Over the years, the Indian Premier League (IPL) shaped realities that seemed a mere fantasy pre-2008. That remains one of the major reasons behind why the T20 franchise cricket formula has received the kind of love and acceptance it has and why the IPL remains the biggest T20 extravaganza anywhere in the world. Not anywhere else would it have been possible for Sachin Tendulkar to bat alongside Ricky Ponting or for AB de Villiers to make a mockery of Dale Steyn in front of packed stadiums, if not for the IPL?
But fantasies feed fantasies! And now in the relatively short history of the tournament which has already seen so much, fans have their own sets of aspirations, dreams and "what ifs" because, of course, Dil Maange More! Dwelling into one such What if, here is imagining what it would be like if some of the popular IPL captains did not lead the teams they are (or were) famous for leading but for some other side in the competition.
Ekdum se waqat badal dia, jazbaat badal die, zindagi bidal di?
Yes indeed, let's play with the time, emotions and probably the lives of some of the possessive cricket lovers. Here is what might have happened if IPL captains led different franchises.
1. Gautam Gambhir- Rajasthan Royals
Given how Rajasthan Royals have performed over the years, one can sense that they perhaps need a fighter, an angry young man, a leader who could back the player he believed in and perhaps give his life for him on the field and all of those qualities shaped only one face, that of the highly successful IPL captain Gautam Gambhir.
Gambhir led Kolkata Knight Riders to two IPL titles and interestingly his reign came in after nothing seemed to be going Kolkata's way in the initial years- a testimony to his ability to turn things around.
And with Rajasthan, you get the same feeling year after year after the inaugural season- they need to turn things around, they need a Gambhir-like leader to wave his magic wand and make them a formidable unit. Had Gambhir been part of the RR camp, probably the Pink City could have boasted of a few more IPL titles and surely he would have fought for the inclusion of some of his trusted men.
Given his reputation of backing domestic talent and gauging by how he sent someone like Sunil Narine at the top of the order, who knows perhaps Rahul Tewatia could have been opening with a license to go after the bowling, had GG been at the helm of RR. Too late now for that to happen as Gambhir has already hung up his cricketing boots,
2. Virat Kohli- Mumbai Indians
Entering the most sensitive fan base here! One for the Virat-Rohit fans to debate and have fun but all in good sportsman spirit.
After Rohit Sharma-led Mumbai Indians to their record fifth IPL title in 2020, there was a popular opinion that perhaps even the Hitman couldn't have led Royal Challengers Bangalore to as many titles because of the team combination they have. But what if Kohli was the skipper of the Mumbai Indians?
For someone as flamboyant a character as Kohli, it would either be a suffocating dressing room to be a part of for the persona of Kohli where the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Ricky Ponting, Zaheer Khan, Shane Bond, Mahela Jayawardene and others have remained a vital part of the think tank or there would almost certainly be a difference of opinion with men of contrasting temperaments being the captains of the ship.
One of the major reasons behind Mumbai's remarkable success in recent years is that the management thinks like the captain and almost everybody is cool and calm be it Jayawardene or Zaheer, qualities one does not usually associate with King Kohli.
But cricket is a funny game, mind you! And with the skills of the talent scouts of Mumbai Indians combined with Kohli's aggression, who knows perhaps Kohli would have lifted a few trophies himself with MI.
3. MS Dhoni- Royal Challengers Bangalore
Still in the sensitive territory! Karnataka-Tamil Nadu rivalry is quite a fierce one already.
MS Dhoni and Chennai Super Kings are synonymous with each other. The former India World Cup-winning captain has led the team every year it has participated in the tournament. But what if Dhoni, one of the most successful leaders of IPL, had led RCB who are still chasing their elusive title?
The first thing is that AB de Villiers wouldn't have to keep wickets to fit the balance of the side. They would have got a greater depth of batting with Dhoni coming in at numbers 5, 6 or 7 depending upon the situation. And of course, he probably wouldn't have let Moeen Ali go had he been at the RCB! One would have definitely seen a lot more spinning options under Dhoni and perhaps an occasional "ye acha hai" remark in typical MSD style with Chahal in the attack.
Most importantly though, Dhoni knows how to win the big moments which Kohli has failed to do at least in limited-overs cricket and perhaps that could have been the game-changer in RCB's destiny.
But don't get disheartened Bengaluru fans, with IPL 2020 suspended owing to the COVID-19 pandemic and chances looking slim to have the remainder of the tournament this year maybe Mundinasala cup namde?
4. Rohit Sharma- Punjab Kings
Rohit Sharma is the most successful captain in the history of the tournament. While captains are struggling to get their hands on the trophy one time, he has done it not once or twice but as many as five times. However, all of them have come with a formidable Mumbai Indians setup as well. Will he yield similar results with a team like Punjab Kings?
For starters, Mumbai had won nothing before Rohit was trusted for the captain's role, suggesting clearly he has done a few things right. However, if Hitman were to lead Punjab Kings, fans wouldn't mind watching Rohit bat with Chris Gayle. The Hitman, who caresses the ball and the Universe Boss, who muscles it big batting in tandem! In addition, trust Rohit to not panic under pressure. Rohit's USP as a leader remains his accessibility to players, something one also associates with MS Dhoni.
But in Rohit's case, he didn't climb the top before being at rock bottom. For six long years, Rohit was in and out of the national team and a section of the cricket fans and experts also suggested that there was no point giving more chances to someone who hasn't made use of his opportunities. For a captain, who has raised his bar of performances from that kind of a scenario, he understands what youngsters are feeling and going through, having made his international debut aged 20.
Hence it wouldn't be a surprise if more of Harpreet Brar emerged under Rohit, if Glenn Maxwell, who couldn't do justice to his IPL price tag in 2020, did well with Rohit by his side or if a Ravi Bishnoi produced a career trajectory like that of a Jasprit Bumrah? Because for such things to happen, one has got to be the one and only Hitman!