April 10, 2011

Dhoni's among the great modern captains

India's captain has taken his side to the top without a great bowling attack, which makes his achievement more remarkable

India's emphatic victory in the World Cup has proved beyond doubt they are currently the best all-round cricket team. In the process, Mahendra Singh Dhoni's polished performance as skipper, where he pushed, prodded and cajoled his side into peaking at the right time, has shown he's not only the best leader in the game but also one of the finest of the last 30 years. His performance ranks him with the other top-class leaders of the period: Imran Khan, Mark Taylor and Arjuna Ranatunga.

Unlike their predecessors as the No. 1-ranked team, West Indies and Australia, India do not have a dominant bowling attack. Considering bowlers win matches, this makes Dhoni's captaincy performance even more meritorious. In that regard he's emulated Ranatunga in conjuring up a World Cup victory with a moderate attack. As there's no indication India are on the verge of unearthing a couple of world-class bowlers, and three of their best Test batsmen are closer to retirement than to the pinnacle of their careers, Dhoni has a serious challenge on his hands to keep India at the top of the rankings in the longer game. However, he can take comfort from the fact that none of the stronger teams look likely to surge past India in the race to be No. 1.

This is one of the reasons why the 2011 World Cup was such a fascinating tournament: all the teams were flawed. Consequently it was an extremely open World Cup. It's far more interesting when there are a number of good sides rather than one really strong one bullying a string of moderate teams. The previous three World Cup finals were dominated by Australia and the tournament badly needed the upsets and strong finale that 2011 provided.

In addition to having the best captain at World Cup 2011, India were also the most capable batting side against spinners. There's a worrying trend, which the World Cup exposed, of batsmen whose footwork is inadequate against spin bowling. This is even more of a concern when you consider that, of the three great spinners of recent times, Muttiah Muralitharan, Shane Warne and Anil Kumble, only the Sri Lankan was in attendance, and by the end of the tournament he was virtually on one leg. There seems to be a train of thought amongst batsmen from some countries that it's less dangerous to employ all manner of zany, premeditated shots than it is to counter spin bowling with sharp footwork. This kind of warped thinking is either a product of poor coaching or lazy batting, or more likely a combination of both. I'm referring here to coaching received at a young age, not once the player reaches international level. It's too late to drastically change a player's footwork once he's old enough to be competing at the highest level.

The only major flaw in the 2011 World Cup - apart from the constant confusion over the DRS - was the length of time it took to decide a winner. Consequently it's welcome news that the 2015 tournament will be shorter. However, the automatic choice of all 10 Test-playing nations as the only qualifiers for 2015 is a short-sighted decision. The World Cup is a prestigious tournament and teams should only be competing on merit. Currently neither Bangladesh nor Zimbabwe deserve automatic entry, and even West Indies need to improve dramatically to escape the ignominy of slipping into that category. At least two of those teams should have to qualify by playing in a stringent promotion/demotion tournament with the stronger Associate countries.

Whilst this was a successful (and for the most part entertaining) World Cup, the ICC should always be looking for ways to improve the tournament. The introduction of a qualifying tournament, and the distribution of a paper by Indian coaches on how young batsmen can improve their footwork against spin bowling, would be a step in the right direction.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is now a cricket commentator and columnist

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Sumeet on April 13, 2011, 6:06 GMT

    talk about dhoni's wk skills being poor is, well, absurd. for a start, go and watch the catch that he took off Sangakkara in the final. It was a thick edge, and not a thin one. And Dhoni took it right in the middle of his glove, not in the webbing. Good keepers anticipate well. Yes, in his initial years, he had some flaws. But i think over time, he's turned into a very good keeper (still not in the league of someone like, say, Healy) and certainly India's best since Nayan Mongia (remember those days of MSK Prasad, Parthiv Patel, even Karthick). His 'keeping prowess is actually overshadowed by the fact that he's such a key figure to his team. He's lucky right but one make's one's luck oneself. There's a saying in hindi "agar chachi ki mooche hoti to wo chacha hoti", roughly translated into "If aunty had a moustache, she wud have been uncle". So if's and but's are nothing but things one can say using hindsight. Let's all appreciate that dhoni is in fact a great captain and a good keeper!

  • shahid on April 13, 2011, 2:56 GMT

    Needs to come out of India and win something considerable. Winning 4 away tests One each against BD, NZ, SL and one aganst SA, thats all what he has won out side his own castle of batting heavens. In a graveyard of fast bowlers you only need a few spinners and the long list of great batsmen to win every match.

