CRICKET / The captain is calm and calculated in the cauldron
Leading the Indian cricket team is among the most stressful jobs in sports. The expectations can weigh heavily on the incumbent.
Apart from a keen tactical sense and the ability to strategise, temperament is an essential attribute for a captain. While victories are celebrated with noise, colour and passion in India, the reaction to defeats can be demoralising.
This is precisely why Mahendra Singh Dhoni needs to be congratulated for becoming the most successful captain for India in Tests. His 22nd victory as skipper, achieved here on Tuesday, takes him past Sourav Ganguly’s mark of 21.
Dhoni and Ganguly are different captains. Even as his mind ticks, Dhoni is calm and calculated in the cauldron. Ganguly wore his emotions on his sleeves, was more vocal and buzzed around in the arena.
But then, one also needs to factor in the sheer load Dhoni takes on as the wicket-keeper batsman. Behind the stumps, he has to concentrate on every ball, dash to the wicket to collect throws, and fling himself around.
The sheer effort, both physically and mentally, put in by a wicket-keeper batsman is enormous. Diving to pouch the snicks off pacemen and standing up and effecting stumpings off spinners on a hot, unrelenting day can make huge demands. And God forbid if the captain grasses an offering.
Dhoni, then, walks in as a specialist batsman — he has 4151 runs at 39.91 in 75 Tests — and invariably carries plenty of Indian hopes with him. Once again, he is under stress to deliver.
Add to all this, the responsibilities of leading the team — he has to plan, execute his ideas and carry the side with him — in the longest format and you get the complete picture. A lesser man would have broken down.
Proving doubters wrong
They said wicket-keeper batsmen do not make good captains but the 31-year-old Dhoni has proved the doubters wrong. It is here that he scores over many.
The period after the 2011 tour of the West Indies — that followed a triumphant campaign in the ICC World Cup — has been a demanding one for him.
The Indian team in transition with several greats fading away, the poundings in the away series in England and Australia put him under the scanner. Then came the 2-1 reverse against England at home.
Pushed to the wall, Dhoni responded with a breathtaking 224 against Australia at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium. That ability to fight back has been his greatest strength.
Despite the reverses, Dhoni’s win-loss ratio of 1.83 and win percentage of 48.88 are still the best among captains who have led India in more than 10 Tests.
There have been some path-breaking captains for India in the past and none more attack-minded than Tiger Pataudi who led the side to its first overseas Test series victory, in New Zealand in 1968.
Ajit Wadekar, someone with wonderful man-management skills, captained India during its history-making Test series triumphs in West Indies and England in 1971. And Ganguly’s captaincy was inspirational in the 2003-04 tour of Australia.
It would be wrong to compare different eras and different sides. As Dhoni rightly said, it was the team that made a good captain.
But then, one must acknowledge the sheer effort Dhoni puts in as a wicket-keeper batsman captain. He is the iron man of Indian cricket.