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'Dhoni has brought calm and assuredness'
Sanjay Manjrekar, Ayaz Memon and VB Chandrasekhar discuss MS Dhoni's captaincy and analyse the other Indian captains of the past (38:25)
October 9, 2010
Related Links » Players/Officials: MS Dhoni | Rahul Dravid | Sourav Ganguly | Anil Kumble | Sachin Tendulkar Matches: India v Australia at Bangalore Series/Tournaments: Australia tour of India [Sep-Oct 2010] Teams: India
Time Out with Harsha Bhogle
'Dhoni has brought calm and assuredness'October 9, 2010
Harsha Bhogle: Welcome to Time Out with Harsha, and we are recording this a day after that fantastic Test match in Mohali, so we will talk a little bit about that and go to the whole issue of leadership, and we are going to look back at all the Indian captains on this show.
I have got Sanjay Manjrekar, who has been part of the sides captained by some of the people we are going to talk about and watched cricket very closely thereafter. Ayaz Memon also joins us, who has been watching cricket ever since I can remember and beyond that. So that's our panel to talk about captaincy.
We are going to focus on MS Dhoni, who a lot of people are focusing on. We are also going to talk to VB Chandrasekhar, former India opener, but also one of the key members of the Chennai Super Kings management team where Dhoni has done such an outstanding job as a captain. In our flashback section, we are going to talk about the captaincy and leadership, and what could have been done differently when Navjot Singh Sidhu walked out on the Indian team in 1996 on England tour. Sanjay was at the centre stage there, and we are going to talk to him about that. In our numbers game with Rajesh, the question he has posed is - among those who led India in at least five Tests, only four won more matches than they lost. Dhoni, Ganguly and Gavaskar are three of them. Who is the fourth captain? It's an interesting one and Rajesh is going to talk about that. So that's what we have got today on Time Out with Harsha.
Okay, let's get going with the main segment today, and that's of course the leadership issue, but also a quick look back at the wonderful Test in Mohali. It was quite a game, it showed us that Test cricket is alive and kicking, and we will lead from there into the captaincy issue. Let's start with Sanjay, what it means is that Dhoni's Test record as captain gets better, Ponting's Test record in India even more bleak … but it's just a fascinating Test match.
Sanjay Manjrekar: Absolutely, and I realised that Test match actually gives you something that the other variants don't give, which is different layers of the game and it shows the depth of the sport. That Test match, apart from having such a great finish, also had all the other nuances of the game. You saw some good fast bowling, some hostile stuff from the fast bowlers, you saw reverse swing with the old ball, you saw traditional swing with the new ball, you saw good defence from the batsmen, attacking cricket, and finally mental strengths coming into play in the final few minutes of the game. And that is what Test cricket is all about. Twenty20 cricket and 50-overs cricket have their limitations when the cricket fan is seeking more from the sport, then it's the Test cricket that really provides you that.
HB: It tested leadership as well. I thought there were two pretty sound leaders here, Australia made 216 look like a lot more than it was?
Ayaz Memon: To give Australia credit, I think they fought back very well as it wasn't a mighty target that India were chasing. It was a last day track and India's fourth innings record is not so good, but even so, to make it very competitive Ricky Ponting did extremely well. Actually Dhoni did not play a big role in the last innings, it was the batsmen. Sanjay mentioned about the nuances, obviously high levels of skill from the bowlers and the batsmen, and of course the test of character and that's what the Test match brings out. And I think that's where, Laxman, once again, and don't forget Ishant Sharma, this was probably his last Test had he not bowled that spell and batted like this.
HB: This is essentially a debate on captaincy, and I would like to link it to the Ishant Sharma topic that you brought up. To get him back for the second spell, and to give him the kind of field he had for Ricky Ponting. For example, there was a man at short square and there was a backward square not too far behind the umpire … for Ponting, normally, you would have someone back. So you think it was a good captaincy call as well? He tends to go with, what seems like just a hunch, but surely there is a little more to it.
