India v Australia, 4th Test, Nagpur, 5th day November 10, 2008

Dhoni carries forward Ganguly's flame

Cricinfo staff
At the start of the millennium, Ganguly started the journey to "raise Indian cricket's profile overseas". In so many ways, Dhoni is the best man to carry forward the Ganguly flame

I've got it from here, thanks © AFP

Exactly eight years to the day since he first captained India in a Test, against Bangladesh in Dhaka, Sourav Ganguly marshalled the resources one last time. The ninth Australian wicket had fallen and the fielders were hovering around Cameron White and Mitchell Johnson with Harbhajan Singh and Amit Mishra having scripted a dramatic post-lunch collapse. It was a remarkable gesture from Mahendra Singh Dhoni, and it said much about how quickly he has grown into the job. A less secure man would have wanted to hog the limelight, but by ceding space to one of Indian cricket's all-time greats for a couple of overs, Dhoni showed just how aware he was of the bigger picture.

It came through in the tactics he employed as well. There had been scathing comments made about the 8-1 fields and wide bowling on the third morning, but there was tacit acknowledgement from Ricky Ponting that he would have loved it if his bowlers could have exercised similar control. Dhoni may have re-ignited debates about the spirit of cricket and a win-at-all-costs mentality, but as far as the team was concerned, eight wickets for 166 runs in a full day on a batsman-friendly pitch was nothing to sneeze at.

"He has that extra bit of luck you need," said Ganguly later, and he wasn't being uncharitable. There were moments in the match when Dhoni's leadership appeared bereft of direction, but then something would happen that made you forget what had preceded it. So it was on Monday afternoon with Matthew Hayden flailing away at the bowling with the air of a man who refused to countenance defeat. Runs were being leaked at an alarming rate and there were no close catchers for either Hayden or Michael Hussey as Dhoni concentrated on cutting off the fours.

Then, he threw the ball to Mishra. The game changed. His fourth ball from round the wicket was a perfectly pitched topspinner that reared up like many a Kumble special had over the previous two decades. All Hussey could do was lob to slip, and the mini-crisis was over. Hayden then tried to improvise once too often against Harbhajan and after that, the outcome of the match was in no doubt.

The early belligerence from Australia, and Hayden in particular, had pushed Dhoni on to the defensive quickly. Ishant Sharma, the standout bowler of the series, bowled to an 8-1 field against Simon Katich, and had seven on the off side for Hayden. But with plenty of runs being surrendered behind the wicket, Zaheer's opening spell of six overs cost 44 runs.

Again, Dhoni came up with the right change. Stroke of genius or plain luck, Harbhajan's arrival at the bowling crease changed things. Dhoni put down a chance off the second ball he bowled, but there was an element of recklessness in Hayden's approach that made India believe that playing the patience game would bring about a breakthrough.

India managed just 21.3 overs in that first session, and the shadow cast by dismal over-rates that caused Ponting to take his eye off the ball on the fourth evening appeared to affect Dhoni too. With Virender Sehwag and Harbhajan bowling offspin in tandem, Hayden was only too happy to tee off, especially with the variety of sweeps that caused such devastation back in 2001.

Dhoni though never loses his cool. The field went out, the game seemed to drift and then Mishra came on. It was almost as though Australia had been lulled into a false sense of security and then struck with an upper-cut. Within minutes, the fielders were swarming around the bat and the men-on-the-rope tactics quickly forgotten. Mishra was far too much for the tail to handle, and there was just enough uneven bounce to make Harbhajan dastardly difficult to play.

A less secure man would have wanted to hog the limelight, but by ceding space to one of Indian cricket's all-time greats for a couple of overs, Dhoni showed just how aware he was of the bigger picture

"There will be greater tests for MS, especially when he takes the team abroad," said Ganguly afterwards. It was a quiet reminder to everyone of just how hapless India once were when they left home comforts behind. But though Dhoni may not quite have been Safe Hands behind the stumps in this game, there's enough intuition and spark in his leadership to suggest that Indian cricket's future could be very bright indeed.

At the start of the millennium, Ganguly started the journey to "raise Indian cricket's profile overseas". For 10 minutes this afternoon just before a famous triumph was clinched, the past and future were intertwined. In so many ways, Dhoni is the best man to carry forward the Ganguly flame. These could well be the best of times.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • George on November 13, 2008, 3:00 GMT

    Don't ever compare Dhoni with Ganguly and don't underestimate Dhoni's genius by attributing his success to luck. Dhoni is level headed composed individual, unlike Ganguly who was temperamental. Dhoni is not to carry Ganguly's flame but he has his own niche to carve. Dhoni thinks differently and takes intelligent risks.

