On May 28th, Sourav Ganguly was quoted in a Bengali newspaper saying he thought Gautam Gambhir might be a better option than Mahendra Singh Dhoni to captain the Indian Test side. The former India captain then qualified his somewhat controversial statement by adding that he thought Gambhir should be seriously considered for the job only because Dhoni might not be a good enough keeper and batsman to hold his place in the eleven in the longest format of the game, whereas there will never be a question mark over Gambhir’s place in the Test side. Oh, really?
After the abject failure of the Indian team in Australia and England, no one (and certainly not the opening batsmen) has any right to be considered a shoo-in for the Test side. If anything, one of the prime reasons India were whitewashed in England and Australia was the inability of numbers 1 and 2 to get the side off to a good start even once. That said, enough already of the blame game. This is not about who deserves a place in the Indian Test side and who doesn’t. It’s an attempt to shine a light on the style of captaincy that suits the Indian side, or even India, best. After all, the Indian cricket team is, in many ways, a microcosm of India.
Essentially, there are three methods of captaincy I will look into here. The first is what I shall refer to as the ‘Sourav way,’ which has proved to be the most enduring in the annals of Indian cricket. The second is the ‘Dhoni way,’ one that has come closest to rivaling the successes Ganguly managed as skipper of the Indian team. And then, as in now, there’s the ‘Gambhir way,’ which one is compelled to shine a light on after the Kolkata Knight Riders’ (KKR) inspired run to the top in the just-concluded edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL), Ganguly’s endorsement of Gambhir’s credentials for the job and the seeming shortcomings in the ‘Dhoni way.’ Of course, there are other ways to lead the Indian cricket team that are worth investigating, but if one were to delve into all of them right here and right now, this piece could easily turn into a treatise on ‘How the Indian cricket team explains India.’ (Well, there’s an idea Mr Guha can use for his next book.)
Sourav Ganguly – The Great Dictator
Sourav captained the side mostly with his heart. He was headstrong, forthright, intuitive, insecure, parochial, and regal. He was very clear the team was there to do his bidding. Fear was an important weapon in Sourav’s armoury. He gave the young members of the side a long rope, as long as they towed the line…his line. Fortunately for Sourav, he didn’t have to deal with too many senior players. What’s more, he had the very powerful Jagmohan Dalmiya backing him to the hilt during his formative years as skipper. No wonder Sourav was the ‘Lord’ and ‘Maharaja’ of all he surveyed. Under his regime (and there’s no better word to describe it), multiple points of view were not welcome. It was either Sourav’s way or the highway. And it worked, most of the time.
More often than not, the young Indian team responded to his authoritarian style of leadership brilliantly, or at least better than it ever had to the democratic ways of Sourav’s predecessor. In fact, the path-breaking success of Sourav ‘The Dictator’ could well be used to buttress a point many an Indian has put forward; that what this country needs is a more authoritarian model of governance to set things right and accelerate its march towards becoming a great nation. Make no mistake, there’s definitely a school of thought in this country that believes Indians are too slack for their own good. Maybe there’s a germ of truth in the assertion. Sourav, for one, certainly demonstrated the great heights that can be scaled by a team of dissimilar individuals when one of them is invested with absolute power to call the shots.
However, ‘Sourav’s way’ proved to be so successful largely because he was (after Sachin Tendulkar) the most senior member in the team. And Tendulkar had made up his mind, after giving up the captaincy in despair, to focus on nothing more than his own batting. The only other ‘senior’ player, Rahul Dravid, was, luckily for Sourav, easily the most fantastic and most supportive vice-captain in the history of Indian cricket. To a large extent, Sourav’s way proved to be such a success because he didn’t have to deal with ambitious contemporaries who had designs on his job, which allowed Sourav to pretty much do his own thing, until he brought in another man with equally autocratic tendencies: Greg Chappell.