MS Dhoni and Sourav Ganguly batting together against Australia in 2008    Getty Images
MS Dhoni and Sourav Ganguly batting together against Australia in 2008 Getty Images

India is a nation that worships batsmen more than any other role pertaining to the game of cricket. A ball races to the boundary line and the crowd gets on its feet, chanting the batsman’s name in euphoria. Then we had bowlers who entertained us by making the opposition batsmen dance to their tune. However, captains were never considered people’s champions. After an underrated India came up victorious in ICC Cricket World Cup 1983, Indians hailed Kapil Dev for his supreme leadership. Many leaders emerged after him but could never give the joy that Kapil did. Enter Sourav Ganguly and then MS Dhoni. Read – MS Dhoni: Darling of Indian media

If Kapil changed the face of Indian cricket, Ganguly and Dhoni changed its reputation. Gradually, names of Indian captains started sporting in the lists of captaincy records. Eventually, they broke few. Now, they are renowned for producing staggering leaders.

Both, Ganguly and Dhoni, are born in the same month, which gives us a reason to celebrate their leadership.

There have been many debates over the years as to who is the better among these two iconic figures. If truth be told, opinions are divided. While Sourav Ganguly Fan Club is aggressive, Dhoni s followers are laid back and might even entertain a second thought. However, in reality, numbers and the trophy cabinet puts Dhoni ahead in the race.

Let us do some number crunching now.

Overall (In Tests)
Played Won Lost Drawn
Sourav Ganguly 49 21 13 15
MS Dhoni 60 27 18 15

The overall figures state the obvious: Dhoni is the most successful Indian captain in the longest format.

Overseas (In Tests)
Played Won Lost Drawn
Sourav Ganguly 28 11 10 7
MS Dhoni 30 6 15 9

However, in the cricketing fraternity, victories on foreign soil hold more value; in which case, Ganguly betters Dhoni. (There are a lot of buts, howevers and whiles to follow.)

There are a number of things that need to be highlighted as well. Ganguly led India in seven matches in Asia (barring India) and four in Zimbabwe, experiencing triumph in eight of these matches. Read: Sourav Ganguly’s aggression still flows through Team India

Dhoni, on the other hand, has led India once against Bangladesh and thrice against Sri Lanka, winning half the matches.

While Ganguly has captained India only once in England, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand, Dhoni has led twice. While Ganguly never won a series in these nations, Dhoni had the fortune to win one in New Zealand. However, Ganguly levelled series in England and Australia.

Nonetheless, India had won only 13 overseas matches when Ganguly took charge. Thus, India were not expected to win, especially the Test against England in 2002 at Leeds. He played a major role, as a matter of fact.

Despite the conditions being outrageously overcast and England leading the series 1-0, Ganguly against all the odds chose to bat first. Indian batsmen displayed audacious show of character. Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid scored a century each at snail’s pace (something that was vital on a track that produced ferocious swing). India were in a commanding position until then, but they needed someone to score runs at a brisk rate, take the score past 600 and declare as soon as possible to bundle out England. In a rare situation, batsmen were offered light but Ganguly refused it and in bid to score quick, he smashed a swashbuckling 128, inclusive of three massive sixes. At the end of Day 2, the scorecard read 628 for 8 declared.

India won the match by an innings and 46 runs, and levelled the series 1-1.

Speaking of Dhoni, his stunning 224-run knock against Australia at MA Chidambaram Stadium is considered one of the best in the history of Indian cricket. Before this series, India had lost series in Australia and England. In addition, a 1-2 defeat at home against England raised questions over his captaincy. It was a rough patch for him, which he coolly walked past by handing India their first ever whitewash against Australia. Read – MS Dhoni’s 224 vs Australia: The day Australia were smashed to pulp

Ganguly was dropped as his batting faded away. Dhoni, like Ganguly after a certain point of time failed to provide impetus. However, India desperately needed a wicketkeeper-batsman in him, therefore, getting to lead India in more matches than Ganguly did same phase but a different need for the team.

When Ganguly took over the reins, Indian cricket was encountering tough times. They lost matches after matches overseas, and the match-fixing scandal of 2000 was probably the game’s darkest phase and even the most ardent supporters had turned away.

None of the previous captains could actually dominate the oppositions in their own habitat, barring Ajit Wadekar who won a Test series in West Indies and England in 1971-72.

They needed someone to display an audacious show of character; someone who could take the bull by its horn; someone who has the hunger to bog down the opposition. Ganguly had these attributes, inborn. He knew how to spot the right talent and make full use of it; for example, Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh, to name a few.

He never shied away from expressing himself. He backed his players. He even debated with the selectors to get the right team composition. Such was the Dadagiri that the entire world was his oyster when was at the throne!

Dhoni, on the other hand, led the No. 1 ranked India for 18 months. Unlike Ganguly, he had established players at his disposals. Nevertheless, Dhoni went through same the phase that Ganguly did. The only difference is he experienced it towards the fag end of his Test career. After Tendulkar, Dravid and VVS Laxman called it day from international cricket, he had to lead an inexperienced team. Players such as Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Ravichandran Ashwin were yet to taste the pressure experienced in Test cricket. He lost series after series, but he knew how the future would unfold. He was, unknowingly for us, building a team.

When he realised it, he knew the time had come to hand over the leadership to Kohli. He knew his team was ready to take on any opposition, in any given conditions. And, look at the result. India won a Test series in Sri Lanka after 22 years under Kohli. Read: Virat Kohli may be ready but there is still time for him to replace MS Dhoni

Hence, the question beckons: who indeed was a better captain in Tests? To simply put, figures will not decipher this perennially unsolved code. Facts suggest something more practical.

Both Ganguly and Dhoni had their share of good and bad times.

Nonetheless, what matters is their significant contribution to Indian cricket. Both, Dada and Captain Cool, served their nation with utmost dedication and undying spirit. Moreover, the entire cricketing fraternity was privileged to witness their prodigious hunger to win matches.

(Kaustubh S. Mayekar, a reporter at CricketCountry, played cricket at U-16 level. Like his idol Rahul Dravid, he often shadow-practises cricket shots. His Twitter handle is @kaumedy_)