SM: I think that's something that you can say with MS Dhoni. I think he is a very good student of conditions prevailing at the time. I think he reads the pitch very well, he reads the situation as far as how the ball is behaving and what his bowlers are capable off. Even Ricky Ponting, you could see, he was trying to give Nathan Hauritz all the confidence that he needed. Because Hauritz was having a tough time during the Test match, Ponting brought him at times that would suit Hauritz and would give him confidence. And that is something that even Dhoni tends to do.
I think what Dhoni has brought to the Indian cricket team that we didn't quite have in the past is the calmness and the assuredness in tense situation. So often we have lost matches from this position. But under Dhoni., although he did not play a part there as a batsman in the finishing stages, that has not been the case. A team like India, especially, mirrors the qualities of the captain, because we are people who are sort of, over the years, followers. And if you have a great leader then the team becomes like him. And I think that's what Dhoni, subconsciously or automatically, brought into this Indian team and it is evident.
HB: Let's analyse Dhoni a little bit more Ayaz, do you think that record, which is looking outstanding at the moment, is looking a little better because he hasn't taken a team to South Africa, to Australia, or to England for a Test series?
AM: Clearly, those are going to be his big challenges, how well you do when the Indian team plays overseas. I think Dhoni has had his opportunities in India and he has made a capital of it, and you can't deny him credit for that.
Just to add to what Sanjay said, I think in Dhoni's context, it's very interesting for me to see sublimation of his ego. In the Indian cricket context, he is a superstar, and in the past we have seen that there has been a lot of uneasiness in the dressing room when there is a whole bevy of superstars there. This guy has got tremendous man-management skills. He has been able to kind of win everybody over on his side. He has got natural attacking instincts as we know. He can also plan and defend very well, sometimes at the cost of being called negative as it happened against Australia in Nagpur, when people question. But the point is that the eight-one field, or whatever it was, won you the Test match. You counter or you balance that with what he did in Mohali …
HB: He is not the good boy, pretty captain?
AM: He need not be.
HB: Yes, you don't have to.
AM: The kind of fields he set for Ricky Ponting, he is playing on the guy's mind, you know.
HB: One captain that Dhoni will always be compared to is Sourav Ganguly. We had Sourav with us in South Africa for a while for the Champions Trophy, and somehow this topic came up in the conversation. At the end of it all, he just said in his slightly quiet throwaway line style, "But eventually the captain is as good as his team. Some of us were regarded as good captains had good teams, Rahul played very well, Sachin was always around … we had a good team." So a captain, he thinks, is only as good as his team which is something that has been debated for a century now.
SM: I think it is the truth. You can be as good as your team. Fro example …
HB: And yet, some captains seem to make the team over perform.
SM: That is the difference that the captain brings, especially in India. I think good leader is imperative in India for good performances. You could have the best team in the world, as far as individual ability is concerned …
HB: Why India?
SM: Somehow, I think we are quite temperamental, sensitive; even Pakistan is in the same way, perhaps a little more than India. So you would have one individual performing brilliantly under another captain, and when there is somebody that he doesn't quite connect with the leader then his performances drop. Now that's something that doesn't happen in places like England and Australia, because they are more clinical in the way they go about things - a team of 11 will step on the field, will do all the right things, and that's generally the work ethic that they have in the country as well.
In India, it's all about encouraging the guy at the right time; motivate him, on the day when he is feeling low …
HB: Is it because that's how our families are?
SM: Yes, that's how our culture is. We are very temperamental and very sensitive … that is the key word. And that's where, I think, Dhoni is very good in handling the Indian players. I don't think there is one player in the team who is feeling undermined or feeling frustrated that he is not getting enough attention or encouragement from the captain, which tended to happen in the past, that was my experience, that there were some captains who couldn't quite bring out the best in all the 11 players. I don't think that it is such an issue with Dhoni, watching from the outside.
HB: It's an interesting point, Sanjay has brought out a point because cricket actually mirrors life, and Sanjay has brought out an aspect of Indian society that's a bit different and you've probably studied and seen that little more than both of us. Is it our family structure that we want our captains to be certain kind of person? Chris Cairns once said that anybody can captain Australia.
