Amongst the players handpicked for leadership roles in IPL 2022, Hardik Pandya as captain is an intriguing decision by Gujarat Titans. A new franchise travelling down a new road, chose as skipper a new face, who grew up in the shadow of Kieron Pollard, Rohit Sharma, Lasith Malinga at Mumbai Indians. This is his first move away from MI, also handed captaincy for the first time. Time will tell whether an exciting all-rounder as skipper was an inspired choice, going by the skills packed into a lean frame.
He is known as a maverick with the bat, since IPL debut in 2015.
Fielding and bowling capabilities will be known as the tournament picks up pace. Pandya was in recovery phase from a back injury and has not bowled since IPL 2021. Four overs with the ball in hand, before or after fireworks with the bat, had earlier magnified his value as a match-winner. If bowling is rusty, fielding scrappy as it happens post-injury, the wisdom in choosing an untested captain will dawn on Titans when the chips are down in IPL 2022.
Team captaincy involves a larger role beyond batting or bowling, as the highly successful Dhoni with Chennai Super Kings and MI’s Sharma proved repeatedly. No comparison here, just a pointer to the high standards set by these two, running the show in different ways and underlined by calmness in a crisis. Pandya is an explosive player, the excitable type and with emotions visible on his face. Leaders like him are expected to show the way out of tricky situations by sheer force of performance.
The Titans is a new bunch of players, a fresh combination which needs time to evolve into a winning unit. World Cup winning coach Gary Kirsten, in charge of a new team, should be lending the calming influence in the dressing room for the skipper to fully focus on getting the job done on the pitch. The foreign coach and Indian captain combination is not new to IPL, understanding each other’s wavelength takes time. It is not known how much time Pandya will be given by the team management to move past the learning curve.
The seasons spent with Mumbai Indians in a dressing room amongst the big names is an experience Pandya will draw inspiration from in a new role as team captain. Watching the huge Pollard dominate the bowling, the elegant Sharma carve up rival attacks were useful lessons for the 28-year-old all-rounder growing in confidence with each season as a hard-hitter able to turn games around. He graduated to Team India and under Dhoni’s guidance, developed into an effective wicket-taking bowler.
Pollard, Sharma, Dhoni are the leaders on and off the pitch whose knack of getting the best out of teammates, famous foreigners or emerging local talent, will be helpful for the newly appointed Gujarat Titans captain. Pandya rose in stature from an exciting all-round talent in MI, into a match-winner in international cricket over the course of 54 T20s and 63 ODIs for India. He can get into any T20 team as a big-hitter, bowling increases the impact he makes in a match situation. Delivering with bat and ball as captain takes special talent.
IPL 2022 will be notable for exciting Indian faces in other franchises promoted to leadership positions. Shreyas Iyer for Kolkata Knight Riders, Ravindra Jadeja at CSK, Rishabh Pant at Delhi Capitals, Mayank Agarwal at Punjab Kings, Sanju Samson at Rajasthan Royals, K L Rahul at Lucknow SuperGiants are the other skippers expected to perform for respective franchises, the way Gujarat Titans expect from Pandya. Experienced hand Faf du Plessis replaces Virat Kohli as leader at Royal Challengers Bangalore.
Team managements have taken the step to push the squad in a new direction, built around the personality of a young Indian captain (Faf from South Africa being an exception), under the guidance of a chief coach and support staff of specialists, mainly former players who made a reputation in white-ball cricket. New Zealand captain Kane Williamson (Sunrisers Hyderabad) and India captain Rohit Sharma (MI) continue from where they left off last season, though with new-look teams assembled after the auction.
Indian cricket will be watching these captains with interest, especially Pandya. The T20 format demands captains to think on their feet, players to hit the ground running. The Baroda all-rounder’s former MI teammates, India teammates will also be keeping track, whether team responsibility brings out the best in him, beyond whirlwind batting and incisive bowling.