September 14, 2007

Who after Dravid?

The appointment of the coach is a distant second with the quest to find a successor to Rahul Dravid becoming the burning concern. There aren't too many obvious candidates either



Mahendra Singh Dhoni is someone being looked at in a captaincy role, but there was no chance he would be handed the job just now, till Dravid made his decision to quit © Getty Images

Till Friday, 14th September, Indian cricket was in search of a coach. Now, the appointment of the coach is a distant second with the quest to find a successor to Rahul Dravid becoming the burning concern. With a seven-ODI series against Australia beginning in just over a fortnight, there isn't much time. What's more worrying, though, is that there aren't too many obvious candidates either.

The first question the selectors have to answer is whether they want to look forward or back. If they choose to look forward then Mahendra Singh Dhoni is the front-runner by some way. But, that wouldn't just be looking forward, it would be fast-tracking someone who may or may not be ready for the job just yet. Dhoni has been handed the captaincy for the ICC World Twenty20, but no-one knows yet what his approach will be, what kind of captain he'd make or if he'd even be any good at it. Sure, Dhoni is someone being looked at in a captaincy role, but there was no chance he'd be handed the job just now, till Dravid made his decision to quit.

The most serious and immediate concern over appointing Dhoni captain is one of work-load. Will wicketkeeping and leading the team be too much to handle? With Dinesh Karthik in the mix, will Dhoni give up the gloves, lead the team, and play as a pure batsman? At the moment Dhoni doesn't quite cut it as a No. 5 batsman in Tests. And, if the big gloves are taken away from him, and his primary responsibility withdrawn, he won't enjoy the same insurance against poor form that he does now. A couple of low scores and the pressure will be on him.

The second thing the selectors will have to ponder when short-listing Dhoni for the job is the fact that the Indian captaincy is different from any other. It's not merely calling right at the toss, helping select teams or setting fields. If anything, that's the easy part. Those internal pressures are something Dhoni will be able to handle, being the sensible and level-headed cricketer that he is. It's what comes from outside that pose the biggest challenge. The expectations of a nation, the ire of fickle fans who have already defaced Dhoni's house once for no fault of his, the ever-present attention of a demanding media, the constant cajoling and confrontation with various sections of the board to get things done ... How well would Dhoni cope? Someone like Dravid didn't think it was worth it beyond a point.

If the selectors choose to look back, then there are two serious options in Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly, the first of whom relinquished the captaincy, and the second had it taken away because his batting went to pieces. Whether either wants it back, no-one is sure, but the whispers have never been too far away. At one point in the not-so-distant past, Tendulkar was appointed vice-captain, and reportedly gave some decision makers the impression that he would not be "averse to the idea" if he was offered the captaincy. Since then, though, he has said more than once that it is not a job he has coveted.

Will the selectors go long-term? Will they only appoint someone for the home one-dayers against Australia and worry about the Tests later? Will they split the captaincy?

Ganguly knows better than anyone in the running what the stresses of captaincy can do to a cricketer. And he knows how much it can take out of a person. After a spell out of the team that involved much heartburn he's now settled back into the groove, and is batting as well has he has in a long time. In England he was more assured at the crease than some of his more technically accomplished colleagues. With sheer determination and grit Ganguly has overcome more obstacles, and spent more time at the crease, than many of his detractors thought possible. Would he want to risk throwing that all away, taking up the captaincy again?

Beyond these three, there are no real candidates. Yuvraj Singh was once vice-captain and supposedly being groomed for the role but he can't find a place in the Test side. VVS Laxman has plenty of leadership experience but there's no place for him in the one-day team. Virender Sehwag, another one spoken of as a possible inheritor of Ganguly's mantle can't find a place in either team at the moment.

Will the selectors go long-term? Will they only appoint someone for the home one-dayers against Australia and worry about the Tests later? Will they split the captaincy? Dilip Vengsarkar, who said he was in a meeting when contacted soon after Dravid's decision was made public, did not want to comment. And, given some of the choices his committee has made in the recent past, and some of the statements he has made in interviews recently, that might just be the best way forward till September 18, when a successor to Dravid is appointed.

Anand Vasu is associate editor of Cricinfo

Comments