Often when we talk of great Indian captains, we talk of players like Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi, Saurav Ganguly and Mahendra Singh Dhoni. While there is no doubting the place of MAK Pataudi as the greatest Indian captain ever as well as Saurav Ganguly as one of the finest nurturers of talent and strategists of the game, some questions can be raised about Dhoni’s place in this triumvirate.
However, Dhoni has statistically been the most successful captain of India, having won almost everything that is there to win. Some can also say that Ajit Wadekar should be up on the list given the success the team achieved under him in the twin tours to West Indies and England in ’71. However, I often wonder why two of India’s arguably best batsmen, Sunil Gavaskar and Rahul Dravid are never ever even mentioned in these discussions!
Gavaskar’s cricketing acumen as a skipper has been noted by a cricketing brain of the caliber of a certain Imran Khan Niazi. He has stated, presumably in his autobiography, that Gavaskar could have been a good captain if only India had a penetrative pace bowling unit during his reign as captain. In limited overs matches though, Gavaskar was always a fairly successful skipper. This is evident from the fact that India won the 1985 World Championship of Cricket trophy in Australia under him – it needs to be remembered that tournament featured all the test teams that were playing at that time.
Dravid, also, has never really received his due in spite of being one of the main reasons why India got up to the number one spot in test cricket a few years ago. He does not feature on many cricket lovers’ list of favorite batters. So, it is hardly surprising that his achievements as a captain are so easily forgotten. He is the person to have helped India win a series in West Indies and England after a gap of 20 odd years. This was something that even the celebrated Saurav Ganguly could not achieve. It was during his time that India achieved a fantastic run in one-dayers while batting second, which has traditionally been the team’s Achilles’ heel. It was under him that India won the first test in Multan in 2004 and gained the momentum to nail the series in the 3rd match of the series at Rawalpindi. There too he laid the foundation of the victory with a mammoth double century. It was Dravid who led India to its first test win in South Africa by securing the Durban test in 2006-07.
I also noticed that he was an aggressive captain compared to the outwardly aggressive Saurav Ganguly who preferred to take the safe route of playing as many batters as possible and pined for favorable conditions at home. Dravid wanted to win and this can be judged from the number of matches, both test and one-day, where he promoted himself up the order to play an extra bowler on a flat wicket. Gavaskar also thought on similar lines employing a phalanx of seam bowling all-rounders like Kapil Dev, Madan Lal and Roger Binny to win the ’85 Benson and Hedges trophy in Australia.
It seems strange to me that instead of giving them their due we deride these greats as defensive no-gooders. These two skippers tried to change the defeatist mentality of Indian teams to stack the team with batsmen and spinners who are always regarded as the best in the world but have not delivered anything in terms of results. Perhaps these legends are the best or the worst, depends on the way you look at it, embodiment of the fickle nature of the cricket-loving public of India.
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