Wicketkeeping is considered one of the toughest jobs in cricket. Add to it the responsibility of leading the side. Well, it seems wicketkeeper-captain is the trend as far as the Indian Premier League (IPL) is concerned. Four out of the eight teams in IPL 2021 have opted to have a gloveman as their captain.
If M S Dhoni has been the undisputed leader of Chennai Super Kings (CSK) since the inaugural edition of the IPL in 2008, Kings XI Punjab (now Punjab Kings) have gone in for wicketkeeper-batsman K L Rahul at the helm from last season. Rajasthan Royals handed over the reins to Sanju Samson in January, while an injury to Shreyas Iyer meant Delhi Capitals put Rishabh Pant in the hot seat.
Dhoni and Pant are regular wicketkeepers, while Rahul and Sanju don the big gloves to lend balance to their team.
It's often said wicketkeepers have the best view on the field from behind the stumps. Naturally they can identify the stregnths and weaknesses of the batsmen in a jiffy and set fields accordingly. The bowlers too are eager to get the feedback of the stumpers and chalk out a strategy.
Dhoni has won three IPL titles with CSK. Australian great Adam Gilchrist is the only other wicketkeeper to have led his team to IPL glory. Gilchrsit achieved the feat with Deccan Chargers (now Sunrisers Hyderabad) in 2009.
The upcoming IPL poses a big challenge to Pant and Sanju. Pant has been on a roll in the past four months. The left-hander played a pivotal role in India's Test series wins in Australia and against England at home. The 23-year-old has also forced his way back into the Indian white-ball team. His wicketkeeping too has improved considerably. The IPL will showcase how good a leader Pant is.
On the contrary it has been a tough few months for Sanju after being named Royals captain. Sanju was dropped from the Indian team for the white-ball leg of the series against England. The star batsman also missed Kerala's Vijay Hazare Trophy quarterfinal against Karnataka with a knee injury. Pant and another young wicketkeeper-batsman Ishan Kishan made a big impression against England when Sanju was sidelined. At 26, time is fast running out for Sanju. Only consistent performances for Royals this season will help his cause in his attempt to regain place in the Indian team.
Sanju has led Kerala in the past. He has got world-class players such as Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer in the Royals ranks. Pace spearead Archer will miss the early matches as he regains fitness after going under the knife. How Sanju manages to get the best out of the star players will go a long way in determining the fortunes of Royals this season.
Rahul almost took Punjab to the play-offs last season. But the horror start when they lost six out of the seven matches meant they missed out on a play-offs spot. There has been no doubt about Rahul's class as a batsman and he has feasted on rival bowling attacks in the IPL. However, Rahul's captaincy left a lot to be desired last year. Both he and head coach Anil Kumble were guilty of holding back the dangerous Glenn Maxwell on numerous occasions. Rahul will need to deliver both as a batsman and leader to keep his captaincy in a very demanding Punjab team management.
Dhoni has seen it all in his illustrious career. However, the man from Ranchi will be eager to bounce back after CSK failed to qualify for the play-offs for the first time last year. Dhoni has invariably extracted the best out of his teammates and he will be looking to do just that. CSK have got valuable additions in all-rounders Moeen Ali and K Gowtham. The seasoned Suresh Raina too is back after missing IPL 2020. Dhoni and the CSK think tank will be confident of a good show this time around.