Who is the next Test captain for India?
Who is the next Test captain for the Indian Cricket Team? A big question in the minds of the selectors, veterans, cricket analysts and millions of cricket fans in the nation. Before looking into this aspect, we should see two fundamental questions: What does it mean by captaining a Test team? What are the qualities of a good Test captain? Once we answer these fundamental questions, we can easily pick up a captain.
Every cricketer’s dream is to win the national cap and play for his country in white clothes. As playing in the Test team itself is such a monumental dream, imagine how mammoth it would be to lead a Test team. Till date, from the start of international cricket, there have been 2700 odd players who got the privilege to play Test cricket, which is a large number. When it comes to the number of players who got to lead their team, there are only 300 odd players who had that privilege. This means the probability of leading a Test team is something around 11%, which is a very small number. This tells us that only few Test players were given the opportunity to lead the team. So it is a bigger dream for a player to become a Captain for the Test team. Captaining a Test team gives immense pride and responsibility. It means to lead the team of 11 members to play on the field with extensive spirit for victory. It means instilling confidence to play on any soil and against any team. It means taking the blame for everything that happens with the team. It means building a team that becomes stronger after every defeat of the team. It means backing the players low on confidence. It means always keeping track of the domestic games and picking the right bench strength. It means coordinating the selection committee, the coaching staff and the players. It means always keeping the team united in a given situation. Last but not the least, it means being the face of the nation in the media and the backbone for the team.
Now comes the second question “What are the qualities of a good Test captain?”As I mentioned earlier, only 11% of the players were given the opportunity of leading a side. What are the qualities in them that made the selection committee and the rest of the team believe they can lead the team? What made them always stand out of the lot? There were only 300 odd Test captains till date, of them only few were successful captains. What makes a player, a captain, a captain a successful captain? All successful captains had set of qualities which made them what they are, which made them fall into the separate breed of cricketers. The qualities that made them successful and distinctive are leadership, taking up challenges, traveling on the path less travelled, reinventing themselves according to the circumstances and players, showing their aggression in their actions, backing their players well, confidence, energy on the field, experience, charisma, looking everything in detail, raising their game to set themselves as an example, selecting their deputy and grooming him well, being open to suggestions from team mates, and most importantly, having a vision. These all qualities made them successful captains. Few names which strike us when we say successful captains in the last two decades are Steve Waugh, Sourav Ganguly, Stephen Fleming, Graeme Smith, Nasser Hussain, Micheal Vaughan, Anil Kumble.
The story of each captain is different from the other. They all had the same set of qualities more or less. England Test cricket was in ruins, and they were leading from the bottom when Alec Stewart resigned as the captain. ECB was searching for a new face who would show them the way for the future. Nasser Hussain was never in the list of the favorites, but he surprised the whole board at the interview and was appointed as the captain. Nasser Hussain, though he did not win many matches, had a vision and in the dressing room everyone listened to him when he spoke. I think that is a clear sign of a good captain. He gave a shape to the shapeless England team by backing youngsters like Andrew Flintoff and grooming them for the future. Then, once Nasser Hussain quit, the task passed over to Micheal Vaughan. Micheal Vaughan added aggression to the team. He made his team fight aggressively no matter what the result of the match would be. He won the Ashes, which came for England after a long time. This win changed England’s attitude altogether. From then, they were always aggressive and a confident team.
Now coming to Australia’s story, after 1996 World Cup loss, Steve Waugh was made the captain of Australian National Team. Steve Waugh was normal captain when he started in 1997 he made a slow start winning remarkably few matches. He had a mixed bag of young cricketers like Glichrist, Ponting and experienced cricketers like Tom Moody, Mark Taylor, Shane Warne. Australia was struggling in the ODIs. Steve built a good ODI team and led them to World Cup victory. This victory made Australians believe they were invincibles, and they were more confident and matured after the victory. The youngsters Ponting, Gilchrist and Martyn made their mark and became successful Test players. This confidence was reflected in their Test matches. Moreover, the youngsters added more energy to the team. Apart from this, Steve Waugh’s men were extremely aggressive and played many mind games from the beginning of the tour. Steve’s men revived sledging. When asked about sledging, Steve always said “it was part and parcel of the game”. Australians did everything within the rules to win a game – be it aggressive stares at the players or sledging or making comments at the press conferences. Steve led his team to 16 consecutive Test wins, which made him the most successful captain and made the Aussies the most dominant team in the world.
Now coming to Sourav Ganguly and his men in blue. After India’s exit from the 1999 World Cup, every fan was disappointed. Appointment of Sachin Tendulkar as a new captain brought the hopes alive again. Sachin Tendulkar, during his short reign as captain, failed both as a leader and batsman. Though being the best batsman in the world, he just could not lead the team well. Then followed the match fixing scandal. India lost players like Ajay Jadeja and Azharuddhin. A new face was needed for the team. Sourav Ganguly was named as the new captain. Coming from a royal family, Sourav had everything in him that was need for the captain of that hour. He got a new coach John Wright, searched for new talent in Harbhajan, Yuvraj, Kaif, Zaheer Khan, and constantly backed them. In 2001, after India’s first test loss against Australia, India had another shock – Anil Kumble’s injury. Now a spinner needed to be replaced. Despite all criticisms, Sourav bought 19 year old Harbhajan in to the team. Harbhajan surprised everyone with his Hat-trick and 13 wickets in the match. As is often said, the rest is history. India won the series, leaving bitter memories for Steve and co. This sent a message to the world that someone can defeat Australia. His off the field attitude added a lot the team, his mind games in the Australian Tour of 2003, like making Steve wait on the field for the toss, changed the nature of Indian players. Rahul Dravid took it from there and won the series in West Indies. Anil Kumble took over from Dravid and showed appreciable patience after the controversial Sydney test and led the team to a famous victory at WACA, Perth. In Dhoni’s early days as captain, India became World no.1.
The whole trouble started when India started losing in England and Australia. A normal loss would not have created such a buzz, but a white wash created a furore, and the loss against England in Mumbai added more fuel to the fire.
Now let us analyze who is capable of replacing Dhoni. We can straight away eliminate Pragyan, Umesh, Ashwin, Harbhajan, Sachin (as Sachin will never take up captaincy). Sehwag is an aggressive batsman, but a cool and composed person. The only doubt that comes is regarding whether he can be inspiring. In the past, Sehwag did not show the attitude of becoming a successful captain when given a chance. Also, I think it is the wrong time for Gambhir to think about captaincy when he is out of form. But assuming Gambhir comes back to form, given a chance how will he do? He is particularly an aggressive player. Even though he led Kolkata Knight Riders for an IPL victory, he does not have the charisma and the vision to take the team to the next level. Yuvraj is still struggling to find a place in the team. It is too early to judge Pujara, though he is extremely calm and composed. We are left with only one option – Kohli. Kohli has that aggression that Sourav has. Also, Kohli values his wicket a lot, his commitment in the training sessions makes everyone train more. He led the U-19 team, is presently the vice captain of ODI and he responds well to pressure. Kohli seems to have an edge over others. But, the two critical questions that rises are “Is he ready for the job?” and “Can he balance his batting and captaincy?”. If he fails in a similar fashion as Sachin failed in the role, that will be a massive loss to the team. As of now, the best thing would be continue Dhoni as the Captain with Virat Kohli as the vice-captain. As we play only home series till 2013 December, Kohli will learn the tactics and feel more responsible. Once the selection committee feel he has matured, he can be promoted as the Captain, relieving Dhoni the burden. Then we can have two captains – Dhoni for ODIs and T20, Kohli for Test cricket.