Dhoni Banks on Continuity; Yuvraj & Gambhir Face Uncertain Future
The Indian Premier League (IPL) player retention list is out. Not surprisingly there are quite a few surprises in the list as is expected in a major cricket tournament.
The retention of players has virtually become the most talked about aspect of the IPL. The high stakes of the tournament means there is a lot of attention rightly attributed to the players who manage to stay on.
The list at times is also a reflection of the direction that a franchise wants to take and also an indication of the player’s immediate future in the tournament.
Dhoni Continues His Captaincy Mantra
The biggest statement this year has come from the Chennai Super Kings which is also a reflection of their leader, Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s approach to the way he leads his sides. Dhoni is someone who likes stability. He likes things to pan out at their own pace and never wants to force an issue. He is always very consistent with his selections or decisions and never really changes things. Being the defending champion with the same group of players certainly helps in clarity of thought.
Hence it is hardly a surprise that Chennai has managed to retain almost the entire squad for the 2019 season. Now, critics may look at it as ‘Dad’s army’ or a ‘veterans home’ with the average age of the squad being about 30, but Dhoni doesn’t look at it that way. During his tenure as Indian captain too, he let players sink or swim even if that meant that the squad fails at times.
One of the benefits of this scheme of Dhoni was when India won the 2011 World Cup. Four years before that Dhoni had set himself the target of having players who would have played at least 50-100 ODIs before the World Cup began. So out went the seniors like Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly, in came a host of youngsters including current captain Virat Kohli.
What that did was give Kohli a number of games to get a feel of international cricket. So by the time the 2011 World Cup came along, Kohli was pencilled in as one of the first choices. This was perfect example of Dhoni was stable, at times cautious and at other times very certain of his picks.
So by the time 2011 World Cup came along, India had a team made up of players who were certain of their place, but also experienced in pressure situations. That certainly helped the squad in pressure situations during the World Cup and resulted in a famous win.
Unlike nowadays when except Kohli there isn’t a single player except perhaps Jasprit Bumrah, who is certain of a place in all three formats, between 2008-2011, the core was firmly in place.
But Dhoni’s virtue was also became his negative point, as he became stubborn in his approach. That was most certainly observed in the two away Test tours to England and Australia, that followed the World Cup win. He let the veterans like Dravid, Laxman fail and bow out on their own, rather than force a change himself.
Now seven years on by retaining a core group of players Dhoni is sending out a message again. His squad includes players who haven’t played cricket for a while, like Harbhajan Singh. Dhoni is not given to impulse and it shows in the way he operates on the field.
Contrast this with the way Kohli operates as captain and you can see a marked difference in the two schools of thought. There is no right or wrong way, but still it is a study worth undertaking.
Kings XI Hit Panic Button
Elsewhere, you can see franchises being run not by captains but by management in the way especially Kings XI Punjab has been completely swept clean. The most glaring omission from Kings XI Punjab is that of Yuvraj Singh. Yuvraj has been patchy with his form since he was dropped from India’s white ball squads after the West Indies tour in 2017. His struggle was most visible during the 2018 IPL season. Now there is a big question mark over his immediate future in the IPL in a format he owned with the bat during his heydays.
While Yuvraj may still return to Kings XI Punjab at the auction table, but his constant exits from IPL franchises is a sad reflection of the falling stock of his career.
Kings XI Punjab’s clean-up is also an indication of the fact that the franchise wants to wipe their slate clean. The impact of former mentor Virender Sehwag’s approach to selecting a squad in the way he played his game was felt on the field. Kings XI Punjab may go back to being more industrious much like in the way their new head coach Mike Hesson operates.
Fading Stars Left Out in Cold
Some other high profile exits from the IPL franchises include Brendon McCullum, Gautam Gambhir and Mohammed Shami. In the case of McCullum it is a case of diminishing returns. His life as a T20 freelancer is not panning out as he had expected. In fact McCullum’s form has deserted him and he is finding the grind of being just a T20 cricketer difficult to handle.
Gambhir’s exit from Delhi Daredevils was expected because of the way he stepped down as captain mid-way through the tournament. But his recent stupendous form in the Vijay Hazare Trophy shows that he could still be in demand as a player at the auction table. Shami’s departure from Daredevils is also a reflection of how he has been below par in white ball cricket over the last three years. Since the end of the 2015 World Cup, Shami has struggled with form in the white ball formats. He has been expensive and generally listless on the field. This is much in contrast to the way he performs in Test match format. It will hardly be a surprise that Shami like his India Test teammate Ishant Sharma may remain unsold at the auction.
IPL is a business venture where millions are stake, so it is hardly a surprise that hard-nosed corporates look at bottom lines. It is all about cost benefit analysis. Hence what does not fit, does not get retained.
There is no love lost, just a realisation of the hard facts of being a professional cricketer.
(Chandresh Narayanan is a former cricket writer with The Times of India, The Indian Express, ex-Media Officer for ICC and current media manager of Delhi Daredevils. He is also the author of World Cup Heroes, Cricket Editorial consultant, professor and cricket TV commentator.)