There is perhaps no sport in which the designated captains play as influential a role as they do in cricket. The rhythms of the game, especially when played out over five days, and the unique built-in pauses at the end of every over, allow for much greater on-field strategising than in other team sports such as football or hockey.
Things have changed somewhat in the post-Twenty20 era. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to call it the post-IPL era. Captaincy in Twenty20 International matches is a different animal than in Indian Premier League matches.
The shift was apparent a year ago, when Kumar Sangakkara, the captain of the erstwhile Deccan Chargers, sat himself out of a few matches because of poor form. Daniel Vettori too sat out of Royal Challengers Bangalore matches to allow the side to field Muttiah Muralitharan. Contrast this with the Australian Test side of the mid-1990s, in which Mark Taylor was nursed through a horror run of 21 Test innings without a half-century, before ending the drought with a century in the first Ashes Test in June 1997.
To be sure, there were several differences between the Deccan chargers of 2012 and the Australian team of 1996-97. For starters, Australia were actually winning a whole lot more than they were losing and franchise cricket was as alien a concept as DRS. But even in terms of the sanctity attached to the captain's job, there was a marked difference.
When Sangakkara made way once again in the Pepsi Indian Premier League 2013, giving way to Quinton de Kock, it barely caused a ripple. It did, however, ruffle Ajay Jadeja, former India player and current studio analyst with SET MAX, the IPL's broadcasting channel. Jadeja argued that the move was regressive, that he hadn't liked it when done in 2012 and liked it even less now. The reasons Jadeja offered were many and sound - that Sangakkara had made himself available for the franchise as captain and should back himself to come good, that captaincy was about more than the runs, wickets and catches you took on the field, and that it might send the wrong signals to the players.
It's evident that the best-case scenario - for any team in any competition - is to have only one captain whose leadership is backed by performance. However, the reason a captain's decision to drop himself is more acceptable in the IPL than it would have been anywhere else is easy to see. It's because of the cap on overseas players in the playing XI. Each franchise is allowed upto 11 foreign players in a squad of 33, and most have at least ten. That leaves at least six quality players on the bench. The problems, when they come, are only in the case of overseas players who are captaining IPL sides and experiencing a loss in form.
So while Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, and Rahul Dravid may experience some loss of form, none of them are holding up a spot of a quality player on the bench. It's another matter that in this year's tournament so far, each of the four have had good runs individually.
The same can't be said of Ricky Ponting, Adam Gilchrist and Angelo Mathews. Ponting dropped himself down the order in Mumbai Indians' last match against Delhi Daredevils, Gilchrist spoke frankly of his spot "being under scrutiny", especially after David Miller's heroics against Pune, and Mathews went the Sangakkara route, sitting out against Punjab.
Mahela Jayawardene for Delhi is about the only overseas captain who has kept his head above water in the personal form stakes, though, unfortunately for him, his team got off to a nightmare start in the tournament.
When Shane Warne captained Rajasthan Royals and Gilchrist led Deccan Chargers, there were no murmurs about their places because their individual performances were holding up very well. But when Mathews' poor run kept out the likes of Steve Smith, Luke Wright and Ajantha Mendis, questions were bound to be raised.
For Punjab at present, Gilchrist being in the team means there is no room for Luke Pomersbach. When Shaun Marsh is fit and available to play, the pressure on Gilchrist to justify his role with the bat will grow exponentially. Ponting is likely to be already feeling the heat, given Mumbai's enviable bench strength.
It is true that leadership is not merely about runs and wickets on the field, and teams can often benefit from the tactical calls someone like Ponting or Gilchrist can make with their vast experience of reading the game. But there is little room for a Mike Brearly in the IPL - for a captain chosen primarily for his ability to lead rather than play.
The role of an international captain will continue to remain sacrosanct, but it's perhaps time for a rethink on the role of a foreign captain in IPL teams. Richie Benaud's famous quote, "Captaincy is about 90% luck and 10% skill... but for heaven's sake don't try it without the 10%," still holds. But in an IPL franchise, there may be - and often are - more than one candidate with the requisite leadership skills.
The IPL is already the centre of the domestic cricketing universe, and attracts the best international players, which means the profusion of high-quality cricketers in teams will continue to grow. Performance, more than leadership skill, could determine the captaincy in the future.