  • praso on April 12, 2011, 23:46 GMT

    To say Mark Taylor was a great captain is hilarious...and comparing him with Steve Waugh, Clive Lloyd or Dhoni is an insult.

  • Dummy4 on April 12, 2011, 19:34 GMT

    @zahidsaltin: Imran will not be in the great captain list if he have not won the WC. Remember Hansie Cronje. He was good captain at that time. He did not had temperament like Dhoni or Steve. And he dint won WC. Else he would have been in the league of great captain. As for Imran he had best bowling attack and a good batting lineup(Even Imran who comes at 9 or 7 can play good knock). So Dhoni is as good as Imran. Steve was great captain bcoz he won a record 16 test in a trot(which was stopped by Indians by handing series defeat). And i dont think Steve is as good as Dhoni. Because he always had best in all three(Batting, Bowling and Fielding) department which was not same for Dhoni and still won WC and no single series defeat in test(till today).

  • Kunal on April 12, 2011, 17:54 GMT

    @Zahidsaltin -- Going by your "IF" scenario, what IF pakistan did not have their game against England rained out in '92. They wouldn't split the point and they don't qualify for the SF. Would Imran be great then?

    What IF Donald did not run like a maniac in '99, Australia lose the SF and Waugh does not win his WC.

    What IF the pitch does not turn the way it did in '96 in the SF, India wins the SF and likely the final, Tendulkar has his second WC now.

    IF wishes were horses, beggar would ride them

  • abdullah on April 12, 2011, 15:47 GMT

    The debate about whether Dhoni is among the greatest of modern era captains can be determined when he will retire. But as of now he is the best of the pack. This is not his fault that he has got the best batting line up; infact it is harder to captain a side with stars bigger than you and everytime you go out 1.2 billion expect you to win. I think Waugh and Ponting were better captains than Ranatunga or Imran because of their consistent performance and always meeting or exceeding expectations. When no expectation from you and you overachieve you become hero. Whereas, when expectations are thru the roof and you stumble your neck is on the line. In the semis I think Pakistan lost because of lack of creativity from their full of himself captain Afridi and calm planning by Dhoni. In the final did you see the body language of Sangakara and the Srilankans while India was batting; they already lost. India despite needing many more runs looked like winners. Dhoni transpires this belief.

  • nalin on April 12, 2011, 15:06 GMT

    I totally agree with the 12 team format with 2 qualifiers for next world cup in AUS/NZ. 2 groups of 6 with one qualifier each. 5 rounds in group stage with 4 days per round. Note that DAY/NIGHT matches in AUS is shown during the day in subcontinent and in the morning in UK/AFRICA. Therefore let us put the matches between 2 full members as day/night in large centers at prime time [4 matches a round] and the 2 matches a round involving one associate during the day. This means that the group stage is 20 days with 20 successive prime time day night matches with full members. 10 matches involving an associate will be played concurrently. TOP TEAM in each group goes into semi final directly. Next 2 sides play in a qualifying final. A2 v b3 and b2 v A3 and the winners progress to the Semi Finals. Winners of SF to final. If tournament starts on Friday the group stages would end on Wednesday 20 days later with qualifying finals on weekend, SFs WED/THURS and FINAL Sunday. 31 days total. 25 D/n.

  • Ajay on April 12, 2011, 14:57 GMT

    @zahidsaltin My point is when ur captain and ur team wins the WC ,the ultimate trophy all the arguments whether captain is good , decent or great captain does not arise at all . After winning the world cup does it even matter to discuss about dhoni's captaincy?? That is my point , What more do we want from a team? All Indians wished for such a win and they have got it. And that is what matters in the end...

  • Ajay on April 12, 2011, 14:48 GMT

    Dhoni is a great captain because at the end of the day what matters is the result. Dhoni is a great captain or he is a decent captain that dosent matter but he has led a team with depleted bowling resource to WC glory. That is the reason Ian has said dhoni is the greatest captain . Atleast steve waugh,ponting had Warne, Mcgrath hayden,gilly etc. , Imran had a great attack, But dhoni managed the win with just 2 good bowlers in ZAk and bhajji. that is the reason i'm saying he is the greatest captain. And add to that the media and home crowd pressure on dhoni...

  • Dummy4 on April 12, 2011, 13:59 GMT

    Agree with the last 2 teams in Top 10, should play pre-qualifiers with Associate member group toppers to qualify for WC-2015. How are we going to encourage Ireland/Canada to play cricket otherwise.

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