So Sachin Tendulkar has given us a good topic to chew on. Should MS Dhoni be India’s test captain and thus ensure one captain across all forms of the game? Should Anil Kumble be offered an opportunity to show us what might have been? Should Saurav Ganguly be given another tilt at the world champions in their backyard? Or should VVS Laxman be chosen because he has a track record for tormenting the Aussies?
Well, the debate will go on, and any decision is bound to disappoint three-fourths of the cricketing pundits and fans in the country. Are there different ways of looking at the Indian captaincy than just considering some individuals?
Greg Chappell showed us one way, when he kept mixing up the Indian middle order – one day Irfan Pathan came in at No. 3, the next day it was MS Dhoni, and Rahul Dravid came back on the third. Is there a learning from here? Can we have captaincy by rotation? Imagine a core group, let’s call it the Board of Captains, comprising the four contenders mentioned above (add a couple more if you want). The captain for each game will be picked from this committee. Surely Ricky Ponting and gang will be stumped because they won’t know what to expect?
But how would we select the captain for the game? Well, there are a couple of ways of doing this.
The simplest approach would be to draw lots in the press conference the day before. This would ensure a filled room, and more than a bit of excitement. Dilip Vengsarkar goes, “The captain for tomorrow’s test match is…” and Shantakumaran Sreesanth struts into the room. “Oops, sorry, wrong room. I was looking for the dance floor.” Of course, a draw-of-lots approach could mean the same person getting lucky twice in a row, but in the long run, the laws of probability should even things out. After all, we need a long-term orientation in captaincy.
A second approach could be to select the captain on the morning of the match, based on the pitch conditions. So Saurav is the captain for the Melbourne opener, Kumble leads the team at spinning Sydney, Laxman calls the shots on the Perth trampoline, and Dhoni takes over in the dead rubber game at the Adelaide Oval.
May be there is an alternative way to look at the captaincy, with a small tweak of the laws of the game. Law 1.1 says, “A match is played between two sides, each of eleven players, one of whom shall be captain.” Perhaps the BCCI can negotiate with the ICC and get them to change the law to enable a 12th man to be named captain of a team. Look at it this way: the player-as-captain is relevant only when a team is fielding. And it is increasingly true that the 12th man is almost always on the field, especially when India is out there – if Ganguly is not tired, then a pace bowler has just finished a spell or someone else needs to be hidden. And by virtue of being the 12th man, the captain will be spared the pressure of bowling or batting, and can thus concentrate on the captaincy. A focused captain is what we need for the tough Aussie tour.
Extending this logic to having a non-playing captain is a thought, but then we would still have Sunil Gavaskar captaining the Indian team, so may be we shouldn’t go that far.