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New captain must be protected

Dravid was not a great captain, but with more support, he could have been better, writes Rohit Brijnath

Athletes constantly make deals with themselves. To be a state champion, the runner tells himself, I must invest ‘X’ hours, to be an international champion ‘Y’ hours. Leadership has its own trade-offs. Indian captains agree to see less of their children. Watch their hair turn white. Live with daily dissections of their character. Find their patience stretched (and sponsorships swell). It is all worth it. Till a point comes when it is not.

It gets too much. And captains limp away, even after winning a series.

High-anxiety world

Rahul Dravid probably had enough. The high-anxiety world of Indian cricket can slowly suffocate a captain, and the incessant stress can alter a man. A cricketer of patient calm, Dravid became tetchy, especially with some media.

In moments of introspection, perhaps he recognised this, disliked his new reflection, and figured the deal was not worth it any more.

All athletes are confronted by pressure, and Dravid’s record as batsman is proof he wears it well. But perhaps this particular pressure of leading India, which is almost proudly portrayed as “the toughest job in cricket/sport/India”, is becoming so throttling that the very life-cycle of the Indian captain will inevitably shorten. There is no insulation against the daily hysteria: instead of contemplating strategy, captains are being interrupted by officials, saying: “The team shirts have not come”.

Absence of support

A former Australian captain says, “Ponting faces one-millionth the pressure an Indian captain does”. It helps that Ponting is not impeded by officials but in fact protected. The Indian captain, almost none who have been groomed because no one knows how, is hurled into the deep end without so much as an inflatable armband. Eventually, most sink. In no other organisation is a leader so absent of support. In England, it is alleged, an official was planting questions at press conferences designed to embarrass Dravid. In his second captaincy, Tendulkar’s frustration was etched painfully on his face.

Dravid apparently lacked the requisite personality to lead India, a nice fellow but absent of the precise virtues (thick skin, boldness, communication skills), or vices (arrogance), for this job. Perhaps. But what do we do? Clone Ganguly, the finest captain we can remember?

Ganguly was an appealing leader, but to presume only a specific type of person can flourish as a leader because the Indian cricketing environment is so unique limits the job to very few men. Perhaps more than finding the right personality type, it is about creating the right environment.

Australia’s last three captains, Mark Taylor, Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting own dissimilar personalities, but it has scarcely mattered. They have all been allowed to be themselves.

Ease the burden

Dhoni is the new one-day captain; Tendulkar is possibly the next Test captain. But it is pointless if the BCCI merely appoints them and trots off to the next sponsor meeting. These men must not be burdened with trivialities (like spending time set aside for planning or rest on endless contract negotiations), they must be shielded, they must function in an environment where they are encouraged only to concentrate on cricket.

The BCCI must give the captain a media officer to act as a buffer. India’s media is massive, and no different from say English football where informed reporters work alongside less salubrious souls, but it can overpower a captain. A wise, organised team manager (as opposed to fellows who sight-see) eases tensions, he affords the captain more time and space. A smart coach does the homework, runs practices, deflects criticism. These are the very basic protections.

Officials who don’t leak information are useful, for else captains must deal with the repercussions in the dressing room. In the later stages of Dravid’s reign, one discussion point was that he was no favourite of chairman of selectors Dilip Vengsarkar, though this surely was irrelevant. No one knows, or cares, in Australia what Andrew Hilditch, the chairman of selectors, thinks of Ponting. His job is to work with Ponting, in the best interests of Australia.

Dravid was not a great captain. But with more able support, he could have been a better captain. It is a lesson we must learn from his reign. To leave Dhoni unprotected is to only guarantee his failure.

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