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The Best and Worst IPL Captains

Captaining an IPL side is not a simple job. It’s a high-pressure job and sometimes the pressure gets to even the coolest cat around. Just ask MSD, who was recently sanctioned and penalized 50% of his match fees for losing his cool and walking on the field to contest an umpiring decision.

Cricketnext Staff |May 28, 2019, 5:31 PM IST
The Best and Worst IPL Captains

Captaining an IPL side is not a simple job. It’s a high-pressure job and sometimes the pressure gets to even the coolest cat around. Just ask MSD, who was recently sanctioned and penalized 50% of his match fees for losing his cool and walking on the field to contest an umpiring decision.

Then there are the demands of the high profile IPL owner, and a few of them have been known to needlessly meddle with the workings of the team. (The IPL perhaps is the only league where the owners are prominently shown on the big screens repeatedly during matches.) This also adds to the pressures an IPL captain faces. Then, on one side he has international stars to manage and, on the other side, young domestic players to groom, all during the same match. Takes a toll on a captain, this stuff.

Over the years, some captains have thrived under this pressure, and some not so much.

We look at some captains who can be counted amongst the Best IPL captains as their IPL records are right up there with the best, while on the flip side we look at some captains with the worst IPL record.


The Best

Right off the bat, let us name the honorable mentions. These are captains who, had they been captain for a bit longer or played a few more seasons as captain (thus more games as captain under their belt) they would surely have been amongst the captains with the best records.

The first name here is Steve Smith – if not for other reasons, he would have been leading the RR team this year right from the start. (He was eventually made the skipper towards the closing stages, but that decision came very late in the day.) Smith has a fantastic record as captain with 16 wins in 24 matches for Rising Pune Supergiant, Rajasthan Royals and Pune Warriors. It’s a similar story for David Warner, who also did not captain SRH in 2019 but did lead them for 47 matches before this season, winning 26 of them, and even securing the title in 2016. When it comes to winning captains, one cannot ever forget Shane Warne leading RR to the title in the first season of the IPL where the pre-tournament rank outsiders surprised everyone. It was during that run that people truly realized how great a captain Warnie could have been for Australia.  To give a non-Aussie tinge to the honorable mentions, we must also state the stellar job Kane Williamson has done with SRH. Taking over from Warner in 2018, he also led his team from the front to the top of the table in 2018. There was also Anil Kumble who took the RCB mantle from Pietersen in 2009 and led the team to 15 wins from 26 outings as captain.


Now, looking at the best –

M.S. Dhoni

No brainer, this one. The only captain in the IPL with more than 100 wins, and a win percentage over 60% to boot. Its not surprising to see his name here as he had led India to a world title even before the IPL began. During that tournament he had made some unconventional decisions and has carried on with the same during the IPL over the years. He has always given players (and fans) a lot of comfort as captain. He has exhibited a lot of maturity and expected the same from his team members. There are no long team meetings. He discusses the overall plan and roles for the players, and expects them to perform their role accordingly more often than not. He has a fairly realistic expectation of the outcome, and thus, if a bowler is getting smashed, he doesn’t get very perturbed by it, knowing full well that such things can happen. This calmness was also on display during post-match interviews in IPL 2018m - whenever he was asked about his side’s fitness and fielding, he was clear that having a ‘Dad’s army’ side, his team was never going to be the fittest or quickest fielding unit. So his team had to bowl, set fields and post totals accordingly. He has also been quick to gauge the strengths of his players and thus he often had Deepak Chahar (or Mohit Sharma in the past) bowl their full quota of overs before the slog overs. He has also been innovative and got the likes of R Ashwin to bowl in the power plays or players like Parthiv Patel to open the innings with Mathew Hayden to make it difficult for bowlers to adjust length whenever the strike rotated. He also backs his players and teams, and seldom indulges in chopping and changing.

Dhoni is able to extract the best from of his players. This was evident in the way he persisted with Shane Watson in 2018. Watson ended up playing a match winning innings in the final that clinched the trophy for CSK. Prior to that, Watson’s two years with RCB saw him shunted up and down the order. Then there was Rayudu, who was also used to playing as a floater for MI, and thus always unsure of his role. In CSK, MSD asked him to play as opener, and playing in a fixed position unlocked Rayudu and he scored over 600 runs. Dhoni is also very flexible with his game plans, choosing to use a premier spinner like Jadeja during the powerplay on certain occasions and not bowling him at all at other times.

This approach and flexibility are just a couple of reasons that make Dhoni the best! Three IPL titles for CSK confirm that.

Gautam Gambhir

When KKR went for a squad rejig in 2011, they went in favour of Gambhir as captain over the likes of Kallis who were also in the squad. Gambhir had led his state side, but did not have much leadership experience at the international level often and people were wary of the decision to make him captain. How wrong they were to doubt him. While always serious and frowning on the field, Gambhir backed his players and took calculated punts. Like getting a player like Manvinder Bisla to open the innings for the team in 2012 where he top scored in the final. Gambhir also used to have innovative field placings and used to often station himself at short leg or silly point whenever a new player came in to play against spin just to put some more pressure. He also took a punt on opening the batting with Sunil Narine and that added another dimension to the KKR team, a decision that benefits KKR to this day. His never-say-die attitude rubbed off on the team as well, and players like Robin Uthappa, Manish Pandey and Piyush Chawla also flourished under him.

