DHONI & VIRAT – GENIUS, BUT SOURAV – GAME CHANGER

Virat Kohli, MS Dhoni, Sorav Ganguly, captain, Indian cricket, New Zealand
Virat Kohli, MS Dhoni, Sorav Ganguly, captain, Indian cricket, New Zealand

India made a clean sweep in the Test series against New Zealand with immaculate ease. With this, Virat Kohli registered 10th Test victory as captain. Make no mistake, it is no small feat. He is only the fourth Indian captain to have ten or more Test victories in his kitty in 84 years of India’s Test Cricket history.

Now please read this achievement in conjunction with the fact that he is yet to complete two years at helm. He is yet to turn 28 and easily has ten years of Cricket left in him.

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With victory at Indore, Virat has already surpassed great Sunny Gavaskar and Tiger Pataudi. Next is Azharuddin with 14 victories under the belt. As India is slated to play six Test matches at home in next four months and the way India is playing at home, Virat may surpass Azhar by February 2017 and take number three position, only behind Sourav Ganguly (21 Test wins) and Dhoni (27 Test wins).

Statistics tells that Dhoni is all time greatest Indian captain. Dhoni won record 27 Test matches with a staggering winning rate of 45% (27 victories in 60 Test matches). Statistics is not entirely wrong as Dhoni had a fairy tale stint as a captain with hardly anything was left to achieve for him. India became number one

Test team under his sway. Dhoni won it all – T-20 World, World Cup and Champions Trophy. He set new benchmark with his cool on-field presence, out-of-box thinking and taking surprizing decisions on his instincts. But statistics may not always give the correct picture. Take the case of Azharuddin. With 14 Test victories, Azhar is one of the most successful Test captains of India but there is nothing about his stint, which can be cherished today.

Azhar replaced Srikkanth as captain after India tour to Pakistan in 1989 (debut series of Sachin Tendulkar). Srikkanth, who was outstanding as captain in his maiden series as captain, was drooped due to poor batting form. Azhar was Indian captain through the decade of ninety, barring two small stints of Sachin. Azhar was winning Test matches at home only. It was primarily Kumble and Raju, who were winning matches for him at Indian turning tracks. Azhar as captain was a complete disaster outside India. His only overseas victory was in Sri Lanka and India even lost a Test in Zimbabwe under his helm. Blame this on his abysmal judgement or bad luck, his decision on field often went haywire. In 1990 at Lords, Azhar won the toss and put England in. Graham Gooch smashed a triple ton and England amassed heap of runs. In 1996 World Cup semi-final, he won the toss and put Sri Lanka in on a deteriorating track. Indian capitulated, while playing second on a hyper turning track under lights. Kolkata crowd and Indian Cricket fan had a serious heart break.

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By and large his captaincy remained lacklustre throughout the whole tenure. If we further dig in to past, India had produced great skippers. MAK Pataudi became Test Indian Test captain at the age of 21 and had a fairy long stint at top.

He was reasonably successful and could have had better statistics, had he been little less laid back. It was under his leadership, India won Test series in New Zealand in 1967-68. But it was Ajit Wadekar, who became first captain to achieve cult status when he created history by winning Test series in West Indies in 1971.

Gavaskar led side for a reasonably long time. After drubbing in Pakistan in 1982, Kapil was appointed captain of side at the age of 24. Gavaskar replaced Kapil in 1984 but after winning World Championship in Australia during March 1985, Gavaskar stepped down on his own.

Great Kapil led side in 1983 World Cup and won Test series in England in 1986. However he was sacked after India’s heart-breaking loss in the semi-final of 1987 World Cup and could never win back selector’s favour.

Now lets come the protagonist of this story – SOURAV GANGULY. With serious bashing down under in 1999-2000, Tendulkar realised that captaincy is not his cup of tea; he gave up. Selectors were in dilemma on successor and baton was handed over to Sourav Ganguly. Dravid was another contender but probably little tentativeness prevailing at that time about Dravid’s place in ODI team went against him.

It was a low and depressing phase of Indian cricket. Moral was team was low and Indian Cricket was riddled with match fixing controversies.

So with new millennium, Ganguly era started in 2000. At the risk of getting this tipped as a hyperbole, I would say that Indian Cricket can be divided in two time zones, pre-Ganguly and post–Ganguly.

Sourav Ganguly lifted the side to a whole new level all together. Ganguly infused the much needed self-belief in the team, appetite for victory. He was articulate, assertive, aggressive and fairly good thinker of the game.

First big moment came in March 2001 with historical Test victory in Kolkata, where India made a comeback after follow-on was enforced by Steve Waugh. In summer of 2002, India won a Test in West Indies. It was a historical moment as it was after a gap of 16 years; India won a Test outside Sub-continent.

Ganguly led side to the final of 2003 World Cup, which India lost to a very aggressive & ferocious Australia. India’s toured Australia for a Four Test series in 2003-04, which I rate as one of greatest ever Test series of India overseas. In previous two tours to Australia, India was decimated by a margin of 3-0 in 1999-00 and 4-0 in 1991-92.

At first Test at Gabba Brisbane, Ganguly set the tone for the series for his side with an aggressive and fluent century. It followed by Adelaide Test, which arguably be the greatest ever Test victory for India. India won Test in Australia after more than two decades. The series ended in 1-1 draw, which India should have won had they not imploded in Melbourne.

Team was on winning spree. In 2003-04, India under Ganguly achieved a feet which could not be achieved till then, and that was winning a Test series in Pakistan. His critics loathe him for his high-handedness, his spat with Greg Chappell for waving shirt from the balcony of Lords. But this is how he was and that very character of him made him that potent package overall, which carried Indian side up by notches. This is notwithstanding the fact that there were spirited performances by pros like Laxman, Dravid, Tendulkar & Kumble under his captaincy but Ganguly’s leadership played a major role overall. Sourav nurtured youngster like Sehwag, Harbhajan, Yuvraj & Zaheer very well.

He acted with conviction and took bold decision. He had the boldness to tell senior team member like Kumble at some point in time that he was finding it difficult to accommodate him in playing eleven.

After Ganguly’s reign, momentum continues. Dravid led side to a historical Test win at Johannesburg in 2006. India defeated Australia at Perth in 2007-08 under Kumble. Ultimately Dhoni took over the reign in 2007-08 and created all those milestones as discussed above.

If Dhoni and Kohli could build an edifice of successes later, then it was Ganguly who laid the solid foundation of same. He was the one, who paved the path and developed a winning culture in the team.

Now coming back to Virat. Virat is a complete package both as player and captain, an optimized combination. With time at this side, he can easily led side for another 60 Test Matches at least. As on now, I have no doubt that Virat will surpass first Sourav and then Dhoni in numbers (Test match wins) but numbers alone will not be gratifying enough. What we look forward to that how many Adelaide 2003, Perth 2008 and Johannesburg 2006, can Virat produce for the country in days tocome? And my answer would be – many.

Ganguly took team to a new level, Dhoni nurtured it further and Kohli is the bloke who actually can shift the level further up. No doubt that Dhoni is genius and Virat is aggressive and future, but it was Sourav Ganguly who was the game changer for Indian Cricket.

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