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Strongest all-time IPL XI featuring only captains 

MS Dhoni and Gautam Gambhir
MS Dhoni and Gautam Gambhir
Madhu Krishna
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An IPL team might have a star-studded batting line-up like Royal Challengers Bangalore or a competent bowling department like Sunrisers Hyderabad. However, that still does guarantee the prospect of getting their hands on the silverware.

More than the individual performances, a team in IPL requires a leader who can bind the team and help them produce collective performances. A captain is the fulcrum of any IPL team in the two-month long cricketing extravaganza.

Having a competent leader has proved to produce success stories for teams like Kolkata Knight Riders, Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians. But what if we have these star captains lined up in one all-time XI? It could be the most power-packed, experienced and strategic IPL XI possible.

Eligibility criteria required to be considered for this list is that the player should have captained in IPL for a minimum of 20 matches. Thereafter their captaincy skills, individual performances with the bat, ball and as wicket-keeper are taken into consideration. It should be noted that these choices are also made keeping in mind the balance of the XI.


#1 Gautam Gambhir (Kolkata Knight Riders, Delhi Daredevils)

Captaincy Record: Matches - 129, Won - 71, Win percentage - 55.03

Gautam Gambhir
Gautam Gambhir

Gautam Gambhir might struggle to find a bidder in the upcoming auctions for 2019 season, but he is among the top three captains and the 4th highest run-getter in the short history of IPL. He has scored 4218 runs in 152 innings at an average of 31 and strike rate of 123. His strike rate doesn’t look impressive compared to a Chris Gayle. His role was to hold the team batting together while the others batted around him. He did that effectively as the numbers suggest.

Gambhir’s first captaincy stint with Delhi in 2010 wasn’t impressive. It is his association with KKR that transformed both the franchise and his career. The left-hander was the highest paid player when the Knight Riders picked him for $2.4 million in 2011. The investment has yielded good returns for them. In his seven years as captain of KKR, he has led them to five playoffs, won two titles and was the batting anchor of the team.

#2 David Warner (Delhi Daredevils, Sunrisers Hyderabad)

Captaincy Record: Matches - 47, Won - 25, Win percentage - 57

David Warner
David Warner

David Warner is the current highest run-getter among foreign batsmen in IPL history with 4014 runs at an astounding average of 40.54 and a strike rate of 142. He started with Delhi Daredevils. Later picked up by the Sunrisers Hyderabad and has led them since 2015, till 2017.

The unfortunate ball-tampering incident made him resign in 2018. His return in 2019 will definitely boost SRH. He has been their highest run-getter since and winning the Orange Cap a couple of times. His batting record alone is enough to ensure a place in the All-time XI of IPL. His captaincy is equally at par with his batting with an impressive win percentage of 57 making him one of the successful captains in the IPL.

In the three years as a captain at SRH, he has led them to two playoffs and won a title in 2016. The Orange Cap in 2015 and 2017 he won is a testimony to the fact that he is one of those leaders who lead by example. His role in shaping up the relatively new SRH team and making it a strong force in a short time is immense.

#3 Virat Kohli (Royal Challengers Bangalore)

Captaincy Record: Matches - 96, Won - 44, Win Percentage - 45.83

Virat Kohli
Virat Kohli

This man needs no introduction. One of the modern greats, Virat Kohli walks into any all time team in the shorter-formats. The Royal Challengers Bangalore must have noticed the greatness of Kohli when they picked him up in 2008. He was the only player they retained three years later and handed over the captaincy in 2013. He is the second highest run-getter in IPL with 4948 runs, with just 37 runs behind Suresh Raina.

Kohli captaincy record in the IPL doesn’t match his batting prowess or his captaincy record in the international scene. Though he has led RCB to two playoffs and second position once, he has an ordinary record as a captain with the win percentage of just 45.83. But that doesn’t stop him from making into the all-time captain's XI batting at number 3.

#4 Rohit Sharma (Mumbai Indians)

Captaincy Record: Matches - 89, Won - 51, Win percentage - 57.31

Rohit Sharma
Rohit Sharma

Rohit Sharma is currently IPL's third highest run-getter of all time with 4493 runs. He was the batting mainstay for the now defunct Deccan Chargers, scoring the most runs for them. Mumbai Indians bought him in 2011 for $2 million. Rohit became their captain in 2013 and led them to their maiden title win. He aided the amazing turned around of MI in the latter half of the season by winning 8 out of their 10 matches.

In the 6 years as captain for Mumbai Indians, Rohit has led them to three IPL title wins and one Champions League title. This makes him the second best captain in IPL next only to MS Dhoni.