He served as captain 129 times, winning 71 games, including 2 titles in 2012 and 2014.

Rohit Sharma

Sharma’s captaincy has been a revelation ever since he took it up in 2013, leading his team to a title in his very first year as captain and then again in 2015, 2017 and 2019. Its not that he has done something extra ordinary on the field, but his reading of the game situation and his decisions thereof have impressed many. You will see him bring on a spinner against a compulsive sweeper, or when teams are eyeing quick runs to buy a wicket by setting appropriate fields. You will see him changing fields to tempt batsmen to play against the spin or bowlers’ lines. You will see him give a license to his fast bowlers like Malinga or Mitchell Johnson to attack dangerous opposition players such as Chris Gayle or ABD and meet with success more often than not. Subtle changes to the field or tactics or bowling have generally led to desired results for him, proof that Hitman reads the game pretty well. This was noticed by the Indian Team Management as well, and he is currently India’s limited overs vice-captain and can often be seen having discussions with Virat on the field during play. This year’s IPL win is just the newest feather in his cap.

The not so good captains

There have been a plethora of captains in the many years that the IPL has been around – those who have just not done well in the IPL, like Aaron Finch, Brendon McCullum and David Miller who led sides who were already demoralized by the time they were handed the captaincy and thus did not do well at all. Then there are the likes of Bhuvneshwar Kumar who leads SRH when the regular captain is unavailable; and finally, there are those like Murali Vijay or VVS Laxman who were appointed captains but were removed from captaincy only after a few games due to poor results. We have looked at captains who have led at least 15 times but still have a poor record –

Kevin Pietersen

He led as captain 17 times and registered only 3 wins. First at RCB, where he played 6 games as captain and won only 2, and then with Delhi Daredevils whom he led for 13 games to register only 1 solitary win. Granted the Delhi team of 2014 was not all that hot, but the RCB of 2009 whom he led as captain reached the final that year. KP was another very talented individual who struggled as captain. He has the poorest record in the IPL when we consider Win percentages for captains who have led more than 10 times.

Mahela Jayawardene

An international captain of repute, Mahela struggled as a captain in the IPL, leading his sides successfully only 10 times in 30 matches. He captained Delhi, Punjab and the Kochi Tuskers. The Delhi team of 2010 was the same squad that reached the semis in 2008 and 2009, and Kochi Tuskers was a good side with players like Ravindra Jadeja, Brad Hodge, Mccullum, Muralitharan, Parthiv Patel and Kedar Jadhav but just did not gel.

Kumar Sangakkara

Another international star captain who led his team to World Cup finals but has not succeeded often in the IPL, with only 15 wins from 47 matches. This man in fact dropped himself as a captain and player during one of the seasons for SRH. The other teams he led were Deccan Chargers and KXIP.

Many foreign captains have also struggled to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the local players, faced a difficult time communicating with them given the obvious language issues. That’s why you will find many of them with poor records.

Thus, its only fair that we look at Indian captains with poor records.

The struggling Indian captains

Ajinkya Rahane

He has registered less than 10 wins in his time with Rajasthan. He has generally been found wanting at crucial moments with his decision making. He is also not very expressive or communicative on the field, a trait that has not helped his leadership. Whether its team selection or bowling changes, his many errors in judgement have cost his side.

Sourav Ganguly

This one was perhaps the most disappointing. Dada was a great captain for India, an astute risk taker whose “match awareness” was fantastic. But Ganguly struggled during the IPL, winning only 17 matches as captain out of the 42 times he led on he field. His differences of opinion with the KKR management famously led to him being dropped as captain over poor results.

Another Indian captain who has struggled of late in the IPL is Virat Kohli. After the 2016 season, where RCB reached the final, his side has been underwhelming, winning just 3 games in 2017, 6 in 2018 and only 5 this year.  Kohli has been seen exasperated on the field many times in the last 3 years. Fortunately, IPL failures have had no bearing on when he has led the Indian team. Under him, India reached the no.1 position in Tests and remain amongst the top 2-3 in white ball cricket.

So that was the list of the best and worst captaincy records in the IPL. You would expect Dhoni to be amongst the best, and he is. But others like Dada, who have been all time great captains of the Indian cricket team, haven’t had the same success in the IPL. Then again the IPL is something else entirely.

Team Rankings

Rank Team Points Rating
1 India 4027 115
2 New Zealand 2829 109
3 South Africa 2917 108
4 England 4366 104
5 Australia 3270 99
see more
Rank Team Points Rating
1 England 6745 125
2 India 7071 122
3 New Zealand 4837 112
4 Australia 5543 111
5 South Africa 5193 110
see more
Rank Team Points Rating
1 Pakistan 7365 283
2 England 4253 266
3 India 8411 263
4 Australia 5471 261
5 South Africa 4407 259
see more