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Oh Captain My Captain


In the first of a series of residential debates hosted by Hopping Nelson, Hopping Nelson hops in to pit two close friends and alter-egos, ‘Hopping’ and ‘Nelson’, against each other. Hopping prompts ‘H’ and ‘N,’ experts on everything, to go head-to-head to try and settle a brand new score that is brewing in certain cricket circles around India, i.e., who is the better skipper, Mahendra Singh Dhoni or the unforgettable Sourav Ganguly? Read on to find out how it all ended.

Hopping Nelson raises himself from the chair with some difficulty and says: Well, now that Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s India has handed the Aussies their first white-wash since Imran Khan and his team walloped Kim Hughes’ sorry side 3-0 in 1982 (in Pakistan), is it fair to say Dhoni is the best skipper India ha…rudely interrupted before he can complete what he is trying to say….by an animated and emotional ‘N.

N: Balderdash! This rag-tag bunch led by Ricky Ponting is probably the worst Australian team to visit India in a long time. It might struggle to beat Bangladesh or even Pakistan! Oh wait, Ponting and his boys did struggle to put it across Pakistan in England just before coming to India.

H: You’re right, N, only the 1982 side Kim Hughes led to Pakistan was a less-than-great Australian team. Still, it took an Imran Khan, one the finest skippers in the history of the game, to be at the helm for it to happen. It takes a truly great captain to win back-to-back Tests against Australia. And now that Dhoni has accomplished this rare feat, can he be declared India’s greatest-ever captain? It’s not as unthinkable or nonsensical as my esteemed friend and better half would like us to believe.

N: My dearest H, first, let Dhoni lead India to, let alone a Test series win, a Test win over Australia in Australia. Then, and only then, must impatient people like you be permitted to even consider the possibility that Dhoni might be a skipper as good as Sourav was. How long has Dhoni been leading the side, anyway? I’ll tell you for how short. Not even for half the number of Tests and ODIs that Sourav led India with flair in. (Pulls out his iPhone…quickly checks his stats guru up…looks up at Hopping Nelson with a glint in his eyes that betrays confirmation). Here you go! 49 Tests as Captain versus a paltry 18 for Mahi.

H (Whose brain is now running faster than Dhoni zips across between the wickets in pursuit of a quick single, double or impossible three!): Time will prove you spectacularly wrong. I have no doubt our current skipper will end his period in charge with more Tests wins than Sourav managed under his reign. Currently, Dhoni is 12 wins out of 18, with only 2 losses. The man popularly considered as reigning champion of Indian captains, Sourav Ganguly, stands tall with 21 wins out of 49 as captain, minus 13 losses. At this rate, if all goes well, which it mostly has, under the serene influence of Dhoni (and Gary Kirsten), he will tote up 30 wins out of 45, and 5 losses. This is assuming he continues to lead India for the next 5 years, a distinct, unusual possibility in the, until recently, troubled annals of Indian captaincy. True, it’s always hazardous to attempt predictions on how life will turn out, especially as captain of the Indian team but…once again, rudely interrupted by his breathless opponent.

N: Then…then it is a waste of precious time bringing it up. I beg the chair to dismiss this farcical petition and strongly reiterate that Sourav Ganguly is by a long, long shot a much better skipper than Dhoni. In fact, at this stage Dhoni’s record is more akin to the reign of any other successful Indian skipper: invincible at home with not much to show by way of conquests abroad.

H: I completely agree with you, my dearest N, but I also urge you to consider another aspect of this debate. Surely you will agree that nothing in the Indian captaincy roulette has ever felt certain… until now. But now, with the emergence, rise and rise of Dhoni, something rarely ever observed is unfolding, i.e., a captaincy reign that is suffused with a sense of permanence and calm when it comes to the questions of who’s in (or should be) charge of the Indian side and, equally important, does the captain deserve a place in the eleven only on the strength of his primary skill? Can you say the same of the state of affairs during Sourav Ganguly’s tenure as Captain of India?

N: I…I…I don’t think Sourav’s place in the eleven could ever be questioned. In fact, I…I…I think it’s preposterous to even consider the thought!

H: Is it? Perhaps you’re being a touch partisan. In which case, let me be a bit emotional too and add this to buttress my point. Among our past captains from modern times, Sunil Gavaskar was a parochial rabble rouser, Kapil Dev was easily manipulated, Azharuddin was aloof, Sourav was haughty and the rest unexceptional. Dhoni is Mr. Perfect, the perfect leader. Rahul Dravid was almost perfect. Unfortunately, his partnership with Greg Chappell compromised his stature as captain. Anil Kumble, everyone agrees, was fantastic and perfect… as a stop-gap arrangement. None of these men, not Kumble, not Sourav, not even Sunil Gavaskar led with the aggression, assurance and serenity of Dhoni. From the distinguished lot, only Dhoni is the complete package.

N: High praise, indeed. Sadly, it’s too early to say. Let’s meet again, same place, sometime, after he has led India to South Africa and Australia to arrive at a more accurate conclusion.

H: Sure N. Perhaps you’re right. Perhaps it is too early, for those who don’t have as much faith in the powers of Dhoni. Time will tell, and so will his record, approximately four years from now.

Hopping Nelson gets up from the chair with some difficulty and says: From what I have heard, I am inclined to believe N is on a better wicket here. However, H does have a point when he reckons that it’s virtually impossible to find chinks in Captain Dhoni’s armour. But based on all the available evidence, and turning a blind eye to the future, Hopping Nelson awards this contest to Nelson on points. We’ll be back in four years to see if Hopping has the last laugh.

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