They have been an integral part of India’s journey to the top of the ladder in Test cricket, but the next two months will see Rajasthan Royals (RR) skipper Ajinkya Rahane and Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) skipper Virat Kohli fight it out as both teams look to win the 12th edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL).
While Kohli has led RCB for a while now, this will be Rahane’s second season as RR captain and head coach Paddy Upton is excited to have the calm and cool ‘Jinx’ (as Rahane is fondly called) at the helm of affairs.
Speaking to IANS, Upton made it clear that while comparisons were a part and parcel of any sport, both Rahane and Kohli were unique in their own ways and the way Jinx reads situations and his teammates, is what makes him succeed.
“You get players who are naturally big-pictured and strategically minded individuals and they make good on-field captains and then you get some who are very good people leaders and inspire other players. Each captain brings a different quality with their leadership which then needs to be balanced by other senior players.
“Rahane has his own unique way of reading and understanding the game and dealing with people. His personality is very different from that of Virat Kohli so they have their own unique strengths,” he said.
Rahane was elevated to the captain’s role last season after Steve Smith was suspended, due to the ball-tampering scandal in the Cape Town Test. This season will see the India batsman take charge for the second time.
Asked if there would be added pressure on the captain since the team did well under him in 2018, Upton feels otherwise.
“I think it will actually be less pressure as the first time you have to adjust a lot more and now there is more comfort so I feel he will be more at home.”
Coming back to Smith, the former Australia skipper is already with the team and Upton is excited to have him not just as a solid bat in the middle-order, but also as someone who will keep helping the youngsters in the RR unit.
“Smith is a seriously good player. He knows how to pace an innings or set the chase. He will be hungry and looking to get back into the groove as early as possible. I feel he will be the perfect support for Rahane in helping with decision-making. Exciting to have him back in the middle-order,” he said.
Two other players who will be looking to play an integral role in this edition if RR are to go on and lift the trophy are Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler. Upton says that he is banking on them to make it count.
“Every player in the XI is important and then you have some who are match winners. Ben Stokes is one of them. We want to create a culture which will give him the best possible chance to fire as often as possible. This will be my first season with him.
“Jos has been very successful not just for England or in the IPL. He has done well for almost all teams he has played for. He is a class-player and he is going to have a minimum of 35 quality bowlers bowling at him and I don’t think they can keep him quiet,” he explained.
While RR has done well as a unit constantly, the trophy has eluded them post their maiden triumph in 2008 and Upton believes that the team will be working towards improving in all possible areas to increase the chances of lifting the coveted title.
“Each year we are looking to pay more attention to what we call the 1 per cent-ers. Just to be in constant search to do whatever possible to give us the best chance to succeed. Luck is a factor in T20 cricket and one individual can make the difference. Looking to constantly improve. We have some new plans and ideas so looking to be positive.
“We have got a slightly more older/senior players than previous years. But that isn’t by design. The philosophy is to give people opportunities to flourish won’t change,” he said.
A chat with the head coach of RR remains incomplete without a mention of team ambassador Shane Warne and Upton says he is looking forward to having the leg-spinner around.
“I have never worked with Shane before. Looking to meet him and build the relationship so that we can extract the best out of that mind for the players,” he concluded.