AM: I can just tell you a line from Tiger's Tale where MK Pataudi said that it is extremely difficult to captain the Indian team because in the dressing room all 11 don't even speak the same language. So in that sense, the Indian dressing room used to intrinsically divisive, so to speak, not a comment on the character of the people but that's how we were as a country. I would go beyond just the family structure and say societal structure. I think a lot of that has changed over the years. The Australian teams, for instance, would be more homogeneous or English teams. But English teams, because they were eternal debaters, would also be divisive. While the Australians would be …
HB: [laughs] Are you saying that they like to debate more than play?
AM: Yes. Australia went through similar crises when there was transition from Kim Hughes to Allan Border, when the team was extremely divided. But by and large, the culture has been different - for the approach to the sport, and to the dressing room. A collection of people, when you put 10-12 Indians together there is a certain culture that emerges from it.
HB: Sanjay, I want to pick up something that you said. You said, how when you were playing you thought some captains are not bringing out the best. We often talk about what a player expects from the players, but what does a player expect from the captain?
SM: Basically, I think that he is made feel part of the team …
HB: That he belongs.
SM: Made to feel that he is valuable to the team. He could be having a bad run, because that is something that often happens. And it's not with the effort. Effort could still be there but the results don't come. Very often I have seen with selectors, and even with captains, that they just go by results and if someone if having a bad run - I have felt this very strongly during playing days, and in fact it is almost forgotten now, these thoughts are coming back - is out of form., is the guy who needs the most attention from the coach and from the captain. Which, from my experience of being part of the Indian team, wasn't the case; I am not talking about myself but there were quite a few players who would be having a low run and were completely … they were almost like outcasts in the team.
HB: Both of you brought the social effect, to bring the corporate effect in … companies only tend to go after the executives who are doing well, whereas the guys who have family problems or not hitting the target, you need to look at a little more carefully.
|"A team like India, especially, mirrors the qualities of the captain, because we are people who are sort of, over the years, followers. And if you have a great leader then the team becomes like him. And I think that's what Dhoni, subconsciously or automatically, brought into this Indian team and it is evident." Sanjay Manjrekar on MS Dhoni|
SM: Absolutely right Harsha.
SM: But that is another rare strength of Dhoni, if you watch him closely behind the stumps … for instance if you see him in an IPL game, R Ashwin comes in an bowls a full length delivery, he has set the field for Ashwin, and the ball gets hit for a six. But you will see Dhoni quietly, while people are watching the ball sail into the stands, he will be quietly saying well-bowled Ashwin. Because, the bowler has done exactly what he was supposed to do, just the result has not been the desired one. I think that is the comfort that the player enjoys, that if he is doing the right thing for the captain, which is effort and according to the team plans, then he gets the attention of the captain and he …
HB: Interesting you brought up the Ashwin episode, because he said that in the interview afterwards [in the Champions League Twenty20 2010] … when I got hit for 23, I spent the next two days thinking about it, sleeping over it, reading about it. He said. "In my next game, the captain threw the new ball to me and I could not have got a stronger endorsement of my status within the side, the captain was willing to overlook the 23, and showed his confidence. As a cricketer you can't ask for anything more from the captain."
I think those are the little things that make the difference. Which, I think, Sourav Ganguly did with the youngsters in the phase 2001-03 and 2003-04, with Yuvraj, with Harbhajan, with Sehwag … very famously Sehwag ki maa [mother], who was then the media darling, she said, "He has obviously seen something in my son, which even I haven't seen. I would have dropped him but Ganguly has not dropped him."
AM: Well obviously, Dhoni has inherited lot of things that Sourav did right. So therefore it is part of the whole process that began with Sourav, which is self-determination, self-actualisation and the fearlessness that you see in this Indian team. In the old days, you would have said, "India went down fighting in the match in Mohali."
HB: And we would have said, "How gloriously we went down fighting."
AM: Yes, and we would have been singing praises about the players who performed and still lost. But now you are talking about how well they won fighting.
