As far as mid-season captaincy switches go, it’s not a rare development in the Indian Premier League. There have been enough instances when teams were forced to change (usually described as player’s decision) their captains mid-season after enduring a poor run of results — Rohit Sharma taking over from Ricky Ponting in 2013 being the most successful of such decisions.
But, has it really been a ‘poor’ first half of the season for KKR? Not really. KKR sit pretty at fourth in the points table having won four games, a better result than 50 per cent of the teams, including three-time champions Chennai Super Kings (CSK). Only two teams, Mumbai Indians and Delhi Capitals, have fared significantly better than KKR.
As a captain, Karthik is neither woeful, nor exceptional; he is a fine leader with enough experience to make tactical decisions and a lot of coolness to handle the heat of a tough game. Some of his decisions, mostly batting positions of some of the players, have been questioned in the course of the tournament. But is it not true for all the captains, including Virat Kohli?
We must remember, in Karthik’s captaincy, KKR won two matches that they should have lost — vs CSK and Kings XI Punjab. In the latter, he also scored a match-saving 58.
His or his team’s decision to hand over captaincy to Morgan is less about Karthik leadership abilities and more about his batting form — he has only 112 runs from 8 innings. Relinquishing captaincy also didn’t bring any relief as Karthik could only manage 4 runs in his first post-stepping down innings. A player’s position becomes untenable when he is not contributing with the bat or the ball, even if you are the captain (unless you are MS Dhoni). Luckily for Karthik, there is no young, talented wicketkeeper on the bench to challenge his position in the playing XI.
Morgan has better statistics with the bat — 214 runs from 8 innings that make him the second best-batsman at KKR. Also, his success as England limited-overs captain makes him a tempting choice for the captaincy. One of the reasons why KKR bought Morgan at the 2020 auction for Rs 5.25 crore, along with providing strength to their middle-order, was to be able to use his extensive experience as leader.
Considering Morgan’s achievements and influence as leader, perhaps KKR should have handed over the captaincy at the beginning of the season. Doing so in the middle of the season leaves an unpleasant taste. Karthik may not have the cult following of Dhoni but he is a likeable figure with a permanent smile pasted on his face. And who doesn’t like to see a smiling face!
Changing captain in the middle of the tournament rarely changes the team’s fortunes. If anything, it’s about planning for the next season. Delhi Capitals did that in 2018 when they replaced Gautam Gambhir with Shreyas Iyer and reaped the fruits of their endeavour the next season with a top-four finish. But KKR aren’t in a desperate situation, yet. With a similar performance in the second half, they would easily qualify for the playoffs. Then, do KKR see Morgan as a long-term captaincy option? Maybe. In a league system like IPL, a season is a long enough time to be called long-term.