He walks into the team as the vice-captain and number 4 batsman. Though Rohit’s best use is at the top as an opener, he is the only player in the top four flexible enough to bat lower down the order. The balance of this team requires Rohit to bat in the middle-order in this hypothetical team. Though he isn’t bowling much in recent years, one mustn't forget that he has a hat-trick to his name and can be a handy off-spinner.

#5 Steven Smith (Pune Warriors India, Rajasthan Royals, Rising Pune Supergiant)

Captaincy Record: Matches - 24, Won - 16, Win percentage - 66.67

Steven Smith
Steven Smith

Steven Smith is one of the batsmen in the quartet of modern greats along with Kohli, Root, and Williamson. He still hasn’t set IPL on fire with his bat. His best year with the bat has been in 2017 with 472 runs at an average of 39.33 in 15 matches. His IPL numbers might cast a doubt over his place in the all-time captain's XI. But the class and talent of Steven Smith take him ahead of his competitors. Smith's part-time leg-spin is an addition to his resume.

His captaincy record is impressive with a 66.67 win percentage having led the Rising Pune Supergiants to the final in 2017 falling short by just 1 run against Mumbai Indians. These factors and keeping in mind the balance of the team, Smith walks into the team at number 5.

#6 Shane Watson (Rajasthan Royals, Royal Challengers Bangalore)

Captaincy Record: Matches - 24, Won - 8, Win percentage - 39.13

Shane Watson
Shane Watson

Shane Watson is the best all-rounder in IPL history with 3177 runs and 92 wickets in 117 games. He walks into this team as the second fast bowler and a formidable number 6 batsman. Watson was the key factor in Rajasthan Royals’ win in the inaugural IPL tournament.

The Australian was the most valuable player in 2008 where he finished with 472 runs and 17 wickets. Watson was the only player that the Rajasthan Royals retained in 2011. He repaid their faith when he won the MVP award for the second time in the 2013 season scoring 543 runs and taking 13 wickets. He ended the 2018 season with 555 runs and 6 wickets. His century in the final helped Chennai Super Kings win the IPL in 2018.

#7 MS Dhoni (Chennai Super Kings, Rising Pune Supergiants)

Captaincy Record: Matches - 159, Won - 94, Win percentage - 59.49

MS Dhoni
MS Dhoni

The legend of MS Dhoni just grows with every passing edition of IPL. Amidst all the changes that have taken place in the biggest cricketing extravaganza, Dhoni remains a constant. Chennai Super Kings is the only team to have had the same player captaining them in all their seasons till date.

The rise of Dhoni’s captaincy in CSK mirrored his success in the Indian Cricket Team. He has an envious collection of silverware by leading CSK to 3 IPL trophies. Adding to the kitty, Dhoni also led them to glory in the now-defunct Champions League tournament in 2010 and 2014.

Dhoni individually has been one of the middle order mainstays for CSK with a healthy average of 40.16 and an envious strike rate of 138. He has finished off numerous innings in a flurry, chased some incredible targets and has clinched nail-biting moments with exemplary calmness and composure.

Initially though not known for his wicket-keeping skills, Dhoni quickly transformed himself to an excellent artist behind the stumps. The blink of an eye stumping, the quirky field placing and more than anything the assurance of Dhoni behind the stumps are invaluable to any bowler. Hence, he walks straight into the all-time Captain’s XI of IPL - not just as a keeper, or a batsman but as captain too.

The failure with Rising Pune Supergiants (RPS) as a captain is the only poor assignment of Dhoni in his career of 10 years in IPL. RPS won only 5 of the 14 games and finished a disappointing 7th on the table. They could have finished last. However, Dhoni hit two sixes off the last two balls to secure a win against Kings XI Punjab in the last match of the season.

#8 Harbhajan Singh (Mumbai Indians)

Captaincy Record: Matches - 20, Won – 10, Win percentage - 50.00

Harbhajan Singh
Harbhajan Singh

It might be surprising for many to see Harbhajan Singh in the list of all-time IPL captains XI. But one should not forget that the off-spinner led the Mumbai Indians to their first ever Champions League title in 2011.

Defending a modest total of 139 in the CLT20 final against RCB, Harbhajan produced excellent bowling figures of 3 wickets for 20 runs and picking up two important catches. He was rightly adjudged Man of the Match in the final.

Harbhajan was never seen as a contender for the captaincy in the National side. IPL provided yet another opportunity for him to step into the shoes of captaincy. His ability to shuffle bowling strategically and making key changes in the order helped in defending a modest total against a formidable batting order of RCB.