Just to make a point about Dhoni, he is a superstar in the Indian context and the global context. But he is pretty unassuming and understated chap. He is not overly demonstrative on the field of play, whatever he does in the dressing room, I don't know. He also is so much at ease with a Tendulkar and with a Suresh Raina. So a way to manage a Tendulkar, and a Raina or an Ashwin with a kind of equal facility is really his trick.
HB: We talked about Sourav and these youngsters coming in, the one thing that you see different from the Tendulkar, then the Dravid era, and now these youngsters is that they are born in different country. There confidence levels are different, the shots they play early are different, and I think understanding these kind of players is a bigger challenge.
Let's go back to the pre-mid-90s era, were the captains different? Let's say from Ajit Wadekar up to an Azharuddin, were the captains different, were they a little more conservative when compared to these people, for example?
AM: I don't know whether the captains were entirely different, I think the Indian mindset was certainly different. I think there is a lot of change that has come, not just in cricketing context. I think, overall, the Indian mindset is far more positive, more aggressive, you want to be winners …
HB: Now …
AM: Yes now. And therefore that is being reflected in across the spectrum of activities. Suddenly after Abhinav Bindra [an Indian shooter who won an Olympic gold in 2008 Beijing Olympics] you will find many more medal winners, because there is a measure of confidence that has come, self-belief that has come in. But you need these triggers, you need the catalysts, you need the agents of change, and I think Sourav was one of those. In the old days, once in a while you would find that the team has performed well. It's not that the players didn't try, I think there was that collective ambition and self-belief that we can topple Australia didn't exist.
SM: And there was a deep-rooted complex, I think, in the team.
SM: There were maybe one or two individuals who genuinely felt that they were as good as the opposition. Maybe, let's take the West Indies of the 1980s, there was Sunil Gavaskar there who felt that he was second to none. But I think there were lot of other players in the team, who actually genuinely believed that they were inferior to the opposition. And at some point …
AM: Who wouldn't take the field.
SM: [laughs] and maybe that was the good idea.
HB: Let's go across these four captains in recent times. What did you like about Ganguly on the captaincy front? What do you think would be his legacy, his heritage?
AM: Well, I think he took over in a very difficult circumstances, just after the match-fixing scam broke and I think he had the ability to pick up good young talent but more than that to back them. Because you look at the crop of players who are doing very well for India now, Zaheer Khan, Sehwag, Harbhajan Singh, to an extent Yuvraj Singh. They were all picked up by Sourav, they were dropped by the selectors, and he ensured that they have come back and now they are the stalwarts of the team. And I think that is what you want from your head of the department or you boss.
HB: You liked Ganguly as captain?
SM: Yes, I think his quality, as you mentioned, is the one that sets Ganguly apart. That he was a good talent-spotter, and that is the gift that not too many people have. The greatest cricketer in the world may not be the greatest talent-spotter, and Ganguly had that and he backed it. And obviously, there was a selfish reason to do that because he wanted to prove to the world that the talent that he has backed is also capable or producing the performances, and so he backed them to the hilt.
Another thing is, when he was appointed I was very happy for the simple fact that finally we would have a captain who would have an opinion. Because, before that we had captains who didn't really speak too much on the delicate matters of Indian cricket, and we needed somebody who could be the voice of Indian cricket. I remember he was very young at that time when he was appointed as the captain, and he came up on the national news channel and actually tackled match-fixing issues and talked about match-fixing, whereas all the other senior players around that time had gone in the shell and didn't want to talk about it. So that was something which was good, and also he needled the opposition like never before.
HB: Which was always the un-Indian thing to do, right? [laughs]
SM: It never happened before. For example Mohammed Azharuddin, with due respect to him as captain, was more friendly with the opposition than his own team players. You know, sometimes I would look at him smiling to all the opposition players when he came to the bat, and I used to think, I wish I got that smile sometimes. So that was the trait that Azhar had, and here was Sourav Ganguly, who just went up the nose of the opposition. And as a result, I think it helped in his own team's performance.
HB: What about Dravid and Kumble?
