The Art of Leading

A debate on who is the greatest cricket captain of all time..

The winning runs are scored in Nagpur. India has downed the Aussies for a 4-1 ODI series win. Another victory for Kohli and his boys, taking India to the pinnacle of ODI team ranking again. They are comfortably no.1 in tests also. Kohli has truly shown the way- a record which is unmatched in recent times. Leading a team of youngsters, inspiring by aggression, Kohli is like the naughtiest kid who finds his feet once he is made the monitor in school. He lifts the team with his remarkable batting and is also the team’s best fielder. Always setting very high standards, is Kohli going to be India’s best captain of all times? Well, maybe the overseas tour of the big three (South Africa, England, and Australia) will help us answer. Till then, let’s roll back time and debate- who is the greatest cricket captain of all time?

To start with, there is Sourav ‘Dada’ Ganguly. Taking over the reign from Sachin with the backdrop of the betting controversy, Dada truly changed the way India played cricket, over his captaincy reign. In a time when captains used to favour players from their own states, he was the first to back his horses from across India- Yuvi to Bhajji to Zaheer to Sehwag- the list is long. He was a transformational leader- the one who changed the trajectory for Indian cricket and made them a good side overseas in tests. The series draw Down Under and the win in Pakistan were the feathers in the cap, among many others. He was also great in giving a tit for tat- so making Steve Waugh wait for the toss and rubbing him the wrong way in that Famous Eden 2001 test to celebrating by taking off his shirt at the Lords balcony to get back at Flintoff and the Pommies- Dada always gave back more than he got! His leadership and administrative skills are next to none. My hunch is Dada as the BCCI or the ICC head is a day not too far away.

If Dada was the fire, Dhoni is the ice. ‘Mr Cool’ took over after the turmoil that was the 2007 World Cup ODI fiasco in the Windies. Dhoni quickly established his own ‘Band of Boys’, stressed on the importance of fielding, and was in a way ‘The First among Equals’. His record as captain is exemplary- a T20 World Cup, an ODI World Cup, Champions Trophy, No 1 test ranking and numerous IPL’s- the list is complete. MSD is an economist’s delight- marveling when the resources are constrained- no wonder his awesome record as leader in limited over cricket stand out. And who can forget that six at Wankhede to win the World Cup- the best ‘Captain’s knock’ if ever there was one. He is street-smart and instinctive- who else would have given the last over of a final to a rookie like Joginder Sharma? The other thing so admirable about Dhoni is how calm he is no matter what is the result- he would gladly take a back seat after the job is done. So you will struggle to find him in the team pictures after the World Cup wins- reminds me of Rudyard Kipling’s ‘If’- ‘If you can treat victory and defeat.. And treat those two imposters just the same…’.

If you turn back the clock, Imran Khan was another truly charismatic leader. His greatest claim to fame was obviously leading Pakistan to the World Cup win Down Under against all odds. From being all out for 70 odd vs England (the game was luckily abandoned due to rain) to winning it all in Melbourne- it was the stuff of dreams. Imran had the amazing knack to back youngsters and give them confidence- from Qadir to Akram to Inzy- the young blood prospered under him. His magnetic charm and good looks as also the noble cause he espoused for (making a cancer hospital in memory of his late mother) made him appeal to the masses.

There have been a few leaders who have led great teams. Think of the Windies in the late 70’s and Clive Lloyd’s name flashes up. The Aussie ‘Invincibles’ in the early 2000’s and there’s the dour ‘no nonsense’ Steve Waugh. Or the Indian team in the 80’s and that unforgettable picture of Kapil lifting the Prudential Cup in Lords in 1983- these were good leaders who created great milestones. Then there were a few ‘New Age’ leaders who changed the way their team played the game – Martin Crowe in the 1992 World Cup and Arjuna Ranatunga in the 1996 World Cup are the names that pop up. With the novelty of pinch hitting, we got a flavor of T20 cricket well ahead of it’s time.

We have a few young Turks who took over the reign early in their careers and led their country with great success over a long period of time- Stephen Fleming and Graeme Smith are two great examples. There was also the case of average players who were great leaders- Mike Brearley probably justified his position in the team more as a captain than as a batsman. He was known to be among the most astute leaders.