As a bowler, Harbhajan has picked up 134 wickets from the 149 matches in IPL with an economy of 7.03. That is an incredible economy rate to have for someone who has played in all the 10 editions of IPL. He is also handy with the bat lower down the order and can help in adding depth to this team.

Harbhajan was in an IPL team which had the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Ricky Ponting and Rohit Sharma. As usual, the chances for the captaincy in such a team will always be dominated by the batsmen.

It could be worth pondering if Harbhajan was in a different team he could have had a longer stint at captaincy and could have walked the path of Gautam Gambhir. Maybe Kings XI would have been perfect for Harbhajan and the team's brand value.

#9 Shane Warne (Rajasthan Royals)

Captaincy Record: Matches - 55, Won - 30, Win percentage - 55.45

Shane Warne
Shane Warne

Until 2008, Shane Warne was recognised for his extraordinary bowling skills on the field and sometimes for the antics off the field. Interestingly, he has captained Australia in 11 ODIs and won 10 of them in 1998/99.

Handing over the captaincy of Rajasthan Royals to Warne had actually surprised many in 2008. It must be said that Warne later did surprise everyone as the inaugural tournament took its shape. Warne’s team triumphed against more favourite teams like CSK, RCB and MI.

Warne's captaincy went beyond field placing or on-field strategies. He had a good eye of picking young talents like Ravindra Jadeja, Swapnil Asnodkar, Kamran Khan and handed them responsibilities. Those unheralded players were motivated to step up to the stars they were playing around and they rightly did. Warne also provided a good platform for the more experienced players like Shane Watson and Sohail Tanvir to express themselves with both bat and ball.

Warne as a bowler was not as intimidating as we had seen in Test cricket. But, he still held his fort in T20s. He grabbed 57 wickets in the 55 matches with a miserly economy rate of 7.27. As a mentor and ace spinner, the legendary cricketer deserves to be in the all-time captain’s XI.

#10 Zaheer Khan (Delhi Daredevils)

Captaincy Record: Matches - 23, Won - 10, Win percentage - 43.47

Zaheer Khan
Zaheer Khan

Zaheer Khan can be placed into this rare category of fast bowling captains. The only other fast bowler who has ever captained an IPL team is Shaun Pollock for Mumbai Indians in four matches in 2008. Zaheer has captained Delhi Daredevils in 23 matches, with a mixed bag of results.

During his days as captain, he built a reputation of injecting a dose of youth in the DD team along with Rahul Dravid as its coach. Zaheer provided multiple opportunities to players like Rishab Pant, Shreyas Iyer and Sanju Samson to bat up the order and come to the fore.

Though the team did not fare well, his captaincy in pushing Indian talents and making the best of the resources in hand helped Indian team reap dividends but not so for Delhi Daredevils. Overall, Zaheer bagged 102 wickets in 100 matches at an economy rate of 7.59 during his stints for Mumbai Indians, RCB and Delhi Daredevils.

#11 Anil Kumble (Royal Challengers Bangalore)

Captaincy Record: Matches - 26, Won - 15, Win percentage - 57.69

Anil Kumble
Anil Kumble

Anil Kumble can be termed as the best captain to have led Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB). The team selection and batting order used to remain more or less stable unlike the other seasons for RCB. This stability helped players like Robin Uthappa and Manish Pandey to score consistently.

Kumble, much like Adam Gilchrist, did an improbable task of taking a team from the bottom of the table in 2008 to the final of IPL in 2009. But ironically, RCB lost to Gilchrist's Deccan Chargers in the final.

Kumble also bowled extremely well in the last few years of his career. His discipline in line and length in a new and fast format like IPL was remarkable. He had a splendid IPL career bagging 45 wickets from 42 matches for RCB at a mind-boggling economy-rate of 6.58.

#12th Man: Adam Gilchrist (Deccan Chargers and Kings XI Punjab)

Captaincy Record: Matches - 74, Won - 35, Win percentage - 47.29

Adam Gilchrist
Adam Gilchrist

Adam Gilchrist transformed the fortunes of Deccan Chargers from being last on the table in 2008 to Champions in 2009. Some of the really talented players who came to the fore under his captaincy like Rohit Sharma and Pragyan Ojha served India well.

Gilchrist was not able to replicate the same success in the subsequent editions of IPL. His tenure in Punjab Kings XI was disappointing. His attacking style of batting, with a strike rate of 139, could only fetch an average of 27.22. He also scored two centuries.

It must be admitted than Gilchrist's wicket-keeping skills were waning during the latter phase of his IPL career. He was slightly inconsistent with the bat and had a relatively lesser track record as captain compared to someone like Dhoni. Hence, the Indian gloveman manages to edge Gilchrist out of the all time captains' XI.

Edited by Ram Kumar
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