Sourav Ganguly was considered by-far the best captain in Indian Cricketing history. It was believed that the progress of Indian Cricket during the post 2000 era was due to him and without him, Indian cricket couldn’t have lost hold of the clutches of the match-fixing scandal that rocked the nation. It was believed that there wasn’t a better leader the country had seen. But that was before Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the Captain sprung up.
Statistically speaking, Dhoni is far ahead and by the time he hangs up his boots, his record as a Test Captain would be a Himalayan task to counter for the future leaders of the team. While the team tasted success in 21 tests under Ganguly (in a total of 49 tests), Dhoni has already mustered 19 triumphs in 39 outings. But a captain’s stature cannot always be measured statistically. Yes, stats do play a significant role in deciding between two athletes but whether the same applies for leaders or not, is the million dollar question.
On a personal note, I feel ‘NO’ is the answer. If stats were to be given priority, then Andrew Strauss and Greg Chappell would be better captains than the legendary Mike Brearley. But that is not the case. To measure the degree of a captain’s success, you need to consider the strength of the squad, the attitude of the players and the mind-set of the skipper circumstances/state of the cricket in the nation. On those attributes, MS Dhoni lags far behind Dada.
In the year 2000, the cricketing fraternity was rocked by a match-fixing scandal involving Indian batting maestro Md. Azharuddin, Ajay Jadeja, Manoj Prabhakar and Ajay Sharma, amongst others. On the backdrop of this scandal, and citing health issues, the then Indian Captain Sachin Tendulkar stepped down from captaincy.
Becoming the national captain at a time when the nation had lost all hope of a fair effort by the team was no easy task. The cricketing fraternity was still not completely out of the shell of the match-fixing scandal and the jaded faces of the Indian cricketers didn’t help the cause either. But it was at that very time, that a young man from Bengal was assigned the task, which every young cricketer strived to achieve at some point in his lifetime – The captain of the Indian Cricket team.
Ganguly took over the reigns and soon there was a visibly drastic change on and off the field. The dressing room atmosphere seemed to have changed completely and the entry of a few new faces meant that that team appeared young, fresh and desperate for a new start. He announced publicly that he didn’t want to have a look at the past. Little did he know that he had the brightest future ahead of him!
Ganguly proved to be a bold captain – he didn’t hesitate to throw the ball to a young Harbhajan Singh against the likes of Steve Waugh; he introduced as much young talent as was possible and it is that young talent whose fruits are being reaped by Dhoni till date. Dada realised that fielding was an essential element of the game and couldn’t be done without. He identified Yuvraj Singh and Md. Kaif and together they formed a deadly duo and it seemed practically impossible for the opposition to get the ball in between the two.
He was aggressive. He was not someone who would take everything lying down. He would fight, struggle and make sure that the opposition didn’t have it easy – after all, he wasn’t called the tiger for no reason! If one were to recall, he kept Steve Waugh waiting for the toss by arriving late four consecutive times! We could doubt if it was a strategic move but for sure, it worked and Waugh remained annoyed (he couldn’t do anything else either!). He would wave off his shirt whilst in the Lords Balcony, triggering wild celebrations post a breathtaking win! He would get under the opposition’s skin if they were rough. He didn’t spare anyone, not even the Aussies.
Most of the memorable wins for India came with Ganguly at the helm. Who can forget the heroics of Leeds, or the historic triumph of Adelaide, or the series of wins in WC 2003. The Kolkata test of 2001 still remains etched in our memories. It was Ganguly’s aggression (but more importantly Laxman’s 281 and Dravid’s 153) which broke Steve Waugh’s run of 16 consecutive Test victories as captain.
Ganguly won one match more abroad than he did at home, thus proving his mettle as an inspiring captain on foreign soil. All in all, he was a motivational, awe-inspiring and aggressive captain who knew how to win both the games – the mind ones as well as the on-field ones.
He built a team from a bunch of individuals, which only few gifted ones do well and he did it too well.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni ascended the throne following Anil Kumble’s sudden retirement and on the back of a very good record as ODI and T20 Captain. His test captaincy began quite well and it seemed as if whatever he touched turned into gold as he led India to the no. 1 position in the ICC Test Rankings. The baton finally resided in the country. Everything was going very well. But, was Dhoni the reason behind it or someone else?
Practically speaking, Dhoni had very little to do with the team’s success. He got a very good team with the right blend of youth and experience. He mostly played at home under favourable conditions and the team responded well. He had al the options in the world to tackle any opposition. He led the team to CWC 2011 Victory (again on home soil). But then came the real test. It was time to venture into mysterious territory – it was time to move to the home of Cricket and Down Under thereafter.
And it was here that Dhoni faltered. Not once, not twice, but eight consecutive times. It was a dark period for Indian Cricket as the nation faced the ignominy of being hammered throughout the British summer and the series Down Under. Eight consecutive defeats abroad and two consecutive whitewashes; well as most would agree, Dhoni is quite lucky to still be leading the Test team.
Dhoni in fact has just reaped the fruits of what Ganguly sowed. Yuvraj, Sehwag, Raina, Zaheer, Harbhajan, Gambhir, Pathan, Sreesanth, Munaf – all were introduced by Dada; all were inspired by Dada. Dada formed a team from a bunch of guys; Dhoni just took the team forward. Both have been exceptional in their own rights, but Dada just had a tougher job at hand. As someone has so correctly(though controversially) said:
“Dada was the best Captain of the Indian Cricket Team; Dhoni is the Captain of the best Indian Cricket Team!”