Dinesh Karthik captain of Kolkata Knight Riders plays a shot during IPL 2020 cricket match against Kings XI Punjab, at Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. PTI photo
On Friday, 16 October, Dinesh Karthik announced handing over the reins of Kolkata Knight Riders’ captaincy to teammate Eoin Morgan. Thus began the hottest topic of discussion in the ongoing IPL.
Although the wicketkeeper–batsman accentuated that he wanted to focus more on his batting, his decision certainly turned the spotlight on the "familiar sight" of mid-way change in captains in the cash-rich tournament — especially when the teams perform poorly! Experts and former players share their insights.
Captaincy is pressure
If Karthik’s decision to step down as the KKR captain itself took many cricket lovers by surprise, the timing of his decision — on the very day of his team’s match against Mumbai Indians (MI) — left many others shocked.
Sports producer and broadcaster Hemant Buch felt that if the decision was made even three days before the match, it would’ve given the players enough time to absorb the jolt.
"Alternatively, KKR could’ve made this change in the beginning of the tournament. But Karthik’s sudden decision looks like he was forced to leave," says Hemant. "That being said, I don’t have problems in Morgan’s captaincy; he’s a class act."
According to former cricketer and chief selector MSK Prasad, Karthik has done the right thing and calls it a good sign for the Shah Rukh Khan-co-owned franchise. Even as he points out that Karthik is a quality player and has done so much for the team, Prasad adds that leadership fuelling performance may not be for all. "Players such as Shreyas Iyer, Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul and Adam Gilchrist have excelled as captains. For others (read Karthik), however, captaincy may be pressure," explains Prasad. "However, we need to understand and respect his decision to focus on his batting. It’s possible that at the back of his mind he wants to leave on a good note."
It was a plan
Cricket author and analyst Vimal Kumar says he’d foreseen this development when Brendon McCullum had taken over as the Head Coach of KKR last year. "Brendon said that he wanted to have Shubman Gill, apart from Eoin Morgan, as a part of the leadership group. So the message was loud and clear that he wants Morgan as captain," says Vimal, adding that perhaps Karthik’s fallout with Andrew Russell last year only made things difficult for the KKR think-tank.
Even so, Vimal was surprised how the decision for Karthik to step down was communicated to him. He tells us, "The KKR management fumbled and could not handle the entire episode properly. You can be critical of a player but dumping him from captaincy and trying to be politically correct is really uncalled for."
Franchises are no experts
Although passing the baton of captaincy mid-season in the IPL isn’t a new phenomenon, KKR franchise, in particular, has shown a pattern of having multiple captains across the seasons. In fact, former KKR coach John Buchanan had come up with the idea of having rotating captains’ strategy for the team in 2009.
However, former cricket administrator Makarand Waingankar, who headed KKR’s Talent Research Development Wing (TRDW) in 2009, states that franchises are no cricket experts.
"IPL is a business model; none of the franchises are experts in cricket. And in a team game such as cricket, what matters ultimately is the winning combination. So franchises constantly look forward to working towards that while hiring and firing players," explains Makarand, adding that if any player feels his individual performance is getting affected, then he needs to take a call.
All said and done, while agreeing that with IPL 2020 half-way through, the experiment phase for the teams is over, Makarand also believes Karthik’s decision could’ve also been for personal reasons. "We don’t know. So we must respect his decision to contribute more with the bat. And he is not a rookie; he is experienced enough," Makarand articulates.