At 35 years of age, Rohit Sharma will be the third oldest captain to feature in the Indian Premier League 2022. As the number of young Indian cricketers take up leadership roles in an expanding Twenty20 league, change is afoot across the arena.

Despite the harking of dangers of a lengthy tournament and waning interest as sounded by the Big Bash League, the Indian Premier League is once again venturing where it went before. Yet again the IPL will field 10 teams as opposed to the original 8 while also, extending the number of matches from 60 to 74 in the two month long schedule that begins on the 26th of March.

In what might seem like déjà vu, once again there is a health advisory at play a week prior to the commencement of the 2022 season of rising covid case numbering, which might, for starters put a dampener as far as allowing spectators into the stadium go.

While tournament matches have already been restricted to Mumbai and Pune, there will be cause for concern because while two years ago, the IPL was shifted out to the UAE, last year not only were the IPL organizers forced to come to terms with reality as India battled a second more devious wave of the coronavirus pandemic but also, were forced to truncate the tournament only to reallocate the rest of the matches to the UAE at a later time in the year.

The two new teams will not only the only new focus of interest as the new format has caused a fair amount of confusion as well. In what is a first for the IPL, the format deviates significantly from its round robin structure where each of the eight teams played a total of fourteen matches each.

While each team will play fourteen matches – a number arrived presumably to maximize revenue potential for each franchisee within that restricted timeframe of the summer months, the teams have been divided into two groups based on how many trophies they have won and where they have finished across the past decade.

Subsequently while each team will play the others in their own group twice, it will play the teams from the opposite group just once barring the team with which it shares the rung on the table and will play that team twice as well. It is a different take and it will take some getting used to, for the fans as well as the teams. But what should make things somewhat easier is that there will be some cool heads and some aspiring young guns to lead the teams.

Winds of change for captaincy

In the midst of Virat Kohli’s feud with the BCCI chief, Sourav Ganguly, the name of Rishabh Pant was put forth as potential captaincy material. However, not only did it seem that the BCCI’s mind was made up with regard to appointing Rohit Sharma as India’s national captain across all formats but also, for allowing Pant greater time in the Indian dressing room before being anointed or even placed in the bracket of contenders.

With the Delhi Capitals who have backed the young and dynamic Indian wicketkeeper-batsman - being earmarked by none other than the former Australian captain, Ricky Ponting, who now coaches the Delhi based franchisee in the IPL, Pant has a real chance to sharpen his own skills and also, add leadership credentials to his resume.

But Pant is not alone. Shreyas Iyer is the Kolkata Knight Riders’ new captain, making this an interesting mix of young bloods coming up against each other, while also, sharing the Indian dressing room from time to time.

KL Rahul was groomed at the Punjab Kings for the captaincy. However, after four years at the Punjab Kings, two of which were captained by Rahul, the Indian cricketer chose not to be retained by the team and chose instead to put himself back in the auction. It paid off in that not only will he earn 16 crore rupees but also, will now lead the new franchisee Lucknow Super Giants for the forthcoming season.

Rahul’s exit, while leaving a gaping hole, has allowed the Punjab Kings to experiment with another young cricketer in Mayank Agarwal for the role of the team captain. Hardik Pandya might have fallen off the radar of India’s cricket fans. But he is expecting a new lease of life with the Gujarat Titans who have appointed him captain. Sanju Samson has a role similar to Pandya’s to prove his credentials to earn the privileged captain’s title at the Rajasthan Royals that have seen and midwived his rise and it will be interesting how the trio will find themselves rostered when the tournament comes to an end when in comparison to their peers.

Interestingly enough while there will be renewed interest in Mahendra Singh Dhoni who now only plays the IPL and whether this will be his final hurrah at forty years of age for his longstanding franchisee, the Chennai Super Kings, Rohit Sharma will be also under the spotlight. This is the first time he will be captaining the Mumbai Indians as the Indian captain and it will be interesting whether pressure will tell as his team – five time IPL winners – gun for a record sixth title this year.

The cake though will be reserved for the Royal Challengers who are only the second team besides the Sunrisers Hyderabad to field a foreign captain. While the Sunrisers have reposed faith in the New Zealand skipper Kane Williamson, the resignation of Virat Kohli and the almost simultaneous availability of former South African captain, Faf du Plessis, has allowed both the team and the new captain a fresh lease of life.

Sidelined after a string of controversial moves by the South African cricket board and selection committee and shake ups within the South African cricket set up and outbid by Royal Challengers from his original Chennai team for whom he played a key role with the bat even last year scoring prolifically, Faf will feel he has unfinished business he wants to settle, captaincy providing the perfect opportunity to leave a legacy.

While eyes will be on how Kohli handles the two month long assignment without the headache of changing history on its head but needing to find his former prolific self in an unlikely scenario – the IPL – which has not always been a happy hunting ground for him, this will be undoubtedly be Faf’s moment in the sun as well to use this sudden golden opportunity to sign off his cricketing career – which might be a couple of years away yet - on a high if he can turn Royal Challengers’ fortunes into a trophy winning one.

Club versus Country Rears its Head

In what has become a long standing debate, once again at the heart of the IPL is the issue of player loyalty. Not just to the franchisee format but also, to their own respective national teams.

Australia’s cricketers will not be available at the start of the IPL for at least a week while Australia complete their national duties touring Pakistan as mandated by Cricket Australia. On the other hand, Dean Elgar, South Africa’s Test captain, called it the “loyalty” test as players such as Kagiso Rabada and Rassie van der Dussen have had to choose between participating in the IPL and completing their national duties with Bangladesh on tour.

However, given the fact that some of South Africa’s cricketers will be leaving the country after the one day international series against Bangladesh at home and not take part in the Test series which clashes with the start schedule of the IPL 2022 season, it would seem that the players have already failed the test by the Test captain’s contention.

While there has been a growing demand for an official international window for the IPL, which would solve the problem but also, set a dangerous precedent despite its popularity and revenue generation mechanism, there is also a growing contention that players should not be made to choose in a modern game where money accruing from the IPL far outweighs what most players earn with a national/central contract.

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