IPL: How tough a job must captains Gill and Pant do?

The Gujarat and Delhi skippers both need to sort out their over rates quickly

Shubman Gill (right) and Rishabh Pant (left) during IPL 2023, which the latter missed due to a car accident (photo: Delhi Capitals)
Shubman Gill (right) and Rishabh Pant (left) during IPL 2023, which the latter missed due to a car accident (photo: Delhi Capitals)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

The first two weeks of the 2024 IPL have seen Shubman Gill and Rishabh Pant, two of the youngest captains, incur fines for slow over rates.

While Gill faced it during the Gujarat Titans’ loss to the Chennai Super Kings late last month, Pant has now copped it for a second time as the Kolkata Knight Riders went on a rampage in their last game. Pant and his team were slapped with a hefty Rs 24 lakh penalty that day.

It’s not an unusual occurrence in the cash-rich world of IPL, where it is believed that franchises pick up the tabs for the prohibitive fines. However, the pressure is clearly showing on both the rising superstars of Indian cricket—though fortunately, it has not really impacted their performance... yet.

There's still lots of cricket to play in the IPL; but as of now, the Titans have done only marginally better than the Capitals to find themselves in sixth position, with two wins out of four games. Pant’s men have been insipid so far, with only one win in four, to place ninth in the table; but more importantly, they look out of sorts, especially in the batting department.

This, of course, begs the question of whether the duo have been blooded too early as captains in the pressure-cooker environment of the IPL — where the stakes are often even higher than when leading a national team. There is, of course, Ruturaj Gaikwad of the CSK at the same age as Pant — but he has the luxury of an M.S. Dhoni shoulder to lean on.

The circumstances under which Gill and Pant have been blooded as captains have been different – Pant was a default choice when the then skipper Shreyas Iyer broke down with a shoulder injury and carried on in the role. Gill, on the other hand, was hoisted once his successful predecessor Hardik Pandya jumped the ship in favour of Mumbai Indians after the controversial trade-off last November.

The choice of Gill, 24, as the leader had come in for a fair amount of scrutiny – with a school of thought feeling that he could have acted as a deputy to the canny Kane Williamson for a year and could have grown into the role. However, the decision could have been influenced by a number of factors – primarily a boost to Gill’s brand value as the captain as per the demands of the IPL ecosystem – while a cricketing reason could be that the New Zealander is not often an automatic choice in the playing XI.

Mohammed Shami, Gill’s teammate and the Purple Cap winner in the 2023 season with 28 wickets of 17 games, was categoric in his assessment on the eve of the season. Saying that the captaincy has come ‘early for Gill,’ the injured paceman hoped the batter would not be bogged down by it’s pressure. Now, that’s easier said than done while it’s becoming increasingly noticeable that he is often being remote controlled by Ashis Nehra, their head coach from the dugout in a football manager’s style.

This has not gone unnoticed by rival camps with Sourav Ganguly, the Director of Cricket for Capitals, hinting other day that captains should be allowed to make mistakes and grow into the job rather than have someone micro managing (read: Nehra) the bowling and fielding replacements. A pertinent observation – as the strategic timeouts anyway offers the IPL captains an opportunity to pick the brains of their respective think tanks.

This is, of course, not to suggest that younger players should not take over as IPL captains. When Rohit Sharma won the first of his five IPL crowns in 2013 after being thrust into leadership midway in the season, he was the same age as Gill but then, it’s been more of an exception than rule.

A captain can only be as good as his team and much to the comfort of both Gill and Pant, they command full respect and loyalty from their teammates. It’s an acid test that they are going through at the moment but should they acquit well, Indian cricket will have two leaders ready when the transition period comes!

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