On the face of it, KXIP (Kings XI Punjab) appeared to be beyond repair when they went into the IPL Auctions. Also on the face of it, what they needed was just one player – a T20 captain. What they were making do with until now, was an excellent Test batsman, doubling up as their opening batsman and T20 captain. Don’t let Vijay’s twin T20 hundreds fool you, they were made a long time back – in 2010 and 2012. Well before he harnessed his powers as a supreme Test batsman for India. With Vijay at the helm, KXIP were forced to play him, have him open the innings, no matter what.
Murali Vijay and T20s are an odd couple, somewhat like Suresh Raina and Test cricket.
IPL Season 9’s numbers, however, tell a different story: Vijay knocked 453 runs at an average of 35, striking at 124. For three years prior to this he was striking at less than 110 with an average in the early 20s.
Season 9 could well be an exception. Vijay’s scoring is by and large built on boundaries. When the boundaries dry up, the runs invariably dry up. This was the precise reason, Vijay failed to cut it as an ODI batsman. A strike rate of less than 70, only one half century, that too, in his last series, against Zimbabwe. An ODI batting average of 21 isn’t too flattering either.
With all this limited overs’ baggage, KXIP made Vijay their captain. Possibly, because after the rough run with David Miller and Glenn Maxwell, they didn’t know where else to look.
Not until this IPL Auction, with former KXIP captain, Virender Sehwag as their mentor. For all his brilliance with the bat, Sehwag was never meant to be captain. Not for India, not for Delhi Daredevils, and not for KXIP either. Captaincy never sat on his shoulders as a bat did in his hands.
One of Vijay’s IPL centuries will vouch for that. As Daredevils’ skipper, Sehwag opened with a spinning rookie, Sunny Gupta, playing his first IPL match against Vijay – in a Qualifying Final. A demolition followed. Not to be outdone, Vijay as KXIP skipper, bowled Axar Patel in the last over against MS Dhoni – 23 runs later, MSD won Pune the match. There is still the odd chance that Sehwag-Vijay could be running the show at Punjab, and you fear for them.
But they don’t have to. At the auction table, Punjab bagged England captain, Eoin Morgan and former West Indies’ captain, Darren Sammy. There are two World T20s in there, both under Sammy’s watch. Sammy doesn’t turn up for the Windies, and there’s a good chance he may not for Punjab. He makes an exceptional cheerleader, and may only play once Morgan flies back home to play South Africa.
Perennial contenders for the wooden spoon, Delhi Daredevils (DD) appear to have purchased a lot of goodies at the auction. What they still haven’t got though, is a captain who can guide the team independent of coach, Paddy Upton and mentor, Rahul Dravid’s remote control.
There’s some progressive thought brewing behind DD lines – thought that almost disregards the outcome because of the significance attached to the process. In JP Duminy, Angelo Mathews and Zaheer Khan, they might have readymade captains – but DD needs to ask themselves some tough questions, do these players always pick themselves in the playing XI.
It could well be a repeat of when then DD captain, Mahela Jayawardene rested himself so another overseas’ player could take his place in the middle.
Then again, underestimate Upton and Dravid at your own peril. They’re fully capable of making 19-year-old, Rishabh Pant captain. After all, he’s just taken over Delhi’s one-day captaincy from Gautam Gambhir.
As with T20 cricket, so too with T20 captaincy, it’s better to go with the gut than overthink it. Who knows, Sehwag might finally have applied his ‘see-ball, hit-ball’ policy to an all-new ‘see-captain, make-captain’.
Even before a ball could be bowled in the one off Test between India and Bangladesh, the buzz was about Ajinkya Rahane’s return and Karun Nair’s omission from the Test team. While Nair had scored an unbeaten triple century (303*) in his last Test innings, it was argued by both coach, Anil Kumble and captain, Virat Kohli that Rahane’s stellar work in the last two years had not been forgotten.
While it is extremely unfortunate for Nair to be left out, he has taken it bravely, on the chin, so to speak. The 25 year old Karnataka batsman has a deep respect for Ajinkya Rahane, and has gone on to admit that if he was in charge of selections, he too would’ve picked Rahane. While not undermining his triple hundred, he did feel that Rahane was a proven performer across all conditions. “I’m lucky to have got a chance because of his (Rahane’s) injury but now that he is fit, I’m glad to see him return to the side. He is a match winner and even though I scored a match winning triple century, I do not have a body of work as vast as his…once it is comparable, it will be easier to look at selections in a more objective manner”
All things aside, how much does one have to score to seal a spot in this Indian team? Karun Nair feels that even 300 is not enough. “As you know, triple hundreds are quite common these days, especially in home conditions against indifferent bowling attacks. The real Test will be for me to show my stamina, I will try and score 400 next time”
When asked if he thought that 400 would seal his spot, he answered in the negative, “No…I don’t think so, even if I score 400, and if Rohit Sharma is fit and available for selection in the next match, he should be picked before me. Rohit is much more senior and a proven match winner across formats. Also I don’t think I can compare myself to his talent and potential. Captain has great regard for him too. He is set to do big things for the country in the Test arena”
When Karun Nair will play for the country is anybody’s guess but this is not dampening the middle order batsman’s spirits who feels that just spending time in the dressing room with seniors like Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane is a blessing in disguise for him – “every day I learn something new, there is a great atmosphere in the dressing room. Something that no amount of time in the middle can teach you. Right now I am focused on carefully observing the seniors and picking a trick or two on how to handle myself spending long hours on the bench”
When asked if India’s other triple centurion, Virender Sehwag, had spoken to him, he said, “yes, on Twitter. He made fun of me. But that is Viru Bhai. He’s an original and it is a privilege to be mocked by him. I’m really looking forward to be made fun of by him when I make 400 runs. I can almost anticipate him tweeting that he will have to come out of retirement to keep me company and returning my favour of keeping him company in the 300 Indians’ club”.
However plausible this may sound, this is largely a work of fiction.