A few possible great captains missed the cut and never got the chance to lead their countries. Shane Warne ‘The Maverick’ shone so brightly as captain for Rajasthan Royals in IPL1- winning it all with a group of youngsters. Specifying a role for every player and maximizing their potential. Yusuf Pathan, Shane Watson and Sohail Tanvir prospered under him. Gautam Gambhir (GG) and his aggression won two IPL’s for KKR. GG unfortunately played for India when the MSD wave was on in full swing. The super attacking fields that GG set won many a game for KKR in IPL- India’s loss was possibly KKR’s gain. There was also ‘Mr.Tracer Bullet’ Ravi Shastri- currently coach of the Indian team. A habitual straight talker, ‘Shaz’ is known to be shrewd strategist with a mind that would have made a good captain.

The one leader who has truly impressed me of late is Mithali Raj. She has a 50+ average for India and has been a successful Indian player in a sport dominated by the Aussies and the English. But she has stood apart for her cool and calm demeanour and she has truly led from the front. Batting for ‘more women power’ in a sports dominated by the men, she has vouched for more live women’s matches on TV and hopefully she will be a reason why we will have a Women’s IPL someday. Amidst many leaders, she stands out- as a true ambassador.

So you have the super aggressive Kohli, to the cool MSD; charismatic Imran to the ‘no nonsense’ Steveda; ‘Mr. Milestone’ Lloyd to the ‘Prudential’ Kapil; the maverick Warne to the ‘ambassador’ Mithali. Who do you think is the greatest captain? No points for guessing, my vote goes to the one and only Royal Bengal Tiger- to Sourav ‘Dada’ Ganguly- because there can be many contenders, but you know there can only be one ‘Maharaja’.

IMG_4638
The Lord’s Balcony- venue of Ganguly’s (in)famous shirt waving celebrations.

Author: arpansur

A Sport-aholic. Wanted to be a sports journalist as a kid and travel the world. Ended up being a full time marketeer instead. Love the Samba and the Gunners. Worship Dada and still get flashbacks of the Becker dive. Sing the ‘Korbo Lorbo’ song during the IPL. Addicted to Sports fantasy games. Still do the old school sports scrap book. A weekend corporate cricketer, a sports maniac at heart. Incidentally I also sell chocolates for a living.

5 thoughts on “The Art of Leading”

  1. Dada is the final word…and for all the reasons that you have mentioned!! Dhoni…probably a very close ‘photo-finish’ second. Cannot take away the numbers from him, but you have to aclnowledge the team he had when he was at the helm!!! Yuvi, Zak, Bhajji, Viru…even Nehra, all Dada’s crops!!!

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  2. Very well drafted Arpan ( cool description abt the author ….worth mention)…vivid couldnt hv been more picturesque…and many of us who follow cricket closely….have fond memories of some of these special instances…where these cricketing legends engineered their team wins …cricket is a team game and they just helmed and guided their team members to work on strengths….
    To me what differentiates them… is any gamble that the captain takes on the field that wrks in his favour….winning is such a craze isnt it…especially we Indians do hero worship of the action star who beats up 50 men alone…!!! (Still remember that famous dialogue of Aamir Khan starer bicycle championship movie…where his dad says “Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar”….
    During the rest of his 10 years as captain, Dhoni led India to victory in the 2011 World Cup and the 2013 Champions Trophy. There were many more remarkable decisions along the way. Dhoni is the man who brought himself on to bowl for four overs in the Champions Trophy semi‑final against Sri Lanka, the man who took off his gloves so that he could better engineer a run-out off the last ball to beat Bangladesh in the World T20 last year, the man who, of course, promoted himself up to No5 in the order during the World Cup final in Mumbai, though he had barely made a run all tournament long. Never mind man-of-the-match awards, Dhoni is the only cricketer who has been picked as one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people on the planet….and after doing all this he takes a bk seat passing on the credit to someone else….
    I am not taking away anything from Dada’s glory and he is bengal’s pride not only by his passion ….he is a performer and shows strength of character…by not giving up despite adversities….truly rockstar….but in the battle of the captains….my vote goes to MSD…may be a thin line….but results does matter…he has brought smiles and lit up a million Indian hearts after 28 long years….larger than life….long live msd…:-))

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    1. Thanks dude 🙂 Am a big big fan of MSD too… and he was a close no 2 for me… His inability to get overseas test wins hurt him… Though I consider Dhoni to be the best ever captain in limited overs matches….But with tests included, it is Dada for me

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