Vacant stands greeted Gautam Gambhir, the newly nominated skipper of the Kolkata Knight Riders, at the Eden Gardens in 2011. The fans were distraught with homeboy Sourav Ganguly being stripped of the captaincy upon failing to win the title. Now, seven years later, the same fans couldn’t have been happier if Gambhir had decided to stay.
As the dust settled around the IPL auctions, the real quandary began for KKR. Despite spending most of their purse, the franchise missed a trick in the auctions. The team lacked an experienced Indian pacer and did not have suitable backups in case the front-liners became unavailable. Above all, the biggest loophole in their squad was the absence of captaincy material.
Amid speculations around the next Captain doing the rounds, most people placed their bet on Robin Uthappa. Uthappa has been associated with KKR for the past four years and has been their star performer. The fact that KKR used their Right-to-Match card to bag Uthappa for 6.4 crores further threw weight behind these claims. Even the state’s most loved cricketer and former KKR Captain Sourav Ganguly backed the Karnataka lad for the role.
Giving in to the rumours, even Uthappa went public saying, “I’ll be honoured if the opportunity came along but it’s for the think-tank to decide – whatever role they want me to take, I’ll give my 110%.”
However, after a long wait, the Venky Mysore led KKR management nominated the Tamil Nadu keeper-batsman Dinesh Karthik as their next Captain, naming Uthappa the vice-captain. While this move may seem out of the blue to some, it is actually not that illogical a choice.
It may have gone under the radar but Dinesh Karthik has been a consistent performer throughout the ten years of his IPL career. With an IPL career average of a shade under 25 and a strike rate of 125, Karthik has a fairly decent record for someone who serves the team as a keeper as well. This is the reason why he bagged fat paychecks of 12.5 and 10.5 crores in the 2014 and 2015 seasons of the IPL respectively. Last year also, the Tamil Nadu keeper starred for the Gujarat Lions with an average of 36.10 (Uthappa had an average close to 30) and a strike rate touching 140.
The biggest thing that went in Karthik’s favour was his captaincy experience. Having captained Tamil Nadu to the title victory in the Vijay Hazare Trophy in 2009-10 and India Red in the 2017 Duleep Trophy, Karthik is no greenhorn when it comes to leading the side. Even in the shortest format of the game, he has already proven his captaincy credentials by leading TUTI Patriots to the title in the 2016 edition of the Tamil Nadu Premier League.
On the contrary, Robin Uthappa hasn’t had any major captaincy assignment other than leading India A for a slim span, five years back in 2013.
Manish Pandey was one candidate who could have been sincerely considered for KKR’s captaincy. Pandey’s average was nearly 50 in the last season and his fielding skills too, made him a hot property for the job. But KKR chose not to break their bank for him as they let him go to the Sunrisers Hyderabad for 11 crores.
Surya Kumar Yadav, the former KKR vice-captain, was someone in whom the franchise had heavily invested. They had named him the vice-captain in 2015 and it was expected that he would take over the captaincy once Gautam Gambhir decides to hang his boots. Gambhir himself rated the right-hander very highly. “He is someone to look out for in the future and he has a very, very bright future,” Gambhir had said for Yadav.
Having captained the Mumbai Ranji Trophy team in the 2014-15 season, the 27-year-old also possessed adequate experience. But Yadav was snaffled by Mumbai Indian at 3.2 crores.
It is apparent that KKR lacked options that had the natural flair to lead the side. Among available options, KKR shortlisted five candidates in Uthappa, Sunil Narine, Chris Lynn, Vinay Kumar and Dinesh Karthik as their captaincy candidates. Further, they zeroed in on Uthappa, Lynn and Karthik through a public poll.
But after Lynn injured himself again in the Trans-Tasman Twenty20 Tri-Series, his fragile body and dodgy shoulder outweighed his explosive batting. Therefore, with Lynn out of the race and Uthappa earmarked as the vice-captain, Karthik seemed to be the most sensible choice for the role of the KKR captain. He emerged from nowhere and seized upon what was up for grabs.
In 2011, when KKR roped in Gautam Gambhir as Captain for a whopping $2.4 million, the move raised a few eyebrows. However, the Delhi opener won hearts in a short time as he led the side to two championship titles in 2012 and 2014.
Cricket is a funny game. It is best to give every individual a fair go and not jump the gun to arrive at conclusions. You never know, maybe after a few years when Karthik would be bidding adieu to the cash-rich league, he may leave his legacy as one of the greatest IPL Captains.