IPL 2022 was always going to be an edition of leadership scrutiny. KL Rahul, Hardik Pandya, Shreyas Iyer, Mayank Agarwal, Faf du Plessis and Ravindra Jadeja all either made their captaincy debuts or were tasked with leading a new team.
Jadeja resigned mid-way through after failing to manage the onerous responsibilities. Pandya has been the surprise package, leading an interesting mix of players at the Gujarat Titans (GT) to a superb first-place finish. Rahul has also shut some of his criticics by clinically taking Lucknow Super Giants (LSG) to the playoffs, while du Plessis' Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) are still in the race for the fourth playoff spot.
Agarwal and Iyer are the only new captains who have failed to stand up to the expectations of their fans, with both Punjab Kings (PBKS) and Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) losing out in the top-four race. Agarwal has looked like he's struggling under pressure on the field while Iyer has had questions to answer on team selections.
But are these enough reasons to justify the calls, from a section of fans, to sack them already? Below, we discuss three reasons why the Kings and the Knight Riders should show trust in them for at least a few more seasons.
#1 Experience will matter for both Mayank Agarwal and Shreyas Iyer
Iyer looked like a tactical genius when the Knight Riders won three of their first four games. Agarwal was touted as a composed leader in every alternative match. But that's not how captaincy works, especially in a cut-throat league like the IPL.
It took MS Dhoni three years to win his first trophy as Chennai Super Kings (CSK) captain. Rohit Sharma, despite winning five, is set to see his Mumbai Indians (MI) team finish 10th in IPL 2022. Virat Kohli, despite being one of the best international captains for India, stepped down without winning even one IPL trophy.
This was Agarwal's first season leading an IPL team. He doesn't have much domestic experience to back him either. He indeed had one of the best squads to lead but sometimes being spoiled for choice is the main reason behind the fall. His form was also affected under pressure, which created a major issue for the team. But there's no solution for it all except giving him the time he needs.
Punjab's enthralling hard-hitting approach came good in some games and was faulty in others. Agarwal finding form at the top and them finding a way to fit all those power-hitters together is the fine-tuning required. This can be worked upon in the off-season and implemented in 2023 which will be a better test of Agarwal's nous.
Meanwhile, where Agarwal likely had a say in Punjab's auction strategy, Iyer played with a squad he had no voice in picking. His experience with the Delhi Capitals (DC) helped him perform almost equally well to the Kings with a clearly worse squad but to get the team set to his methods will take weeks and maybe months.
#2 Management issues
The phrase "a captain is as good as his team" needs to change. "A captain is as good as his team and management" sound more apt in the current scenario.
The backroom staff plays a crucial role. Most of the fly-on-the-wall sports team documentaries that have been made so far and will be made in the future show the same thing. Team selections, playing style, match tactics, team environment, and the athletes' physical and mental fitness all depend on those behind the scenes. The captain has a role to play too but he's usually not the one calling the shots.
Anil Kumble, India's best spinner and, by the accounts of many, one of the best tactical minds around, has been at the helm of Punjab Kings for four years now. Assistant coaches have changed, captains have changed, and teams have been overhauled, but he has been there throughout, overseeing four mediocre seasons.
More than Agarwal, who has little leadership experience, it's perhaps Kumble who needs to stand on the podium of the Punjab Kings judgment room after IPL 2022.
As for the Knight Riders, Iyer probably spilled the beans on the biggest open secret in the league when he said the team's CEO Venky Mysore plays a part in the selection of the playing 11. His clarification in the next match that Mysore only "consoles the players who've been sitting out" seemed like a messy cover-up.
No team is protected from dressing room struggles, but Dinesh Karthik's stepping down from captaincy, the treatment of Andre Russell a couple of years ago, the glut of team changes (most among all teams) this year, and the management of players like Venkatesh Iyer have shown the Knight Riders to be the most affected.
It will take time for both Agarwal and Iyer to adjust to these dynamics before they can attempt to bring the best out of their players.
#3 Team stability
Finally, it's easier to sack a captain than to find one. Both teams would have squeezed in all their mental resources in the leadup to the season to pick two cricketers in their prime to lead their teams. Sacking them this early won't only be a sign of panic but also of muscularity from the owners and will only harm the team.
The Kings suffered a major blow to their image when Rahul almost hurriedly left them for the Lucknow Super Giants. The Knight Riders are no different. The Karthik issue and the complete ignoring of Eoin Morgan, the captain who led them to the finals last year, are likely to have repercussions beyond the respective editions.
Moreover, after Iyer's comments on Mysore, they can't allow something similar to happen again.
Instead, both teams should now focus on getting their houses in order, getting everyone on the same page, and investing time and resources towards clearer planning and measured tweaks. They showed their quality multiple times in IPL 2022 but consistency comes only with a coordinated effort from all stakeholders.