat toothless bowling department. They didn’t really address that concern in the auction. Another season of familiar follies will see the Bangaloreans’ patience run dry.

Rohit Sharma (Mumbai Indians)

From Mumbai's golden boy to esteemed leader

From Mumbai’s golden boy to esteemed leader

Rohit Sharma is the most successful captain in the tournament, apart from Dhoni, after he led Mumbai to three titles. They’re expected to return to winning ways after their disappointing 2018 campaign, when they finished No.5 – not disastrous, but when you’re serial winners nothing less than knockouts will do.

Rohit’s time with Mumbai has boosted his captaincy credentials for the national team. He’s vice-captain of the limited-overs sides, and when Kohli is injured or rested, Rohit takes the helm. He’s led India to a few interesting wins as well. He is also one of those players whose best is brought out by captaincy.

The thing with Mumbai is the pressure. They’ve always been a side filled with the big names – the Galacticos of cricket, if you will – and that always come with added pressure. It’s up to Rohit to lead from the front.

Dinesh Karthik (Kolkata Knight Riders)

The second season is always tougher, and Dinesh Karthik will know that

The second season is always tougher, and Dinesh Karthik will know that

After stepping into Gautam Gambhir’s shoes as Kolkata captain, Karthik had a decent season last year. In his maiden campaign as an IPL captain, he led Kolkata to the second qualifier – a victory against Sunrisers Hyderabad would have taken them to the final.

It was a fine season from Karthik and the added responsibility didn’t hinder his batting – he scored 498 runs in 16 outings at 147.77, putting him at No.9 in the run-scorers’ list. He also did it all with a smile. In a tournament with big internationals names captaining other sides, Karthik was a pleasant change.

But now he’s into his second season as captain, there’s pressure. The standards have been set and Karthik cannot afford to slip now. Gambhir won two titles with Kolkata. The minute Karthik slips, he’ll be compared to his predecessor – even now – and that’s something he will want to avoid.

R Ashwin (Kings XI Punjab)

First season as Punjab captain didn't go so well for Ashwin

First season as Punjab captain didn’t go so well for Ashwin

Ashwin has always given the impression of being an intelligent cricketer, and the thought was that would make him an exceptional captain. Last year, Punjab thought along those lines and handed him the reins.

Unfortunately for Ashwin, he couldn’t spark them into doing anything spectacular. They finished No.7 on the table last year, just two points above last-placed Delhi, and for all the euphoria at the beginning of the season, little had changed for Punjab, who have constantly been there at the bottom or thereabouts.

Punjab spent the most cash – on 13 players, including the coveted Sam Curran – at the 2019 auction, and brought in Mike Hesson, the former New Zealand coach, to take charge this season. The squad gives a strong impression at the moment, and it’s over to Ashwin now.

Shreyas Iyer (Delhi Capitals)

Delhi will persist with their young captain

Delhi will persist with their young captain

Iyer took over as Delhi captain midway through the 2018 season, after Gambhir struggled and stepped aside. With Iyer at the helm, Delhi sparked, and there was an upturn in form and aura. They still finished at the bottom, but there were positives that came out with him at the helm.

This time around, there’s a new name, new team owners and a few new players, including Shikhar Dhawan, who was traded in from Hyderabad. Dhawan is back in his hometown and is easily one of the most experienced players in the team, but Delhi seem to have persisted with Iyer as captain, according to reports.

Iyer may just be the man to lead a young, vibrant Delhi team to a maiden trophy.

The doubts

Kane Williamson/David Warner (Sunrisers Hyderabad)

Williamson or Warner? Hyderabad have a choice to make

Williamson or Warner? Hyderabad have a choice to make

When Warner, after the ball-tampering furore, was axed by the BCCI from the IPL, there were legitimate concerns regarding Hyderabad and how their season would go. Kane Williamson dispelled those concerns, leading Hyderabad in his own, charming brand of captaincy, and taking them to the final.

Warner is available this year – the ban only extended for the 2018 edition of the tournament – and it remains to be seen which way the management goes.

Williamson, after last season, is perhaps favourite to retain the captaincy, but Warner has led the team to the title in the past. It’s a tough call – and given both are overseas players, it’s important to get it right for the sake of the team combination.

Steve Smith/Ajinkya Rahane (Rajasthan Royals)

Rahane will likely lead the team again

Rahane will likely lead the team again

Steve Smith was originally slated to be Rajasthan’s captain last year before the ball-tampering scandal erupted. After he was left out of the IPL, Ajinkya Rahane took over and did well enough.

Rajasthan finished at No.4 in the league stages, and progressed to the knockouts, where they were seen off by Kolkata in the eliminator.

Given Smith’s limited availability this year – World Cup preparations take precedence – it’s unlikely that Rahane will be removed from the role. But Smith is a fine captain, and all eyes will be on him.

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