AM: I think, particularly Kumble, the kind of role, the time he spent as captain was very crucial. Dravid was an extension of Ganguly's rein so to speak. And I think, unfortunately for him, he took a decision to quit the captaincy when he was actually beginning to kind of reinforce …
HB: It is an interesting one that, when you quit the captaincy is it the sign of cowardice or is it the sign of courage. Do you say that he ran away from the job, or you say that he wasn't enjoying the cricket, he didn't think he was contributing to the Indian cricket as captain, so he actually took a brave decision to say, "No, I don't think it's working with me."
AM: I think he was fed-up, more than anything else because he had a terrible World Cup as we know, and suddenly we were in the throws of this great conflict between the coach and the rest of the team …
HB: Far too much was happening for him …
AM: Too much was happening for him, and remember, Dravid as a cricketing personality, has been a single-minded person. When he has dedicated himself to his batting, it is like he has put blinkers on and that's it. So I think his tenure was also in a sense, bringing stability for the first year and then it suddenly kind of spun out of his control.
HB: He did produce results though, except for that World Cup, in Test cricket.
AM: Yes, he did produce results.
HB: Quick word from you on Kumble. By the time Kumble was captain, you were looking at it from a fair distance. I guess, in the early days of Ganguly you would have still been too close as a player but with Kumble you could see it completely dispassionately.
SM: You know, Kumble's appointment shows you one thing that we had so many good leaders that we never even thought of Anil Kumble as a captain, and it became a sort of …
HB: John Wright said that India was the only country that would have not considered Anil Kumble as captain.
SM: Yes, and I think India was still reluctant to go to Anil Kumble. You know, some people just get this image where they are never considered for captaincy for some reason. And Anil Kumble got it because Tendulkar was offered but he wasn't keen to do it. Then it was the question of who do we go to, and I remember speaking very strongly about it that don't give it to young Dhoni at this stage. Even if you think that Kumble is not a great leader, give it to him just a reward for being this great servant of Indian cricket over the years. I knew it was not going to be a long tenure as captain, but just as a kind of acknowledgement for the services rendered he should be given the captaincy and he did a pretty good job.
HB: He was outstanding. It's interesting, that Sourav Ganguly said that the first team meeting with Kumble as captain was the best team meeting that he had ever attended. And that I think was a very high praise.
Just to close the issue, we have looked at lot of the stars who made decent captains, the two who never really got the job were VVS Laxamn - but he was probably busy holding his place and the opportunity never came - and Tendulkar. And I think Tendulkar will actually go down as having taken the best decision in 2007 of not wanting it back, because that might have changed him a s a cricketer, it might have changed the Indian cricket team. But why didn't Tendulkar - that will be one thing that will be held against him if we want to put it that way - never became the leader that he was as a batsman. He was a batting leader in some sense, right? Within the side, people would gravitate to what does Tendulkar thing about this bowler, so to that extent he is the batting leader but he was never the captain.
AM: Well, if I have to give you a political spin to it - he has become the Sonia Gandhi of the team, he doesn't need to be the Prime minister.
HB: [laughs] Fair call actually.
AM: So I think the responsibility of, the nitty-gritty of captaincy is something that he shied away from after his first not-so-happy experience. Those were very different and difficult circumstances and we won't get into details of when he was the captain.
SM: And difficult tours as well.
AM: Difficult tours, and the condition even in Indian cricket, as it emerged later, was not very happy. I think in 2007, he considered it very seriously because he took about a month or two months after he was offered the job to actually say no. Because he then decided, perhaps wisely, that he was 34-35 and maybe the next three-four years he wants to go and do his best as a batsman, knowing that his locus standi in the dressing room is at a level where he is almost unimpeachable, and therefore he is going to be looked up to and will be mentoring people and advising in any case.
HB: It's a very interesting word - unimpeachable. And I think it's exactly that, and that says it perfectly.
SM: One important point that I want to make is the nature of a person, and I think here there is some comparison to be made between Dravid and Tendulkar. In fact, similarity between the two is the nature of the people, and both in a way are not natural leaders. You know, you spot a leader in a cricket team when, for example a Sourav Ganguly, if he bats for 15-20 minutes in the nets, after he has finished his stint ten he is very interested in how the other guy is batting or how somebody is bowling.
