GAME PLAN: IPL — Skippers’ traits distinguish top sides

Jaideep Ghosh

FILE | Bengaluru: Royal Challengers Bangalore's Virat Kohli plays a shot during the IPL T20 match against Rising Pune Supergiants. Photo: PTI

FILE | Bengaluru: Royal Challengers Bangalore’s Virat Kohli plays a shot during the IPL T20 match against Rising Pune Supergiants.
Photo: PTI

The problem with the Indian Premier League (IPL) is that you can hate it, or love it, but you can’t be completely indifferent to it, not if you’re into sports in any disguise.

You definitely cannot ignore Virat Kohli, whether he succeeds or fails. When he’s getting those centuries (four in the IPL already!) and closing in on 1000 runs (a total of 81 runs in two matches will do nicely), who just sit back and wonder, is this for real?

On the other hand, when he fails, it is even more of a spectacle.

Like it was when the Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) played Q1 on Tuesday at home, against Gujarat Lions (GL).

Who’d have thought that RCB would be looking up the barrel of a gun when chasing a rather modest GL total, with Dhawal Kulkarni, of all the bowlers, to blast out the top-order, which included Kohli, Chris Gayle and KL Rahul.

But since most would have seen the match, or read the result, it would be a repetition to go on about how AB de Villiers played them to a victory and the final. While GL lost the plot completely.

What I was watching were Kohli’s antics in the dugout.

Now, there’s no doubt that Kohli wants to win, and it’s all good. He plays with his heart on his sleeve, whether batting, taking smart catches in the deep, or cheering his team from the side.

But every little victory is punctuated with fingers on the lips, pumping fists and a little glower and comment at the opposing dugout. Much like all of us when we were playing galli cricket.

All of this can be quite entertaining, when within limits. But I guess Kohli limits himself a tad higher than most of us.

It’s been quite the season for him, especially in T20s, here he was at one time averaging over 99. That was, of course, before he got a duck against GL.

Nevertheless, it’s still quite an average and a phenomenal strike rate. Not to mention some quite outstanding catches taken in the deep, especially while nursing split webbing on his left hand.

But somehow, Kohli in the dugout is still my most favourite act.

It’s been quite the study of captaincies in the IPL. Kohli is supremely in-your-face, while Sunrisers Hyderabad’s (SRH) David Warner, no less aggressive, has learned to temper himself and focus on shoring up his limited resources.

Then you have Gautam Gambhir in Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR), who carries all the woes of the world on his shoulders and it shows. He scowls and snarls. Not an easy bloke to deal with.

Among the four teams in the knockouts, the other skipper is Suresh Raina at GL. A cool, been there and done that, veteran, Raina is the most understated of the lot, but has shored his resources very well indeed.

IPL-2016-Suresh-Raina,-Gautam-Gambhir,-Virat-Kohli,-David Warner

In this image: team captains of the IPL 2016 — Suresh Raina (GL), Gautam Gambhir (KKR), Virat Kohli (RCB) and David Warner (SRH). Photo: PTI

Quite a study in contrasts, the four. Who emerges on top, remains to be seen.

Kohli won the battle against Raina in Q1, but not through some great calculations. His side were all but relegated to Q2, before De Villiers enacted one of the best recoveries of this IPL at least, with loud and very animated instructions and support from Kohli, just outside the boundary ropes.

Raina and coach Brad Hodge were possibly a bowler short when it came to keeping RCB under control. But knowing the astute people those two are, they may not make the same mistake if GL were to make the final.

The other match a rather uninspired chase, after some ridiculously wrong calls while fielding, saw KKR being eliminated.

Gambhir isn’t an easy captain to play under, especially when the chips are down. He has neither the exuberance of a Kohli, or Warner’s determination, nor Raina’s coolness.

He just snaps and spits, as he did when KKR were knocked out.

RCB’s advantage is that their cannon are firing. Kohli has been incredible, while De Villiers almost always comes good when the chips are down.

Gayle, whose ‘big bat’ isn’t always straight, has been erratic. But when he gets going, the match is well and truly over.

Then there’s Rahul, who’s done himself no harm at all.

Raina would dearly love for Brendon McCullum and Aaron Finch to really get going. These three can take on any batting, at any time.

FILE | Gujarat Lions Player Dwayne Bravo celebrating after winning a match. Photo: PTI

FILE | Gujarat Lions Player Dwayne Bravo celebrating after winning a match.
Photo: PTI

Their most consistent player, with bat and at times with ball, has been Dwayne Smith. Raina would so love him and namesake Dwayne Bravo coming good together.

SRH have the most underrated bowling, but Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mustafizur Rahman have been quite sensational, especially in the absence of Ashish Nehra, who went surgery in England on Wednesday.

Warner’s problem has been his batting, and it could well be this inconsistency that could see SRH leave the title contest up to Gujarat and Bengaluru.

It’s been quite an IPL, and by the time we meet again, it will all be over. Just waiting to see which of the characters laughs the last and loudest.