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A case for two captains
September 17, 2007
Rahul Dravid's decision to step down as captain has put Indian cricket at interesting crossroads. Thanks to a combination of factors, there is no one that leaps to mind as a natural and obvious successor for both the one-day and Test team captaincy.
Looking over the possible candidates for captaincy, one can see that they span three distinct 'generations' of players. The first are the seniors, 'galacticos', as they are called, - Tendulkar, Ganguly, Laxman and, perhaps, Kumble. While one could argue for the Test captain to be chosen from this group, to appoint one of them as one-day captain would certainly be a retrograde step. Laxman does not even hold a one-day place, and none of the other three are likely to be around for the 2011 World Cup.
The next generation is the group of players that came into prominence under Ganguly. If one had looked at the team roster circa 2001, one would have predicted with some confidence that six years hence, the nucleus of the team would include Sehwag, Yuvraj, Harhajan, Kaif, Zaheer Khan [Images] and Irfan Pathan [Images]. It would have been natural to assume that one of them would be ready to take the step up to captaincy. Yet -- and this is where the crux of the problem lies -- this entire generation of players is lost to Indian cricket as far as captaincy goes. One could look around for reasons and explanations -- the Chappell era, lack of support, poor work ethics, sheer bad luck -- but the fact remains that at present, with the exception of Yuvraj, they are all either coming off a comeback or still in the wilderness.
Certainly, not one of them is sufficiently assured of both a Test and one-day spot to be considered for the step up in both forms of the game. Yuvraj comes closest, having been an integral part of the one-day team for seven years now, but he still does not command a Test spot.
The rest of the team is the so-called Young Turks -- Dhoni, Karthick, Raina, Uthappa and so on. The only one of these who is a serious candidate for captaincy at this point is Dhoni, and he is certainly a potential one-day captain. In Tests, though, to expect someone to carry the triple burden of wicketkeeping, batting and captaincy over five days is surely asking too much. There is a possibility of Karthick donning the gloves and Dhoni playing purely as a batsman, but he is yet to convince completely as a Test batsman on foreign shores.
Whither, then, for Indian cricket? If the seniors cannot captain the one-day team, Yuvraj is not in the Test team and Dhoni is not yet quite ready either, one is forced to the conclusion that it is time to split the captaincy. One of the seniors can step up for Test captaincy, and the one-day captaincy goes to one of the younger players.
Which of the seniors, then, for the Test captaincy? We have all seen the detrimental effect captaincy had on the batting of Sachin and Sourav. The difference was more stark in Ganguly's case -- at the end of this stint, he was certainly not holding his Test spot on his batting alone.
For Sachin, too, few will deny that his time as captain was hardly the time of his greatest successes as batsman. Also, his injury in recent years means that there may be breaks in his availability, not a desirable characteristic in a captain.
In the final analysis, both these players are too valuable to the Test team for their batting skills, for them to be thrown again into the cauldron of media hounding, inter-personal rivalries and petty politics that the captaincy of the Indian team involves.
Among the other seniors, Kumble would have been an ideal candidate a few years back, but the state of his shoulder means that his availability, too, is often in doubt.
We come then to VVS Laxman, and immediately we are on firmer ground. A bulwark in the middle order since his debut eleven years back, Laxman has been architect of some of the most memorable innings of the new millennium. His captaincy experience at the domestic level also counts in his favour. Also, the vote of confidence from the selectors that captaincy would entail might be just what he needs to take his batting to the next level.
For, Laxman is a player who has been on trial almost constantly since his debut. To his immense credit, he has emerged successful each time, and surely it is time to put an end to the constant uncertainty. As the youngest of the seniors, he is also likely to have the most time left at the top, which augurs well for a stable and established Test setup.
Moving on to the one-day team, we need a captain who will lead the team through to the 2011 World Cup, and guide it through the churn that the retirement of the seniors is likely to cause. The frontrunners here are are Yuvraj Singh [Images] and Mahendra Singh Dhoni [Images]. One might conceivably throw Zaheer Khan in the mix, but it is well to remember that it has only been a couple of months since his comeback after almost a year in the wilderness.
Between Yuvraj and Dhoni, the choice is not quite as clear-cut. Both are well-established in the one-day team and have some experience in leadership roles. Note, though, that when the selectors were faced with the same choice for Twenty20 captaincy, they plumped for Dhoni over Yuvraj. One enters more speculative territory here, but the persistent murmurs over Yuvraj's attitude come to mind. Certainly, there is reason to believe that the Dhoni would be the better at building a conducive environment for younger players. Also, all other things being equal, it can only be a good thing for the one-day captain to have a secure spot in the Test team.
Further, in the politics-ridden world of Indian cricket, having three separate captains for the Test, one-day and Twenty20 teams is surely a recipe for disaster. Dhoni has been chosen for the Twenty20 captaincy and it would be as well to hand him the one-day reins as well.
To conclude, then, Laxman as Test captain and Dhoni as the one-day captain seems to be the most logical way forward. Of course, it is now for us to see what the Colonel and his wise men have to say on the matter!
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