THE job of the captain of the Indian cricket team has always been a crown of thorns. Right from the time of Lala Amarnath, Sunil Gavaskar, Bishen Singh Bedi, Kapil Dev to Mohammad Azharuddin, controversies have dogged all the captains. But they were all mature enough to understand that the performance of the team could be as good as the members of the team. And when these captains were eased out of the hot seat, they had very little to complain about.
But nothing can beat the way "master blaster" Sachin Tendulkar quit recently. Why Sachin opted out of the job of captain might never be known. He has always kept his cards close to his chest. True, he is a keen cricketer, a 100 per cent performer. But sometimes he expects all the other ten players in the team to perform like him, which, unfortunately, is not always possible.
For a cricketer who has such immaculate timing while wielding the willow, Sachin Tendulkars timing of the announcement to step down from the captaincy of the Indian squad was definitely not well-timed. If he really wanted to take "moral responsibility" for Indias miserable showing in Australia, both in the Tests as well as the tri-nation one-day series, the time to announce his decision to step down should have been shortly after returning to India. He had time enough to consult his friends and advisers. Instead, he waited right till the last moment prior to the selection of the Indian team for the first Test against South Africa, when he had a detailed discussion with the Chairman of the Selection Committee, Chandu Borde, and a long talk on the mobile with Kapil Dev (who, incidentally, did not attend the selection committee meeting and instead opted to sulk in Delhi). He then came out of the meeting and announced that he was stepping down from the captaincy.
Therefore, the question which arises is: did Sachin step down from the captaincy because of the debacle in Australia or is there some other reason behind this drastic step?
|Shortly after returning to India, Sachin
told the media in Chennai that captaincy did not trouble
him at all. "Ups and downs are a part of ones
career. I got my first Test double century after I became
captain. I got a hundred in Australia and was adjudged
the man of the series. After all this, if people still
believe that the pressure of captaincy is affecting my
batting, I cant really help it," he is
reported to have said. If this statement is true, what
forced the "master blaster" to do a volte face
But his resignation has raised a lot of questions that remain unanswered. Did he give up captaincy because the national selectors decided to recall the deposed captain Mohammad Azharuddin back into the team? (It is a different matter that a thumb injury forced the former Indian skipper, whom Sachin had replaced just immediately after the World Cup last summer, to opt out of the Mumbai Test).Or did he call it quits because the captaincy was affecting his batting?
When the Indian team returned to India after the World Cup, Azharuddin opted to stay back in London to undergo a shoulder operation. Non submission of the fitness certificate prior to the arrival of the New Zealand team to India was the handle the national selectors used to ease him out and give the job to Sachin Tendulkar. At that time Sachin remained quiet and agreed to play with the team given by the selectors. But as he grew in confidence, he, along with Kapil Dev, who was in an unprecedented move by the Board of Control for Cricket in India given a two-year term as cricket manager, demanded and got a team of their choice for the tour of Australia. Both Sachin and Kapil did not want Azharuddin in the team ( never mind if the Hyderabadi had toured Australia three times in the past and was well-acquainted with the ground realities there), and instead opted for batsmen who were all at sea in Australia. Even Azhar had failed on bouncy tracks on his earlier visits to Down Under, say his critics. Azhar had averaged a dismal 21.33 in five Tests on Indias last tour to Australia in 1991-92.
But it is useless to blame only Sachin for Azharuddin's exclusion from the Indian team which toured Australia. A large part of the blame should also be apportioned to the national selectors and Kapil Dev, who as cricket manager, should have insisted that the best possible players be selected for the tour of Australia. Instead, he was saddled with players like Dewang Gandhi and Martin Jacob who have done well in domestic cricket but were yet to find their feet in international cricket. Experienced players like Mohammad Azharuddin and Ajay Jadeja were left to cool their heels at home.
The case of the wicketkeeper was even more intriguing. First the national selectors, who met at Ahmedabad during the third and final Test against New Zealand, opted to send M.S.K. Prasad (who had played in the home series against New Zealand) to Australia. But soon after landing in Australia, Prasad was injured and the national selectors, not willing to take any chances with a stop-gap wicketkeeper, sent Nayan Mongia to Australia in case Prasad was unable to play in the first Test. But Prasad recovered and played in the Test and Mongia, who, according to reports, was treated very shabbily by the team management (read captain and cricket manager) returned home totally disgusted. And now he has again found the favour of the national selectors. But at the conclusion of the Test series in Australia the national selectors, probably at the prodding of the team management, again did a volte face and inducted Mumbais 30-plus wicketkeeper Sameer Dighe for the one-day series and recalled Prasad home.
Ajay Jadejas case was also interesting. It is well known that Kapil Dev likes Ajay but the efforts of the highest wicket-taker in Test cricket to induct the utility player (who also plays for Haryana) in the squad for Australia came a cropper.
The Secretary of the BCCI, J.Y. Lele, said that Ajay would have to produce a fitness certificate if he had to be inducted into the touring squad. Never mind even if Ajay Jadeja was turning out and doing well in domestic matches regularly. Such is the irony of Indian cricket. Sachin must also be partly blamed for leaving out Jadeja from the one-day squad (selected after the completion of the Test series in Australia) because if he had asserted that he wanted Jadeja, arguably one of the best players of the limited overs game, Lele's bluff would have been exposed. Why such a thing did not happen only goes to show that there are wheels within wheels in Indian cricket.
