IPL 9: It's Captain Cool versus Captain Kohli

As captain of the Pune franchise Dhoni now has a daunting task of replicating his CSK achievements.

Captain Dhoni versus Captain Kohli is the highlight of the IPL for me this season. I don’t mean just the results of matches between Pune and Bangalore, but on how these two fare as leaders overall.

There are two facets to this contest. How they cope could well determine not just the fate of their respective teams in the IPL, but I reckon could also impact their roles in Indian cricket going ahead. Let’s take Dhoni first, unarguably the most successful captain in T20 competitions. He’s won the World Cup in 2007.

In the IPL, he’s led Chennai Super Kings to the title twice. Add to this the Champions League too which makes for a very good number of trophies for the mantelpiece. Over eight seasons Dhoni helped build up the most stable and consistently performing side in T20 cricket. Indeed, his considerable batting prowess was overwhelmed by his captaincy: off-beat, unorthodox, but highly productive.

The two-year ban on CSK unsettled what seemed like an assignment that
would continue till he retired. As captain of the Pune franchise Dhoni now has a daunting task of replicating his CSK achievements.

The new franchise will surely be wanting some old Dhoni magic at work. But achieving such success is not as easy as waving a wand. Availability of talented players is a given, but even more important is the rapport between them.

The chemistry and loyalty between Dhoni and his CSK players was the envy of all other franchises. While some stalwarts from his old team are still with him — Ashwin and du Plessis for instance — there is a now a whole new bunch unfamiliar with his mindset and ways.

Dhoni will have to approach the IPL with little time for knowing fellow players as well as refuelling his own hunger to win. Rahane, Smith, Pietersen — to name just three — make the franchise formidable on paper. But how quickly Pune’s players and Dhoni reach the same wavelength is crucial.

In any case, just having big names don’t guarantee victory and who knows this better than Kohli? Since the inception of the IPL in 2008, the Bangalore team has seemed the most gifted, the most entertaining, the most likely to win.

While the first two attributes have been witnessed in ample measure over the years what with players like Chris Gayle, A B de Villiers, Yuvraj Singh (for a season) and some other stalwarts —not forgetting Kohli himself — what has struck a discordant note is the inability of the team to come good on the big occasion.

For some reason, the Bangalore team has never been able to jell and come up with the kind of consistency that makes for a champion side. There have been several towering individual performances, but not a sustained team effort.

Kohli understands this well. He has seen this as the blue-eyed boy of the franchise a few years back, then as understudy to the major senior pros like Gayle and de Villiers as well as understudy to the then captain Daniel Vettori.
His appointment as captain was never in doubt, but Kohli has quickly realized that winning the IPL title is not a logical consequence of the success and stardom he has enjoyed in the past couple of years.

On paper, Bangalore remain strong as ever: if anything, getting Shane Watson in the auction has added considerably to the heft. But will this translate into a winning effort? This season poses Kohli his sternest test yet.

He is arguably the team’s best batsman on current form. Fans and critics will be keen to see if he also has the acumen and man-management skills to make it count for his team this year. Which brings me to the other facet of this contest between India’s two leading cricketers.

There are those who believe that Kohli should lead in all formats; there is an equal number that believes Dhoni — who quashed talk of retirement during the World Cup — is the best man still. In an oblique sort of way, how Pune and Bangalore perform could stifle or stoke this debate conclusively.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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