Sunday, September 23, 2012

Dhoni or Ganguly: The better captain?

A cricketing debate these days is incomplete without the inevitable comparison: Dhoni or Sourav Ganguly? Who is the better captain? Who is the better leader?
Undoubtedly, Dhoni and Ganguly were world class leaders in their own right. Dhoni and Ganguly were both top-class individual players who added their bit to the team, as players as well. But like any other pair, they had their positives and negatives, similarities and differences. Here’s an attempt to analyse their pros and cons! And no, this is not a statistical piece that compares win percentages in India and abroad or batting averages when they were captains!

Where they differed
It was in the ability to communicate with teammates in a game like cricket – where team chemistry is of paramount importance. You cannot afford to have two players, especially the captain and a player, at odds with each other as it will affect the fabric of the team at large. The major downside for Dhoni, which has been pointed out by experts time and again, is his inability to communicate properly to a few of his teammates which has led to a feeling of isolation for some. A key example could be the recent incident with Laxman where Laxman confessed that it had been impossible at times to reach out to Dhoni regarding certain issues. This led to a major confusion even during Laxman’s retirement as he was picked for the team despite his plans to retire before the series. On the other hand, Ganguly has always been a sound communicator, a fact that is reiterated by his post-cricketing career choice of being an expert commentator on TV. Ganguly always ensured that he took his team mates into confidence before making any major decision- something that wouldn’t have been possible without his exceptional interpersonal skills.

 A captain is to lead his team mates from the front and his demeanour on and off the field has a major impact on the team. It affects the psyche of the team to a great extent as could be seen with the earlier Indian team who were tigers at home but pussies abroad – an attitude that could be extended to some of the ineffective captains of those days like Sachin Tendulkar, Mohammed Azharuddin etc. There is only a thin line to be crossed between being expressive and being arrogant, and a similar thin line between being cool and composed vs. disinterested. Both Dhoni and Ganguly have tread this thin line of difference and at times have been accused of having crossed over to the other side as well. While Ganguly has always been an expressive leader, who stands up for his team mates on and off the field, Dhoni is the ice-man – the calm and composed leader who never loses his cool under any circumstances. Ganguly has been accused of taking his expressiveness a little too far on the field by expressing displeasure at players on the field. But the same has been used as an effective motivation tool by him to great effect. When you talk of Ganguly and expressiveness, nothing can top the image of Ganguly twirling his shirt on the balcony of Lords which became the image of Indian Cricket till Dhoni rewrote it with his T20 World Cup triumph and later the World Cup 2011 victory. Dhoni, on the other hand, has been at times accused of being too calm that he looks lost and disinterested. It becomes tough for a player to stay motivated and inspired in a situation when defeat is staring at him in the face when his captain looks calm/disinterested. On the other hand, a player also knows that his captain will not admonish him for any mistake that he does, which in a way motivates him to do better in order to pay back the leader’s trust in him.
Though it would reek of bias to accuse Ganguly of not being a mature leader, it would take a blind person to ignore the rebellious streak either. Ganguly has been a controversy magnet even after retirement! The only positive is that the rest of the team is way from the spotlight as the main attention of the press is focused on him. Dhoni, on the other hand, has slowly culled his rebellious streak that saw him burst on the cricketing arena with coloured long hair and a technique that was the anti-thesis of a purist cricketer then! With passing time, Dhoni did mature. Since then, the way he has handled sticky situations with the press and the board show his growing maturity as a person and a leader. “With great power, comes great responsibility” and in Dhoni’s case, with responsibility, came maturity and a sense of discipline – a marked shift from the rebel with long hair who loved his fast bikes to the married, composed man who handles the music from the demanding press.

