The burning question in the lead up to IPL auction 2018 was who KKR would be looking to make their leader for the upcoming edition of the T20 extravaganza.
Having observed the KKR management for the last 10 years, I have a clear-cut answer to this question. But before I answer this, let us assess their situation with respect to IPL auction 2018.
It’s evident that KKR let go of Gambhir due to his age and it’s highly unlikely that he will be retained through RTM. If KKR wanted Gambhir in their team, they would have retained him prior to the auction. Period.
Now, since Gambhir was released in spite of his success, it’s unlikely that someone of similar age will replace him. This eliminates Brendon McCullum, Faf Du Plessis etc. from the fold.
But what about Kane Williamson, who has had reasonable success as New Zealand’s captain? The biggest drawback here is he is a unidimensional foreign player. If we look at KKR’s policy of buying international players post 2011, they have tended to either procure all-rounders or specialist bowlers, like Jacques Kallis, Shakib-al-Hasan, Ryan ten Doeschate, and Andre Russell. The specialist batsmen have mostly been Indian (barring a few exceptions like Eoin Morgan/Chris Lynn).
Even their latest bid to promote Sunil Narine to open only proves that they want their foreign internationals to be all-rounders. A team with such a line of thought are very unlikely to make a foreign international batsman their team captain. Thus, the chances for Williamson to lead the Kolkata side look slim.
Among the Indians in the auction pool, the noteworthy leaders are Shikhar Dhawan, Ravichandran Ashwin and Ajinkya Rahane. Dhawan though was horrific as captain of SRH in IPL 2014 and his batting form dropped severely. He was replaced by Darren Sammy for the 2014 edition midway, before being replaced permanently by the ever-so-successful David Warner in IPL 2015.
Ashwin has captained Tamil Nadu relatively well in the past. But KKR won’t be willing to splurge much on Ashwin considering the fast, bouncy wicket of Eden Gardens won’t be conducive to his off-spin. A fact to be kept in mind here is that Ashwin did not pick up a single wicket against a relatively weak Sri Lankan side at Eden Gardens a month ago. That simply limits his chances of being picked by KKR in the auction. Now, that leaves Rahane.
Rahane showed glimpses of aggressive captaincy against Australia in the final Test of Border Gavaskar Trophy 2017. In the absence of an injured Virat Kohli, Rahane, being the captain for the Test match, decided to field a wrist spinner (Kuldeep Yadav) ahead of an additional seamer contrary to most expectations and that decision turned out to be so successful that it swung the series in favour of India.
Now, let us come to Rahane’s batting statistics. He boasts an average of over 50 in the SENA countries (South Africa, England, New Zealand, Australia). It’s no surprise that the Eden Gardens wicket with its seam & bounce will be an ideal ally for Rahane’s exceptional batting skills.
Now, it’s unlikely for Rajasthan to use their RTM card on Rahane. They already retained Steve Smith for INR 12.5 crore (Smith will definitely be the captain of RR). Now, if they had wanted Rahane in their team, they would have retained him as well, as that would have meant a further deduction of only INR 8.5 crore. Rahane not being retained by RR indicates one of two things. Either he felt he would go for a better price in the auction and RR were unwilling to pay the extra amount to retain him, or the Royals felt they would be able to get Rahane for a cheaper price in the auction. However, if he goes for more than INR 8.5 crore, RR are unlikely to squander an RTM on him.
KKR, on the other hand, will splurge on Rahane, just like they did on Gambhir (11.04 crore) before IPL 2011, and will be desperate to have him in the side as a long-term leader. Thus, according to me, Rahane will lead KKR in IPL 2018.