  • Rajesh on November 11, 2008, 15:05 GMT

    Agree with Renjit...... numbers do not always give the bigger and accurate picture. Ganguly was a great Captain not just because of the number of victories, there was more to it. Similarly Anil Kumble's contribution as Captain in Australia was one heck of a brave performance though the series was lost in numbers........ Kumble would have been a fantastic and more successful skipper if he had had the oppurtunity to lead India much earlier in his career.... But then Saurav was doing a good job & no one else had a chance then......... Dhonis is just starting (forget the numbers again, 3 out of 3 ), let's appreciate what he has done so far but for the moment let's keep it at that rather than hype it too much and then criticise him very harshly when he loses

  • karthikeyan on November 11, 2008, 12:56 GMT

    Firstly, Adieu Dada. But no worries, you have passed the flame to the right person. So coming to the crux of the matter Mahi is here to stay and stay as the Indian Skipper. One of the keys to survival as the captain of the Indian Cricket team is not just knowing that you have to survive, but learning the survival techniques and effectively using the same. And that's precisely what Mahi has done. The gesture to let Dada captain was not an empty one, a great one nevertheless, with some insight we can see that this gesture will keep Dhoni on the positive side of the Indian media for at least a short while. We have confidence in you Dhoni. You are indeed the right man for the job.

  • Sat on November 11, 2008, 12:53 GMT

    Congratulations to India on a fantastic series win. Eveyone played their part - it was so heartening to see such an all round cohesive team effort where every member played their part, so comprehensively outplay what is still the best team in world cricket. The best series performance by a India I can remember for a very long time. Long may it continue & lets hope they dish out some of the same medicine to England !

  • Vibhu on November 11, 2008, 9:30 GMT

    "Dada" has been one of the best captains India ever had and we cannot have a better person than Dhoni to don his mantle. The similarities beween the two are endless and India sure flourished under the two. Lastly, we should not forget the contribution of Jumbo for the brief time he donned the mantle of captaincy. That would be cruel.

  • Renjit on November 11, 2008, 6:17 GMT

    This is in response to Lallumowdi's post. Lets give the devil his due. Ganguly brought about a change in the attitude for India and the team prospered under him. He won tests in West Indies and Australia, series in England and Pakistan. This was much more than what the country could do consistantly in the entire history before that. There were over seas victories in between but never did Indian team play consistantly well before that. So dont just delve into numbers and make your point. Numbers do not always give you the bigger picture.



  • Deepak on November 11, 2008, 4:48 GMT

    No Indian Captain has so far achieved a good record to be proud off. Steve Waugh has an outstanding 72% success record, Ponting despite losing here has a 68% record. Ganguly who won only 21 out of the 49 test matches he has captained, which is just a 43% success is being posed a great captain mainly because the previous captains couldn't achieve even this. Only time will tell whether Dhoni would emulate Steve Waugh's 72%. He has started off well with three out of three. Dhoni's captaincy will be tested once we tour South Africa (where we haven't won a series yet). But as responsibility increases, Dhoni's game improvises with a lot of maturity. This is a good sign for Indian cricket.

  • Paresh on November 11, 2008, 4:06 GMT

    I was re-reading the John Wright book called the indian summers and it gave me his insight into things work within the indian cricket. also, how things panned out since his time and after that is what i believe as the change in the outlook of the present team india. mind you few things still remain. how ever, you are only as good as your team and as long as dhoni remembers this, he'll take team india far, as he has already demonstrated. same was the unlying fundamental that saurav used, giving pride and freedom to guys like harbhajan etc. I bet bhajji will do anything dhone asks for. just an air of caution for dhoni htough. we dont want him to burn out playing too much. every now and then parthiv should be played to give dhoni time off from keeping duties , while he still leads the team.

  • Manindra on November 11, 2008, 2:40 GMT

    As a Sri Lankan I've always loved the way Ganguly led his team, it was tough but positve and no nonsense way of doing it. It reminds me of the way our own captain cool Arjuna Ranatunga led Sri Lanka to WC wins and many victories. But doing it in "my way" can be costly and would have many enemies as in the case of both Ganguly and Ranatunga. With Saying that Dhoni is by far my favorite indian player right now and he got this fighting spirit as a captain we only saw in Ganguly. Future of indian cricket won't have Big names lists like Tendulkar, Ganguly, Dravid, Laxman but fighting youngsters that would be competitive as a team.

  • Saibaskar on November 11, 2008, 2:26 GMT

    The same team plays 4 matches but only those 2 games which Dhoni captains the team succeeds. Team without Dhoni makes heavy weather of Ajantha Mendis in the tests, then incomes Dhoni and inspite of Mendis factor India wins the series. For me commonsense suggests that there is more to Dhoni than mere luck. It is just that none of us (including the experts) are in the same plane as him to understanding his winning recipe.

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