Kolkata: Now that all 10 IPL teams for 2022 season have announced their retentions and draft picks, KL Rahul and Hardik Pandya ought to be over the moon. Rahul’s gamble of seeking a release from Punjab Kings paid off beyond dreams as he became the highest paid player in the upcoming edition of the league, while Pandya got a new lease of life to re-invent himself both as a performer and leader after being released by Mumbai Indians.
However, past experience tells you that they may not be exactly in enviable positions. Leading a brand new franchise hasn’t been the easiest of tasks in the history of IPL - even the great Mahendra Singh Dhoni failed to provide to his Midas touch to Pune Supergiants - the team he was in charge of for a season in 2016 before he was unceremoniously replaced by Steve Smith the next year. Those were the two seasons when Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals were banned from the league on allegations of gambling and corruption.
Then there was Suresh Raina, who was hoisted as the captain of the other stop-gap team Gujarat Lions, couldn’t recreate the magic of his Chennai days - and it was apparent that both the ‘thala’ (MSD) and his deputy were eager to return to the Yellow army in 2018.
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On the face of it, Rahul and Pandya have everything going for them with their price tags - prohibitive by any stretch of imagination with the former commanding Rs 17 crores (US $ 2.27 million) and the allrounder drawing Rs 15 crores (US $ 2 million) and the management of both Lucknow and Ahmedabad doing their best to give a headstart to their line-ups ahead of the auction next month.
Lucknow is armed with Rahul, Australian allrounder Marcus Stoinis and young leg spinner Ravi Bishnoi while Ahmedabad boasts of Rashid Khan, the biggest matchwinner in T20 cricket at the moment and Shubman Gill alongwith Rahul.
However, the IPL has shown time and again that star-value is no guarantee to instant success in this intense and marathon competition - where teams have flattered to deceive time and again. With the league poised for it’s 15th edition this year, we have seen that every little component has to gel - be it forming the core of the team around capable Indian players, fostering a family feel among the players and support staff and most importantly, keeping the faith. The biggest examples of 'getting it right' are Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings, while Sunrisers Hyderabad have shown another template of success despite lack of so-called big names.
This is where the biggest challenge lies for the two new franchises and the role of the captain becomes so crucial. There was much faith on the combination of Rahul and Head Coach Anil Kumble when they came together in Punjab 2020 season - but Rahul has failed to inspire that confidence as a leader so far. The stylish Indian batsman did phenomenally with the bat but appeared as someone who is often bogged down by pressure and lets things drift - something which was visible during his white ball captaincy in South Africa.
Pandya, on the other hand, is completely untested as a leader and it depends on what kind of collective leadership group these two teams can build after the buying - not to speak of the early momentum they can gain with a good start to the season.
The other factor which had been often the bane of IPL teams and franchise cricket is interference from the management - with instances of changing captains mid-season being dime-a-dozen and not often producing the desired results. The new ownerships will do well to remember this...