My top IPL captains this year, in order of preference and perhaps not so much, their performance.
1) Gautam Gambhir: For sheer intensity and a burning will to win, despite all the hype and hoopla the KKR always gets around it thanks to its larger than life owner and the star studded support team, Gambhir deserves to be here at the top. He may not be tactically or strategically brilliant but Gambhir makes up with lots of commitment and intensity. No one can doubt that he will let any defeat go quietly. He is a warrior, and he wants his victories. To get what he wants from his team, with all that advise floating around him, to ground all those super egos and get them to focus on their job, Gambhir is my man.
However as I said, he does miss a trick in a tight situation because he is temperamental. I also feel he may not be as good when he is not scoring. But as on date, he is my man.
2) Rahul Dravid: To bring the weakest bunch together and get three of them to be in the top ten batsmen in the IPL is no joke. Dravid has put some earthy sense in his players where they all seem to know what they are capable of and are living up to it. This is a different Dravid from the one who led RCB a few years ago, a much more rounder, more forgiving, less harsh on himself skipper. He has made the local boys count, made Rahane, Owais Shah, Hodge, Hogg, Tait, Menaria, Pankaj Singh all throw in some good performances and overall is good for me for getting most things right. Including using himself best.
If there is a flaw, it is how his mind starts shifting southward when the chips are down. It shows on his face which he can do well to hide. Also, unlike Warne, he has not yet got his bowlers to bring in command performances, has not made them bowl out of their skins yet.
3) M. S. Dhoni: Despite the slow and dull start MSD will be up there for me. CSK will be hoping to make the playoffs and they have the team for it. But MSD looks a little jaded and the way they lost to Mumbai in the last three balls was totally unexpected. MSD brings off wins from losses, not losses from wins. Anyway, he is still to me good enough to be in the top three. There is too much in his favour to dump him as of now. He still gets the team together, gets them to give him great performances and uses the juniors well.
Negatives for MSD, too little energy from CSK this edition. Needs to whip it up a bit.
4) Virender Sehwag: Despite the best team in the contest (for me) Sehwag is too casual to be higher up in this list. He misses the odd trick often, does not invest too much into the moment and if they win, it is because of the all round brilliance of the Delhi team. When the going gets tough Sehwag needs to absorb the tension, give solid direction, which I feel he may not be able to. Unless he tightens up that part Delhi will always struggle. That way Mahela to me looks a better captain. But as of now all that Sehwag touches is gold and he is generally keeping the boys in good humour and getting most things right.
Weakness, under pressure Sehwag loses the plot. He distributes responsibility and does not hold it.
5) Harbhajan Singh: Without being exceptionally good or bad, Harbhajan has been able to bring Mumbai close to the playoffs. With a team that has a powerhouse of talent both in the batting and bowling department one would expect Mumbai to win easily. But they won too many close matches this season from the brink of defeat which is not good advertisement for his captaincy. However, they won, which matters. Harbhajan looks the most surprised and relieved and I think if he loosens up a bit, he might get better performances from his team.
Weakness, looks rather out of control on the field at times.
6) Adam Gilchrist / David Hussey: The two Aussies have given a good account of themselves with the team they have. But nothing extra ordinary and they have been just about there. One would expect more from this team but Punjab is rather insipid and predictable, save for their new bowler Awana. It's a dull flat show so far with no great improvisations.And the way they almost got into a soup in that run a ball chase was unbelievable. They are short of confidence and belief and it will be a tough ask to get it right soon. On the positive side a few youngsters have done well.
Weaknesses, inconsistent performances.
7) Daniel Vettori: He is on the backfoot, is Vettori, and makes some awful blunders as he did with the Kohli over to CSK where he handed them the game. To me he has a team that is fantastic with some great overseas talent in Gayle, AB, Vettori and local talent like Mayank Agarwal, Kohli and others. RCB should be doing much better with its team and if its not, its because Vettori holds back his strengths too much and waits and waits for things to happen. More aggression required. I'd like RCB give over the captaincy to Kohli who would be a better bet for me for the rest of the season.
Weakness, too defensive.
8) Saurav Ganguly: Dada started well enough with some big wins over Mumbai. An odd ball team this Pune Warriors, one of ageing stars like Saurav, Nehra, Murali Kartik and some young boys like Dinda, Parnell, Pandey. It's not a top notch team and their couple of wins came as a surprise. But it's been downhill all the way since. One reason that I see the Pune Warriors losing is because of its junior players not performing their bit. This is a confidence issue and it has to come from the skipper. Ganguly plays favorites. He is prone to leading from the front, but he must realise that he does not have the firepower anymore. This is the time he needs to step back and give confidence to the young ones to play out of their skins - something which he is not able to do. For that, and only for that reason, Dada ends up near the bottom of the pile.
Weakness, does not connect to the younger lot I feel.
9) Kumara Sangakarra: For being at the bottom of the pile in the IPL with a team that has the potential to be in a much better ranking in the IPL table, Kumara Sangakarra takes the bottom position. For me its a fine side with good foreign players in Steyn, Christian, Sangakarra, White, Harris and more impressively the highly impressive local talent in Rajan, Veer Pratap and Ashish Reddy. With Dhawan playing the way he does, Parthiv pitching in, Ankit Singh reliable and the premier fast bowler in the tournament Steyn, on his side, there is no reason why DC should be at the bottom of the pile. The only reason I see is that the resources are not being utilised to their full capacity and that to me is a captaincy issue. I'd bowl Steyn the way White did in the match against Mumbai Indians (which I think was the best game DC played) when Sangakarra stepped down. Use Steyn to attack and get wickets and not defend, to get wickets in the first 15 overs and not use him to plug the last three. For total mismanagement of resources of a good side otherwise, Sangakarra, a fine gentleman otherwise, regrettably slides to the bottom.
That then is my take on IPL captains this year. To get the entire team to perform as a unit and to make best use of available resources are two key factors I look at when I rate a captain. When captains cannot find the balance, it shows in the team performance. Since the tournament is still on, the few aberrations could get corrected even at this stage. Let's wait and see.