The quintessential characteristic of any leader is the fact that he always rises to the occasion, when his team needs him the most. It is this inherent ability to contribute when all chips are down that acts as the biggest motivating factor to his team – the fact that they know that their leader will rise to the occasion and contribute. A weak leader, who chickens out on the big occasion, will not inspire confidence due to the sheer fact that the team know they cannot bank on him to perform when they need him the most. Dhoni has always risen to the biggest occasions. The innings in the World Cup Final was a shining example of the same or the plenty of knocks under pressure while chasing big totals in important matches. On the other hand, Ganguly presents a sad picture on this front with a tendency to slip away when the pressure is highest. An example would be the sudden injurybefore a crucial test match against Australia at Nagpur. In terms of contributions, one can highlight his dismal show in the final of the 2003 World Cup when the team needed contributions from all players in order to achieve the tall order of winning the trophy. Even if we do not talk of major occasions, Ganguly has failed to contribute much to the team during his tenure as captain, other than with his exceptional leadership and team building skills. Dhoni, on the other hand, has been a strong contributor during his tenure as leader of the team which can be seen from his contribution both as batsman and wicketkeeper during his tenure as captain – a feat that has been matched by few in the world and a feat matched by no one for this long a duration!

In terms of nurturing talent, which is a major quality for any leader, Ganguly scores a major plus with the quantum of talent that he nurtured in the team like Yuvraj, Kaif, Harbhajan (in his heydays), Zaheer etc. While it could be a little too early to write off Dhoni as he has had his picks in the form of Ashwin, Ojha etc., it can comfortably be said he isn’t a Ganguly when it comes to this either!

The ability to call a spade a spade is something that many a sportsperson lacks, including the ones who play a role as a leader too. They tend to resort to populism at the cost of reality and end up fooling both themselves and the people who look up to them. While this helps in maintaining the fabric of the team to a great extent, identifying your weakness as a team in public is something that is appreciated by the other stakeholders in the system like fans.

Where they were similar

When it comes to personal issues in a team, though, being outspoken is something that is avoidable – which both Dhoni and Ganguly failed at – by bringing forth issues between players in public. Washing dirty linen in public, in such cases, ends up being highly detrimental. The ability to inspire and motivate people to perform better than their best is a special quality that only natural leaders possess. Both Dhoni and Ganguly have been great motivators who have been able to extract game-changing performances from ordinary cricketers. An example of this would be the performance of Joginder Sharma in the all-important last over against Pakistan in the T20 World Cup final or the performances of Rahul Dravid as wicket keeper – a role that he was not a natural talent at. Dhoni was able to inspire the team to punch above their weight during both the T20 World Cup and the 2011 World Cup, leading it to victory. On the other hand, Ganguly was the major reason that India was able to push itself up in the rankings. He was the inspiration behind removing the Indian Team’s reputation as “Tigers at home but Pussies abroad.”

While a leader is expected to be unbiased an objective, both Dhoni and Ganguly had their own personal favourites and trusted lieutenants during the course of the time they lead the team. While for Ganguly, it was Harbhajan Singh, Mohammed Kaif etc, at the cost of others; Dhoni has been accused of being biased towards Ravindra Jadeja, Joginder Sharma etc.

The Context
All said and done, context plays a major role when it comes to making a leader – at times, playing a role more than even the person’s inherent qualities. The years prior to Ganguly’s leadership period were marked by the match-fixing scandal that rocked the entire cricketing world with the mainstays of the previous team – Azharuddin and Jadeja at the centre of the scandal. Life bans for them and a few others led to Ganguly leading the team into a stage of forced transition with a few new players being a part of the team all of a sudden. At the same time, the team was not performing too well either and had suffered humiliating losses at the hands of Australia in 1999. Ganguly lifted the team from this rut with the attitude of a fighter and took it to the cusp of glory in 2003 with the World Cup final appearance. This can be attributed to the determination and the leadership qualities of one man who was able to motivate his players to perform at their best every single time. Dhoni, on the other hand, was bequeathed a talented team in better circumstances. But he brought in the winning mentality that led to a team that choked in the finals of the tournaments triumphing in two of the biggest cricketing tournaments under him and creating history by winning test series’ abroad.

Both Dhoni and Ganguly were leaders of a kind – having their own merits and demerits. Indian Cricket has been lucky to have them and both played a very significant role in bringing Indian Cricket, where it is today.


roses said...

This is really interesting…

Sri Bhavani Sankar Marella said...

Interesting but differ on your point both are similar. MSD always justifies his decision thats defensive and insecure way of handling situation and not leadership. other wise your article is good. Dada dada dada dada dada forever Dada dada dada dada dada

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