The IPL's inaugural tournament has thrown the spotlight on leadership in the T20 format. Never before has leadership come under the scanner so much as in this form of the game. In T20, plans have to be implemented instantly. The captain has to be completely clued in and act proactively. There is no time to wait to make a bowling or a fielding change - one over can change the game. There is no time to sulk or get angry at a bad over, a misfield, or a dropped catch. The leader has to be on the ball every moment, forgetting the past, egging his players on and making and changing plans to the situation that's evolving, until the final ball.
The T20 leader needs a strong intuition, complete belief in his players, ability to rally the players, to bring out the best in them despite a bad over or a dropped catch, to process lots of information depending on the situation, to pull the team together at all stages and so much more.
In IPL, the big factor was always going to get the team working as a unit as quickly as one can. That was the main job for the support staff - the coaches, CEOs, COOs and all other support staff with the captain and senior players. Knowing strengths and weaknesses of each and every team member, making everyone feel as they belong in the team, making everyone aware of the team's goal, the team's method, their roles and the roles of others. It is important because the differences between players is not just about geography; it is also culture, and about the huge gap in their exposure to the game. Since most players are hardcore professionals, coaching them is not so much the big thing as getting them to function as a unit. That I think is the key to the successful teams and the not-so-successful ones.
Some leadership styles worked for me and some didn't.
I was rather skeptical about the leadership of Dravid and Laxman from the beginning. Though I rate their understanding of the nuances of the game highly, I feel they were not suited to lead this format. Dravid is a thinker and a delayed 'doer' - as a T20 captain that is not good at all - he reacts an over too late, a match too late. Consequently Royal Challengers did no justice to their potential and were clearly below par.
Laxman's team, the Deccan Chargers, had too many players of individual charisma and personality that only someone with a strong personality would have made it work. By the time Gilchrist took over, the damage was done. It was just a personality problem, a sub continental trait of leadership by consensus.
I had great hopes on Sehwag whom I rate highly in terms of intuition, courage and implementation. But what let him down I felt is his penchant to ignore the small details. I feel Sehwag made the mistake of thinking that everything could be tackled as it came-batting, bowling, fielding. Everything could be tackled by his intuitive captaincy. A bit more planning, more informed decisions and taking it match by match and situation by situation could have probably seen Delhi Daredevils faring much better. After all they have one of the best balanced sides.
Mumbai Indians got off with the wrong captain - Harbhajan, who is too immature to be a good captain. Pollock pulled the team together and steadied the sinking ship. Now they have the tactical genius and inspirational presence of Tendulkar and will do much better. Tendulkar, one can be assured, will have all the information, all the tactics in place for every match, every situation. The only thing against him is that is presence is awesome for most players (including Jayasuriya who all but admitted it) and it depends on how he channelises their hero worship. I feel that if he lets the players be, with a quiet word of encouragement and not burden them with his usual high standard of expectations, he will get them to do even better.
Saurav's leadership lacks his usual confident and there seems to be some dichotomy in his mind. Whether it is the pace of the game or the individual brilliance of his team members that's making his captaincy appear sluggish I cannot fathom, but he has not fared too well so far with his leadership.
Dhoni is doing well in his own quiet, unobtrusive way, keeping things under control and taking things match by match. Most experiments are done, the team's doing well and they seem headed to the semi final. Dhoni's style intrigues me, he is very undemonstrative, yet very effective. He lets everyone make their own method to execute the team plans and that I think is the beauty of it - there are eleven players thinking like captains and Captain Cool to soak in any pressure. His clarity and composure will serve the Chennai Super Kings well as the matches get tighter.
Yuvraj has learnt very fast from his early outings in the IPL as captain and has pulled his team through admirably. I must admit that I was not a great fan of his captaincy after some initial gaffes, but he has motivated the team well enough to perform even when he, their key batsman, is not scoring. That's a tribute to the spirit he has infused in the team and it's now one of those teams where everyone seems to be focussed on one goal-the team's victory. Irfan has got his swing back, Piyush is bowling beautifully, Mahela, Marsh..it's great to watch this side in T20. The best model for this form of the game is the Rajasthan Royals model. A lot of high potential fringe players who have everything to prove and nothing to lose. An icon like Shane Warne at the helm puts even a Graeme Smith secure in his role. Warne is canny, street smart, tactically on the ball. He knows every player inside out, their strengths, their roles...he throws them into the deep end and expects them to do well. And they respond. How he infuses confidence in the younger lot is something I would dearly love to know but I know this much-he will not do it quietly like Dhoni; Warne will articulate it. All fringe players know their role, know their captain knows how to use them, all senior players with well defined roles again, and at the very top, Shane Warne using the power of his personality, his understanding of human nature, the game of cricket and what it takes to get the slightest of advantages and convert that into a win.
It will be interesting to see how these leadership styles evolve further. But this much I know. They will all evolve. Just as the players will. Exciting days ahead.