MS Dhoni's Indian Premier League (IPL) career with the Chennai Super Kings (CSK) continues well beyond his all-format retirement, despite his age and an apparent decline with the bat. His retention points to a key attribute - captaincy. While certain franchises plug in successful international captains - Brendon McCullum, David Warner, Eoin Morgan and Kumar Sangakkara come to mind - others have home-grown Indian stars into that role before their calling at the highest level.
The notable aspect that differentiates franchises is their response after a poor season. While the Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) have unwaveringly backed Virat Kohli despite the worst win-loss ratio for anyone who has captained in more than 50 games, historically struggling teams such as Delhi Capitals (DC) and Kings XI Punjab (KXIP) have often chopped and changed their captain after poor campaigns. At the other end of the spectrum are the Kolkata Knight Riders who have made big captaincy changes seemingly out of nowhere.
While the shuffling of captaincy within ranks is more common, the release of a captain from a squad before the auction signifies a major rethink on part of the franchise. Here are five instances when a captain was released after at least a full season at the helm.
#5 George Bailey (IPL 2014-2015: KXIP)
One of the stories of the Kings XI Punjab's revival from the abyss to top the points table in 2014 was the influence of new skipper George Bailey, an experienced captain at the domestic level in Australia and someone who led Australia internationally right from his T20 debut for a brief period. With a power-packed batting side, KXIP thrived under Bailey and then head coach Sanjay Bangar.
Right after their fairytale finals run in 2014, the team had a poor run in 2015 with Bailey still at the helm. In a major overhaul, Bailey was released by KXIP before the 2016 IPL auction, where he went unsold before being signed by the Rising Pune Supergiant as a replacement player. KXIP's luck did not improve after the release, nor did Bailey have an IPL career to speak of from that point on.
#4 Glenn Maxwell (IPL 2017: KXIP)
KXIP have tried everything possible to get Glenn Maxwell to return to his form from the first half of IPL 2014 - where he scored colossal and destructive innings at will to help the team overhaul huge targets. Since that season, it has been a story of KXIP hoping that Maxwell fires, with the long rope even resulting in captaincy for the Victoria all-rounder in IPL 2017.
A season of 7 wins and the same number of losses meant KXIP could not qualify for the playoffs, and Maxwell finished with a 50% win-loss record. The franchise finally cut the cord in 2017 and released Maxwell, only for Delhi Capitals to make a massive investment in him during the auctions. KXIP and Maxwell have both continued to flounder in the IPL since then.
#3 Adam Gilchrist (IPL 2009-2010: DC)
The team that was bullied in the inaugural IPL to take a bottom finish, the now-defunct Deccan Chargers mounted a stunning recovery under Adam Gilchrist in 2009 to lift the title. The swashbuckling Australian's influence, however, fell short of taking the side far in 2010, and he was promptly released after three seasons at the helm.
The Chargers were in operation for one season after, under the captaincy of Kumar Sangakkara and then Cameron White, as they had a choppy season. Gilchrist found interest in the Kings XI Punjab, who he led for the next three seasons before announcing his retirement from all cricket in 2013.
#2 Gautam Gambhir (IPL 2011-2017: KKR)
Gautam Gambhir would feel hard done for being one of the IPL's most successful captains, and yet having the ignominy of being released as captain twice. As the Delhi Daredevils (now Capitals) skipper, Gambhir performed well, taking them to the top of the table in 2009 from where they lost the semifinals. Upon release in 2011, he was the most expensive buy in the auction, as KKR invested in him as captain.
Gambhir's captaincy completely changed things for KKR - they made playoffs after three poor seasons, going on to win the title in 2012 and 2014 from then on. While they either missed the playoffs narrowly or missed the finals in the next three seasons, Gambhir ensured KKR were seen as a side to beat. His release from KKR in 2017 hurt the franchise going forward, while his own playing career ended in 2018 after a woeful season with Delhi.
#1 Steve Smith (IPL 2014-2020: RR)
An interesting nugget about controversial Aussie star batsman Steve Smith is his IPL record as captain - he has the second-best win-loss ratio for anyone who has led in more than 40 matches. Much of that could be influenced by his strong performance as the Rising Pune Supergiant skipper in 2017, where they made a late dash and reached the finals.
As Rajasthan Royals skipper, Smith hasn't quite had the same impact - the team last qualified for the playoffs only under Ajinkya Rahane in 2018, after which there have been disappointments for the side. Smith's own form tapered away in IPL 2020, and the hefty investment by the franchise into Smith was doubted as RR finished at the bottom. RR have named Sanju Samson as the new skipper, while Smith looks set to attract big bids at the auction.