Mirror, mirror on the wall, who'd make the b

Published: Tuesday, February 22, 2000, 23:53 [IST]
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Indian cricket's brightest star Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar is scheduled to retire as captain after the two-test series against the Proteas.

For every Sachin fan, this comes as a rude shock. Not so long ago, they screamed from the roof-tops for him to take over the mantle of captaincy in the wake of India's disastrous showing in the World Cup. Barely had the drums fallen silent than Sachin has decided to quit as skipper.

Without spelling out the exact reasons for quitting the captaincy, Sachin said that he had showed his reluctance to accept the job after the World Cup when he was invited by the then chairman of selectors Ajit Wadekar. He went on to say that he took full responsibility for the Indian team's failure on the tour to Australia and as captain was sorry for not having lived up to the expectations of his countrymen.

The more-or-less universally accepted notion on Sachin's captaincy was that he wasn't a natural leader of men and needed time to get out of his diapers. He was thought to be a learning captain, one who would improve with time. Alas, that isn't to be so, for Sachin has effectively cut short all debate with regards to the issue of his captaincy.

Insensitive as it may sound, the game will go on, but the question one needs to ask is what will be the repercussions, if there are any, for the Indian team.

Was Sachin a good captain? Was his resignation premature keeping the larger interests of the game in mind?

It might be unfair to pass a judgement considering the fact that Sachin has had a very brief reign as captain this time around. But his last tenure and the present one as skipper may provide an insight.

Brilliant cricketers don't always make the best captains and vice versa. Historically, highly successful captains like Mike Brearly, Ajit Wadekar and recently Arjuna Ranatunga and Mark Taylor weren't exactly what you'd call brilliant cricketers, nor were they their teams' best players, but they were brilliant commanders of men. Having said that, world-class cricketers like Ian Botham, Javed Miandad and David Gower to name a few were abysmal failures as captains.

From the time Sachin Tendulkar emerged on the cricketing scene, he was touted to be India's future captain -- and why? Only because he was India's best cricketer.

The common fallacy that a good cricketer would make a good captain seemed to have afflicted not only the media but the selectors as well. It's easy to be wise at the end of the day, but Sachin's first, rather unsuccessful, tenure as captain should have made the selectors sit and think the second time around.

Yes, he is a world-class cricketer, definitely one of the best batsmen of all time, one who picked up the nuances of the game at a very early age, a storehouse of talent.

But were those qualities enough for him to be captain?

One can't call Sachin a bad captain or a bad choice the second time around, for he may well have settled into his job after the teething stage and brought glory to the country. One can only speculate as to what might have happened had he continued his reign after the present series.

It would not be right to say that India is poorer without Sachin as captain either. There are options and good ones at that. But then the decision is made and by the star batsman himself, and so this issue promises to be open to discussion for a long time to come, without any conclusive answers.

How does one get down to classify a captain as good or not so good?

Different captains marshal their resources differently, there are some like Steve Waugh of Australia who are expressionless, they give the impression that their homework's been done well and are on the field to merely execute their game plan.

Others like Wasim Akram have been more emotive, a lot of waving of the hands and gesturing. These are merely phenotypes of their personalities, qualities to which one can't attach adjectives like good or bad in terms of captaincy.

What really reveals a captain's thought process are things like setting a field, the kind of bowling changes he makes, setting targets, making declarations and to this one qualifies well with shrewdness, a good cricketing sense and a positive approach.

What tests a captain's temperament are situations. To be able to alleviate low team morale and a sense of resignation amongst his fellow cricketers, or for that matter continue a winning streak without allowing a sense of complacency to set in, are virtues that are inherent to an individual, his genotype.

What about the luck factor? The great golfer Ben Hogan once said, "Luck is the residue of hard work". The harder you work the luckier you get.

India's former captain Mohammed Azharuddin will probably always and rather unfairly be known as India's most lucky captain. If one has to discredit Azhar for his captaincy, it would be fairer to say that most of his wins came through home series and that his overseas record as captain was dismal. Again, Azhar was never very emotive on the field, he was criticised for standing at second slip for all sessions in a day and would rarely have a word with his bowlers, but one should accept the fact that that was merely the way he operated.

Of course, one would agree that with the kind of wickets we prepare for our home series, most captains would come away with wins under their belts.

The burning issue when the Test series against the South Africans concludes is going to be all about who will be the next Indian cricketer to take over the mantle of captaincy and what virtues shall qualify him for the same.

As of now, 'Bengal Tiger' Saurav Ganguly should be the favourite.

One may argue that the only series in which he captained India in Toronto against the West Indies was too brief to make a judgement on him as a suitable candidate, but it's more to do with the manner in which he led the side, rather than his success story.

Ajay Jadeja continues to battle with his one-day tag. He may well be India's captain for the one-day version. Azhar may get a look in, but then it would be a highly debatable decision to bring him back, one which, if taken, promises to stir up a major controversy.

Apart from these three, Dravid just might be considered, but in light of the present circumstances, Saurav Ganguly appears to be the premier candidate for the job, at least for Test match cricket.

Whatever happens, one hopes that 20 years down the line, we can remember the next series to follow as one where an Indian captain turned the tide and pushed India into the top echelons of world cricket.

It's time the issue of captaincy is resolved and the other ailments of Indian cricket are brought into focus and alleviated.


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