Tactical shrewdness alone is not enough to guarantee you a place in the playing XI. At the professional level, a team select the best XI at its disposal and makes one of them a captain. If you will ask a statistics nerd about captaincy, chances are they will dismiss its importance, downplay its effect on the team and personnel, and some may even reject the idea in its totality. The basic premise behind this stance is since captaincy, unlike batting average or strike rate, can’t be quantified, it doesn’t exist. For them, such vague terms, without any empirical confirmation, can’t play any decisive role in the game.
But this actually limits the source of knowledge to numbers alone. Moreover, those who play the game understand the importance of captaincy. Especially in the T20s, where teams are always short of time, full of ideas and information, the role of the captain becomes significant. Not all information bombarded by the army number crunchers is equally important, and good captains very well understand the difference between a consequential input and a mere fluff.
Too often, a player’s own game takes a hit once the burden of captaincy hangs over his head. In the T20s, the strike rate is a great index to measure how captaincy affects a batter’s style of play.
KL Rahul is a living embodiment of how conservatism creeps in with captaincy. While runs flowed in abundance, his strike rate became a talking point when he was at the helm of Punjab Kings. The free-flowing mesmerising merchant that he once used to be, captaincy turned him into an anchor who put up too much price on his wicket. He batted with extreme caution and restraint, striking at just around 130 and Punjab kept losing close games.
Mayank Agarwal, Rahul’s opening partner at Punjab, played aggressively to compensate for Rahul’s cautiousness. His strike rate hovered around 140 in two seasons when Rahul was the captain.
However, the same trend is currently seen with Mayank in his first season as Punjab Kings’ captain. In the first four matches, Mayank has managed just 45 runs at a strike rate of 105. The IPL 2022 is still in its initial stage, and Mayank may well end up improving his strike rate, but the early trends don’t look promising.
Hardik Pandya is another player who is in his first season as an IPL captain, and his case is not much different. Compared to his IPL strike rate of 150.5, Pandya’s 141 runs in four T20s this season has come at a modest strike rate of around 120. While the added responsibility of captaincy has certainly curbed his attacking instinct, Gujarat’s fragile batting unit has also played its part. There’s no proven performer in their top five, and thus Pandya has been unable to play his natural game.
Rishabh Pant, in his first season as Delhi Capitals’ captain, struck at 128.5, which is significantly lower than his career strike rate. Against Lucknow Super Giants, he struggled to carve boundaries, taking 36 balls for his unbeaten 39. The opponents are exploiting Pant’s weak off-side game.
Captaincy, thus, often comes with a minor price of a dip in the strike rate.