By Nishad Pai Vaidya
The nightmares of England and Australia have dented Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s otherwise fantastic captaincy. The trophy cabinet that boasts of the ICC World T20 2007, ICC World Cup 2011, Commonwealth Bank series 2008 to name a few, also houses the ignominy of those two horrendous sojourns. The talismanic leader has found himself under the pump, with people questioning his leadership and some even demanding a change. Gautam Gambhir’s triumphant campaign in the Indian Premier League (IPL) and his subsequent comments have only reignited the whole captaincy debate. However, India can take a cue from some teams and consider a multiple captain system i.e. different captains for the different formats.
The litany of India’s woes in Australia prompted Sourav Ganguly to propose different captains for different formats. Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s indifferent record with the bat in Tests overseas and his possible retirement plans scheduled for 2013 are some of the issues that may propel the Indian think tank towards the policy of having different men at the helm for the three formats. The burning question is, would this work in the Indian context?
Firstly, we must have a look at the teams that have such a system in place. The retirement of Andrew Strauss from One-Day Internationals (ODIs) after the World Cup last year put Alastair Cook in charge, with the former continuing in Test cricket. Since Cook wasn’t really considered a T20 player, Stuart Broad took over the reins for the shortest format. So far it has worked well for them as Strauss led them to the number one spot in Test cricket and Cook has done brilliantly well in ODIs, save for the whitewash in India. Broad has had just three games in charge with one win to show, which isn’t enough to judge his leadership potential.
Australia and South Africa have similar systems in place with one man in charge for both Tests and ODIs and the other leading the way in T20s. George Bailey’s appointment bears testament to the Australian think tank’s specific plans for each format. South Africa’s phased into the new leadership model allowing a smooth transition. Graeme Smith gave up T20 captaincy in mid-2010 and announced that he would leave the role in ODIs at the end of the World Cup 2011. AB de Villiers has taken charge for the shorter formats with Smith continuing in Tests.
Keeping these models in perspective, India may consider taking a similar cue. With the amount of cricket being played by India, this would allow the said captains to concentrate on their respective formats and deliver the best possible results. It may also provide such players a much needed break from the game when they aren’t involved in a particular format. With separate machineries in place, it may add on to the pressure to perform as a good performance in one format may not automatically guarantee a spot in the other for players who are trying to work their way into international cricket.
However, if India are to employ such a method, they needn’t take a radical move like the English and name three captains. A safer approach would be the one taken by Australia and South Africa. Having one man in charge of two formats and the other handling one would not only blend in flexibility but would also add stability to the overall setup.
The Australian or the South African approach makes sense when one considers Dhoni’s supposed retirement plans. He has stated that he would quit one format in 2013 keeping the 2015 World Cup in mind. Although he hasn’t explicitly mentioned Tests as his retirement priority, one can take the hint as he excels in the shorter formats. If he quits Test cricket, India would have to name a new skipper for that format. Meanwhile, Dhoni can be persisted with in ODIs and T20s.
However, India must resort to this option only when Dhoni decides to give up one format. The two torrid overseas tours may have spoilt his Test record, but he remains the best man for the job. His cool demeanour and responsible body language will hold him in good stead and these two experiences would just toughen him further. Virender Sehwag and Virat Kohli have been suggested as possible replacements, but they are not convincing prospects.
Kohli has just entered the Test arena and is starting to cement his place in that line-up. While there are no doubts on his cricketing abilities, there are still concerns over his temperament. Over the years, Kohli has mellowed down and matured a lot, but he has to go the extra distance to have complete control over his emotions. The day he attains that level of maturity, he would be a finished article for captaincy.
On the other hand, Wasim Akram’s comments on Sehwag’s captaincy prospects do highlight interesting points. The quote, “I sometimes see streaks of Shahid Afridi in Sehwag. That dreadful propensity to self-destruct” delivers the message clearly as we have seen such tendencies in Sehwag. Making him captain may not be the best idea.
Gambhir’s name has only cropped up after his IPL exploits. The Kolkata Knight Riders skipper has led India in ODIs and has shown good application as a leader. He would certainly be an option if and when Dhoni takes the crucial decision. However, it would be a mistake to judge him on the IPL performances alone and more factors would have to be considered.
In the Indian context, implementing such a system may be a very tricky proposition. Serving different captains may be awkward for the some of the players as the sub-continental mindset is very different from that of an Australia, an England or a South Africa. Considering, the rumours of a possible rift within the Indian team touring Australia with a section apparently supporting Virender Sehwag in the belief that he could be the next captain reflects the difficulty in putting different leaders in place.
If true, these murmurs just complicate India’s endeavours of having separate captain. It may lead to further groupism as a set of players may be behind one man and the others may back his rival who may be the incumbent for another format!
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a club-level cricketer with an analytic mind and a sharp eye. It was this sharpness which spotted a wrong replay in IPL4 resulting in Sachin Tendulkar’s dismissal. Some of his analytical pieces have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. Nishad can also be followed on Twitter)