I for example, would take my place behind the stumps and just watch the bowlers bowl, what line are they bowling, and how the batsmen is coping with it. Whereas there are some other people, who do their own batting and then they would focus on their own feelings, so they are single-minded about their own cricket. Which is not trying to say that they are selfish but they are not really too excited about watching others perform and see what you can be done to get better out of the other guys. That is something that comes naturally, and that's where, I think, Sourav Ganguly was very good. He was very interested in other people's performances.
HB: I remember talking to Ashok Mankad many years ago, I did not grow up in Mumbai but people in Mumbai swear about Ashok Mankad as a leader of teams. He said, "The difference between the great player and a great captain is that the great player is obsessed with his own performance, he knows everything about his own performance. But the leader has the ability to look beyond the storm, to look further away."
SM: You are absolutely right. And it's also matter of interest and it is something that comes naturally. And that's why perhaps they are great. For example, for me as a cricketer, I would finish my batting and I would be very interested in everybody's else's performance and so that would possibly have hampered my own growth. For example, Tendulkar is focused on his own batting, so much that once he had finished his batting he will be bowling in the nets. So it's about himself without being selfish, and that is the natural thing and perhaps that's why these people become so great.
AM: You know, going by the history of cricket, you don't necessarily need to be extrovert and out-going to be a good captain. Don Bradman wasn't, he was a pretty insular personality and so was Imran Khan, who was actually a very shy man outside of the field.
HB: In recent times, Nasser Hussain wasn't.
AM: Yes, Nasser Hussain. Imran was a loner. So it's difficult to say who is a natural fit as a captain. I think at the end of the day, you have to go and see how the team performs.
SM: But I think the important point here, I see that quality in all the captains, good captains that we had talked about. Imran Khan for example, he was very interested in other people's performances. I remember meeting him in 1991, after the tour of New Zealand. I had one series against him in 1989. He came to England, and he asked me, "Why were you looking to play Richard Hadlee off the backfoot, you should have played him off the front foot." And I am thinking, I am batting there in New Zealand, Imran Khan is in Pakistan, but he was still interested in a guy who he had seen in the last series, so these are the people who have, I think, the qualities to go on and become good leaders.
HB: Since we are on these qualities … who's next? Can you look into the future, saying who is likely to be India's next captain, is there any name?
SM: I think Suresh Raina. If he can hold his batting form, because there was one instance that happened in the Mohali Test match, when VVS Laxman decided that he is not going to take the run when batting with Ishant Sharma when we came very close to the target. That, I think, concerned Suresh Raina, he is a young cricketer but he went up to VVS and told him something. I am just reading from what I saw on television, and VVS wasn't quite happy with the advice and I think he told him that he was doing the right thing. But just that ability to go there and express his views, and the way he conducts himself on the field, I think this is one guy who can be a good leader for India. Too early, I am looking into small things, but he is the guy I would count on for the future.
AM: Well, it will take a huge amount for anybody to dislodge Dhoni from his position.
HB: Sehwag? If tomorrow Dhoni is injured and has to miss for eight months.
AM: Yes, there are obvious options. Sehwag, primarily, then there is Gautam Gambhir and then there is Suresh Raina.
HB: But I agree that there is something about Suresh Raina …
SM: Well, I am talking about future captain. I mean, Sehwag is still very much current and he could get it. I am talking about five years, ten years … the one leader who might take India ahead
AM: Yes, it's also because I think everybody here feels that Raina is the guy who is still going to be around, some of the other guys may not be. Because, he looks good, he has done well enough in Test matches, and he has done splendidly in the limited-overs format.
HB: Okay, wonderful. There you are about the captains, and I think there is consensus, though Raina is just three Test matches old … unlike with Mary there is something about him as well.
For an interview with VB Chandrasekhar, who is an integral part of the Chennai Super Kings management, the team Dhoni captains in the IPL, flashback with Sanjay Manjrekar on Navjot Singh Sidhu abruptly returning from India's tour to England in 1996 and Numbers Game with S Rajesh, listen to the complete show.
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