MS Dhoni is ‘captain cool’, Saurav Ganguly is ‘captain hot’. If ‘captain thanda’ directs your mind immediately to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, well, there’s no need to be apologetic. It’s not clear who started this off, but categorising personality traits in terms of temperature has turned out to be an interesting exercise. It follows sound logic too.
Take the cases of Dhoni and Ganguly. Both are highly successful skippers, both are go-getters and aggressive and both ooze tremendous sex appeal. Then what makes one ‘cool’ and the other ‘hot’?
Ever wondered why Dhoni despite his string of amazing successes is nowhere close to Ganguly in stirring passionate loyalty. Every move of the over-the-hill former skipper still makes headlines and stirs a debate. His desperation to play in the IPL makes little sense. But his rejection by team owners is enough to polarise opinions and get discussions going. Possibly he is good at the visibility game, even brilliant at manipulating emotions. But that does not quite explain the whole persona and its ‘hot’ appeal.
Dhoni’s success is still attributed to his extraordinary luck and the accident of wealth of resources at his command, not to his leadership skills and abilities at strategy. Critics conveniently overlook the fact that similar resources were at the disposal of the former skipper too. A cricket World Cup and sustained good performance in the fickle IPL format and the Champion’s League is no mean achievement. However, that has not translated into mass appeal for Dhoni, not at least to the extent in Ganguly’s case.
Not that it is important. But it makes a curious study of contrasts in the general perception of leadership.
In popular perception, a good leader is one who inspires, motivates and leads his followers to conquer challenges. He could be in the mould of a medieval tribal chieftain who leads his band of men in battles through acts of personal bravery or a person in the mould of Winston Churchill or Indira Gandhi back home who catch the imagination through decisive and bold action. Risk-taking is crucial in leadership as is the ability to inspire and win the confidence of the followers in both the cases.
Both Dhoni and Ganguly fare well on this yardstick, but they approach leadership in distinct ways. The difference in their appeal, put in the context of the average Indian cricket fan, stems from this.
Cricket in India is far more than victories and defeats; it’s about heroes, hero-worshipping and the personality cult. The country is always obsessive about personal milestones of individual players rather than the team and its victories. People throng the stadia to watch their heroes play. When the team loses despite Sachin scoring a century, it does not matter much to the fan. His hero has delivered, other things are of fringe significance. Ever wondered why Australia has more victories and India more centuries!
With loyalties hitched firmly to heroes, myth-making follows. Ganguly making Australian captain Steve Waugh wait for the toss is no great cricketing strategy. It is discourteous and, at best, would leave the guy who has played so much cricket in his life irritated. But myth-making follows a different trajectory altogether. It turns Ganguly into a superhero who subdued the ‘arrogant’ Aussie. Dhoni would not do something like that.
Fans love emotions in leaders. It provides a point of convergence for both. Study the character of the heroes in our movies, and you realise how emotions connect. Ganguly taking his shirt off at Lords to celebrate India’s victory may not go down well with the spirit of the gentleman’s game but it sends the right message across to his fans. A leader is also a showman. Ganguly, wittingly or unwittingly, fit that bill perfectly. He played to the gallery.
In contrast, Dhoni makes himself inscrutable. He appears too composed, too self-assured and too understated. His lack of exuberant expressiveness is a put-off. His reaction after the last ball of the World Cup, which he belted for a six, was one of casual cockiness, not one of exhilaration. Yuvraj in his effusiveness stood in stark contrast.
Dhoni does not look vulnerable, never wears his emotions on his sleeves. The smile on his face at the death reveals, or conceals, that well. He comes across as the smart corporate type who knows his moves well and has everything worked out.
But the crowd loves what’s ‘hot’. It’s bang for the buck, instant connect. They love the tribal chieftain in action, and the antics tagged along. Cool is okay. But it’s so unexciting.