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Indian Premier League 2021

IPL 2021: Pant as DC captain is a great call, but will the responsibility dim his exuberance?

Pant IPL captain
Aadya Sharma by Aadya Sharma
@Aadya_Wisden 4 minute read

Shreyas Iyer‘s injury has paved the way for Rishabh Pant‘s ascension to IPL captaincy, but will the added responsibility curb the wicketkeeper’s refreshing, positive approach towards the game?

The concept of young captains isn’t entirely new to IPL. There have been as many as four players who have been even younger than the 23-year-old Rishabh Pant when they took over the reins. Given his rise, it only seems natural.

On the surface, Pant as captain is a sound choice from the team’s leadership perspective. Over the course of the last few years, the wicketkeeper-batsman has revealed enough proof of his deep understanding of the game, and an even more special instinct to outthink the other camp. He’s street-smart, shrewd, and can look through different layers of the game, growing out of the stereotype of being carefree (and even careless sometimes).

It’s the same Pant who was ridiculed not long ago for his self-damaging expressive batting style. Critics would almost always crawl out of their caves when Pant went back after a tame dismissal, questioning if he had a temperament at all to face the music of international cricket.

Pant managed to turn it around dramatically and has been, quite spectacularly, the flavour of the season. He’s already a bonafide Test star and is nicely settling into the white-ball squads as well. IPL captaincy is another feather in his cap and a natural progression for a future superstar.

But this great responsibility comes at a risk. On the team sheet, Pant as leader absolutely fits; there aren’t many 23-year-olds who would be able to pip enigmatic leaders like R Ashwin, Steve Smith and Ajinkya Rahane to the role.

However, one wonders if the extra weight on his shoulders would snap the exuberance out of Pant. Here’s a cricketer who has had two career-defining series in quick succession, and looks to be in top groove. There have been enough personal battles to wriggle past, be it struggling to keep his place in the side, fighting off his defensive, confused mindset in IPL 2020, or shedding the extra kilos to become a leaner, fitter athlete and prove himself.

For a player who’s finally managed to overturn strangulating public criticism and emerge as victor, is it a fair call to add more eyes on him by making him skipper of an IPL franchise? It’s a thankless job when things aren’t going right – it’s very easy to fall into the rabbit hole of incoming criticism and self-doubt, made far worse by the stressful nature of bubble life and the closely-packed, suffocating schedule.

This isn’t to say that Pant can’t handle all these responsibilities, having given enough evidence of his evolution to a more mature and level-headed cricketer. He’s already captained Delhi in first-class and List-A cricket (even though his last game as skipper was back in 2017). Yet, it could just take a series of losses to reignite a tough phase, one Pant wouldn’t want to be in the eye of, not after the steep challenges he has already encountered.

Secondly, Pant will be taking over the captaincy at Delhi, the tournament’s perennial underachievers – a side that has had 11 different captains in the past and is yet to bag a title in 13 years of existence. They reached the final hurdle last year but will have to start from scratch, hoping to end their elongated, winless streak.

Pant is at the heart of Delhi’s middle order, a position he owns and dictates terms from. The world might turn upside down, but Pant would probably still be playing his off-balance, brazen leg-side swipes and fierce cuts, batting as if there’s no tomorrow. It’s the kind of never-say-die energy that keeps Delhi’s batting alive, and his chirpy, bubbling self behind the stumps doesn’t let bowling shoulders droop.

Will that change when he wears the captain’s armband? For his, and Delhi’s sake, let’s hope it doesn’t. Someone like KL Rahul seems to have considerably mellowed down with the new responsibility, switching off his breathtakingly enterprising approach for a more sedate, calculated, and often risk-free style. Pant better not go down that path.

The fickle nature of the format as well as the constant nagging environment of IPL can really wear a captain down, and there have been enough victims in the past. It may be difficult to break the resolve of a character as genuinely nonchalant, but it’s imperative that there’s enough cushioning around, and a young cricketer, who’s just beginning to discover himself, isn’t lost in the melee of a capricious franchise-based model of the game.

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