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The curious and confusing chapters in Indian cricket captaincy

It’s an issue that creates debate and suspense, writes Makarand Waingankar

The captaincy of the Indian cricket team is a jigsaw puzzle. It is also a facet that is guaranteed to create suspense and debate.

Hardly had Ajit Wadekar returned home, he was besieged by waiting journalists for his comments as he had dethroned captain Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi for the West Indies tour of 1971. He was too shocked to react.

Earlier in the 1958-59 home series against the West Indies, it was a merry-go-round when four captains were appointed for a five-Test match series.

Of the four, Polly Umrigar quit on the morning of the Madras Test when he received a telegram from Ratibhai Patel, the then president of the BCCI, asking him to play off-spinner Jasu Patel instead of opening batsman A.K. Sengupta, who was Umrigar’s choice, as the team needed a batsman. Eventually Sengupta played, but Vinoo Mankad led the team.

Then in 1979, after the tour of England, the pilot of the airline carrying the Indian team back announced the replacement of captain S. Venkatraghavan with Sunil Gavaskar to create a drama in the air!

Chaos in Chandigarh

A decade later, one witnessed another drama in Chandigarh when the selectors met to pick the Indian team for 1987-88 home series against the West Indies.

Dilip Vengsarkar, on an invitation from then BCCI secretary Ranbir Singh Mahendra, landed in Chandigarh to attend the meeting. But Mohinder Amarnath, apparently after having received a message from someone in the BCCI that he had been appointed captain, also turned up, and that too before Vengsarkar. There wasn’t mere confusion but outraged commotion and Amarnath gave vent to his feelings in the press box.

Thankfully, the cultured and educated Rahul Dravid — in a far more messy situation than most of his predecessors — did what a dignified captain is expected to do. Though it’s hard to believe that he didn’t consult anyone, Dravid is not the one to go to the press box and allow himself to be subjected to some non-cricketing questions, thereby fuelling the scene that will put the successor under tremendous pressure with ‘nonsensical’ speculations.

Why so much fuss about Dravid’s resignation? Didn’t Gavaskar and Tendulkar quit captaincy? To one of my questions during a book interview, Tendulkar had said categorically that he and the selectors weren’t on the same wavelength.

“Their vision was different. Ultimately I had to lead the team on the field and I was responsible for the result. I thought it was best to relinquish the captaincy rather than have confrontations.”

Solving the crisis

Whether this was also the case with Dravid one may not know. Possibly he may have felt that the backing a captain expected from the Selection committee may not be forthcoming during the season.

When a ‘crisis’ arose in 1984 between Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev, the then president of the BCCI, N.K.P. Salve, invited both for a cup of tea and a potential ‘team-breaking’ situation was avoided.

How can anyone believe Dravid’s statement of not enjoying the captaincy when his team had won the England series after 21 years? The matter is definitely not as simple as it looks. Was there any move to get Borde, Vengsarkar and Dravid together to find out why Dravid wasn’t enjoying captaincy?

What next?

What next? Are Tendulkar and Ganguly the answers is the question selectors will have to answer. There is no better platform for Dhoni to lead the team in the home series against Australia and Pakistan rather than asking him to lead in Australia.

Captains are best groomed when they are asked to handle situations and take decisions and not watch others take decisions. That’s how 21-year-old Pataudi was groomed. Dhoni has completed his apprenticeship.

Indian cricket can’t be constantly going in reverse gear and then expect to do well in future.

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