It was on October 10, 1996, coincidentally after the Wills World Cup, that Sachin Tendulkar was made captain of the Indian team. He continued to be captain till Sri Lankas tour of India in 1997 when the baton was again handed back to Mohammad Azharuddin. During this period, Sachin led the side in 17 Tests , won three, lost four and the remaining matches ended in a draw. Sachin led India mostly in away series and he had to, therefore, fight not only strong adversaries but also hostile conditions in South Africa, West Indies or Australia.
In the shorter version of the game, Sachin first led India in the Singer Cup in Sri Lanka and continued with the job till the islanders returned to India the following year. During this period, he led the side in 54 one-day matches, in which he won 17 and lost 31. Five matches ended in no result; one was tied.
In his second stint as captain, he led India in just six Tests (a three-match home series against New Zealand and a three-match series against Australia in Australia). The Indian team could win just one Test against New Zealand and drew the other two against the visitors. They were then overwhelmed by Australia. In one-day cricket, the result was not much better as in the 19 one-day matches, the team won just six games.
It is interesting to note that Sachin lost his job of skipper for the first time when his own form with the bat had nosedived, at least by his own high standards, and members of the national selection committee felt that he should be allowed to concentrate on his batting. And now comes the bombshell of "moral responsibility" even when Sachin had come good with his own batting .
But it will be worthwhile to note that by and large Sachin led India in the more difficult foreign tours. The first time he became captain he led the team to South Africa and then to the West Indies. And in his second innings as captain he, after a short home series against New Zealand, led the team to Australia, arguably the strongest team in international cricket today. One does not know how Sachin would have coped with the pressure if he had led India in more home international matches. Indias performance in away matches, specially in Test matches, has never been good .
Statistics reveal that Sachins form does fall whenever he is leading the team. In one-day internationals, Sachins average as a player is 44.16 (till the end of the Australian tour) after playing 164 matches, while as captain his average slips to 37.35 after playing 73 matches. Similarly, in Test cricket as a player his average is 57.71 after playing 51 matches, his average is 53.00 while leading the squad in 23 matches. Therefore, it is obvious that it would be good for Indian cricket if Sachin is allowed to concentrate on his own batting. In fact, the pressure of the the job of captaincy has seen him bat down the order in one-day matches in order to bolster the sagging Indian confidence. But by doing so, he probably deprived his team from getting off to a flying start.
Even as the Indian team failed miserably during its tour of Australia, Sachins batting came in for handsome praise from the Australian media, focussing in particular on his domination over leg spinner Shane Warne and new pace sensation Brett Lee, who had otherwise made life very difficult for the Indian batsmen. Sachin might have made a even better impression in Australia but for some controversial umpiring decisions which went against him. And to add to his high stature as a batsman, the legendary Don Bradman has gone on record to say that Sachins batting reminded him of his own exploits with the bat. Therefore, it would be in the fitness of things that Sachin should be allowed to concentrate on his batting and things like leading the team should be left to somebody else. In any case, Sachin does gets involved in the game and it will be but natural for him to give advise to whosoever is leading the team.
That captaincy does not suit Sachin is apparent by the way he played in the first Test against South Africa in Mumbai. Though India lost, Sachins personal performance in the match was an exception although he was a wee bit unlucky to miss a century in Indias first innings. There is no denying the fact that Sachin has a long international career in front of him as India needs Sachin the player more than it needs Sachin the captain-player.
The national selectors opted for the second best choice Saurav Ganguly for the job of captain once Sachin steps down from the hot seat at the end of the second Test against South Africa in Bangalore. In any case, there were very few candidates for the job. The other persons in the fray were Ajay Jadeja and Rahul Dravid. What probably went against Ajay Jadeja was the fact that the utility player is yet to make a regular place for himself in the Test squad and his poor performance in the Mumbai match against South Africa did no good to his cause. True, Ajay Jadeja is a very combative cricketer but then India cannot afford to have a non-performer as the captain of the Test squad, specially at this stage when Indian cricket is in the dumps. Lack of experience went against Rahul Dravid. While both Saurav Ganguly and Ajay Jadeja have led India in the past, Dravid is yet to get the opportunity. Saurav has led India in four one-dayers, winning two and losing two. Jadeja has led India in 13 one-dayers winning eight and losing five. But then the poor form in Test cricket went against Jadeja.
Saurav Ganguly is a very intense cricketer and has shown his leadership qualities and grit in the series against the West Indies at Toronto last year. Moreover, unlike Sachin (against whom the charge of regionalism really stick given the fact that players like Sameer Dighe were inducted into the national squad when they did not deserve it), Saurav cannot get involved in the game of regionalism as Bengal has very few players who can be considered for international duty. Dewang Gandhi is, however, one such exception but then he has already got his chance during the tour of Australia but he messed it up with a string of poor performances.
Saurav Ganguly takes
over the hot seat at the worst of times. Indian cricket
is in the dumps and the cupboard is bare with no new
talent in the reckoning. Moreover, the search for a true
allrounder is continuing without much success. But then a
combative cricketer like Saurav Ganguly might just be the
tonic Indian cricket is looking for. The line between a
win and a defeat in international sport is very thin. And
may be, given a wee bit of luck, Saurav can help Indian
cricket to cross the line.
Sachin Tendulkar as captain in
Tendulkar as captain in Test matches:
Compiled by Neelu