How lucky a captain is Mahendra Singh Dhoni? Most people would unabashedly say, well, of course, very. Speaking of the role luck plays in the life of a captain, here’s what one of Australia’s great captains, Richie Benaud, had to say on the matter, “Captaincy is 90 percent luck and 10 percent skill. But don't try it without that 10 percent.”
Keeping Benaud’s pithy views in mind, here are five captains who, in the opinion of this writer, certainly possessed a bit of skill but didn’t have Lady Luck on their side. Is this a complete list? Well, of course. Not.
Kim Hughes, Australia, captain from 1979-84
Kim Hughes was handed the captaincy in his 11th Test, which Australia won. But things went mostly downhill for Hughes after that. Unfortunately, only seven of the 28 Tests he captained Australia in were played at home. For the most part of his tenure as skipper, Hughes led a side hampered by the absence of senior players lured away by Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket.
Then, when Rod Marsh and Dennis Lillie returned after the Packer saga, neither of them saw eye to eye with the young captain and, some say, ganged up against him. Hughes also had to, more often than not, bear the brunt of an extremely hostile media, which saw him as an ‘establishment lackey’ and took every opportunity to question his abilities as a leader. Of course, it didn’t help Hughes cause that he batted without a care in the world, which gave watchers the impression he wasn’t responsible enough to lead the side.
In the end, Hughes resigned the captaincy in tears, literally. An abysmal record of four victories to show for his efforts as a leader of men didn’t do justice to a player, who most experts believed (at least, during the early part of Hughes’ career) was destined to be one of Australia’s finest cricketers. Well, so much for destiny.
Tatienda Taibu, Zimbabwe, captain from 2004-05
Tatienda Taibu’s was very important to Zimbabwean cricket, which is emphasised by the fact that he was just 19 years old when named as vice-captain for the tour of England in 2003 and then, in April 2004, appointed the youngest captain in the history of Test cricket. Equally, if not more, significant was the fact that Taibu was the first black man to lead Zimbabwe.
Alas, he was given a hugely inexperienced side, which, in 10 Tests under him, lost repeatedly and heavily (7 innings defeats, one by 10 wickets, one by 226 runs, and 1 draw) despite stellar performances from Taibu. The pressure began to tell, and by the second half of 2005 he was faced with a players’ revolt. Next thing you know, he was maligned in the domestic press and, even, threatened by some nasty elements connected to his own cricket board. Not surprisingly, in November 2005 he resigned as captain and retired from international cricket. Among all the unfortunate goings-on we have been witness to in Zimbabwean cricket, Taibu’s rise and fall was arguably the saddest.
Brian Lara, West Indies, captain from 1996/7-1999/00, 2002/3-2004, 2006-2007
Brian Lara captained the West Indies when the team was a fast fading unit. (Often, it wasn’t even a unit.) In fact so poor were the West Indies under him that Lara today holds the unenviable record of having captained the West Indies to the most Test losses (26 in 47 games).
Surely, he wasn’t such a poor leader. He did, after all, lead the team on three different occasions, always showing the way with his superlative batting displays.
One can only imagine how frustrated Lara must have felt having to, almost singlehandedly, shoulder the burden of living up to a glorious past and face up to the depressing reality of repeatedly failing to inspire a side in unstoppable decline.
Perhaps the only player who may have come somewhat close to experiencing similar feelings of despair would be Sachin Tendulkar, who all through the 90s made most of the runs for India in Tests overseas. Lara bowed out as captain (and player) after losing to Pakistan in Pakistan, finishing, yet again, as the team’s top run scorer, by a distance. It was a sad, but perhaps predictable, way for a certified genius in a very ordinary team to call it a day.
Aron ‘Ali’ Bacher, South Africa, captain from 1969-70
Ali Bacher was lucky enough to inherit what was probably South Africa’s, if not the world’s, greatest ever side; it included Barry Richards, Mike Procter, Eddie Barlow, Peter and Graeme Pollock, some of the finest and most talented players the majority of the cricket world hardly got a chance to see enough of. Bacher was skipper in four Tests. His luck with the coin was immaculate; he won the toss each time. And his team thrashed a strong Australian side in all four Tests under him.
However, after that incredible start to his stint as captain, South Africa was banned from international cricket for 22 years because of the government’s policy of repugnant policy of apartheid. And that was the end of Bacher’s career as captain and player.
Ravi Shastri, captain from 1987-88 (for 1 Test)
Perhaps Ravi Shastri was the best Test captain India never had. (Well, he did lead the side to an emphatic win over the West Indies in one Test, after Dilip Vengsarkar, the incumbent at the time, fractured his arm in the previous game.)
Oddly enough, Shastri was vice captain to four Indian skippers: Kapil Dev, Dilip Vengsarkar, Krishnamachari Srikkanth and Mohammed Azharuddin. Sadly, none of the aforementioned captains were particularly good at the job, which makes the non-elevation of the tactically sound and aggressive Shastri to the top particularly unfortunate.