IPL 2024: Can the Sunrisers captaincy be a crown of thorns for Pat Cummins?

The franchise has had four captains in three seasons and finished at the bottom of the heap last year

Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc may feature for either teams in a IPL clash at the Eden Gardens on  23 March. (photo: Getty Images)
Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc may feature for either teams in a IPL clash at the Eden Gardens on 23 March. (photo: Getty Images)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

It was hardly a surprise when Sunrisers Hyderabad announced Pat Cummins, Australia’s World Cup winning skipper, as their captain for IPL 2024 season. The million dollar question that follows, however, is: can Cummins, their fourth leader in three years, bring a turnaround in the fortunes of the underwhelming Orange Army?

The last year or so had been too good to be true for the 30-year-old pace ace, who had once surmounted a career-threatening injury, as he had hardly put a foot wrong both as a captain and a performer. The 50-overs World Cup win in October-November was like an icing on the cake on the back of his team’s World Test Championship crown and then retaining the Ashes while he finished the year with a Player of the Match in the Boxing Day Test against Pakistan.

The impact of the personal and collective triumph was so overwhelming that he was adjudged the ICC Player of the Year, ICC Cricketer of the Year as well as nominated captain of ICC’s Test team of the Year. A staggering payday followed when Sunrisers broke the bank with a bid of Rs 20.25 crores ($ Aus 3.6 million) in the IPL auction in mid-December, which made him the second costliest player in the league’s history after old colleague Mitchell Starc.

A second look at the first two weeks’ IPL fixtures released so far will reveal that a match-up between Cummins and Starc could be on the cards on the very second day of the 2024 season (23 March) when Kolkata Knight Riders host Sunrisers at the Eden Gardens on 23 March. There could be many a slip between the lip and the cup for it to happen, but it certainly makes for a lipsmacking build-up.

Now comes the critical question whether Cummins can emulate his leadership qualities, shown in Tests and ODIs with a homogenous bunch, in the pressure cooker atmosphere of IPL ? It’s an ecosystem notorious for having too many heavyweights in the dugout not often adding up in change room inputs as well as managerial interference – and it’s not a secret that Sunrisers’ recent hire-and-fire philosophy has not really yielded the results.

If SRH had emerged as one of the most consistent sides of IPL in their first six to seven years despite flying under the radar, their performance in the last three seasons had been underwhelming. Last year, SRH finished bottom of the heap under South African Aiden Markram’s captaincy with only four wins in 14 league games.

Markram’s feat of leading Sunrisers Eastern Cape to the inaugural SA20 title in 2023 and then defending the crown last month did not cut much ice in helping him retain the SRH captaincy, though he is still a part of the squad and is expected to shore up their top order with new entry Travis Head and Heinrich Klaasen.

The musicial chair SRH management had been playing with the captaincy has not really helped the team in settling down. It began with the 2021 saga when swashbuckling Australian batter David Warner, who led the team to its only title win in 2016 and spent six years with the side, was sacked in the middle of the season.

Warner was replaced earlier too by New Zealand’s Kane Williamson in 2018 and 2019, when he was serving a ban for his involvement in the ball-tampering scandal during Australia’s tour of South Africa. One of the most prolific scorers in the IPL history, Warner reclaimed his position in 2020 before his relationship with the team management began to turn sour during the 2021 season. He was sacked from the captaincy in May that year after SRH lost five of their six games and was then axed altogether later in the season.

Williamson was handed the reigns of the side once again and in a gesture devoid of grace, Warner was blocked by SRH on Instagram. This came to light when Warner tried to congratulate his Australian teammate Head for joining SRH in December last year.

Will it then be a crown of thorns for Cummins, who does not have experience of T20 captaincy at any level? We will have to wait and watch!

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