The Prince of Kolkata, as he was called by Sir Geoffrey Boycott, is considered by many as the greatest Indian captain. I do like certain aspects of Ganguly’s leadership, but I am not convinced with all the praise that he gets. Therefore, I decided to look at various aspects of his captaincy that I appreciated, disliked and then his record as compared to others.
Under Ganguly, we saw the rise of two superb players, Sehwag and Harbhajan. The southpaw saw the talent in these two youngsters and backed them. It was a bold decision to back Harbhajan, particularly in ODIs, ahead of Anil Kumble. The decision paid off as Harbhajan outperformed Kumble during 2000-03. It is a known fact that the idea of promoting Sehwag as opener was Ganguly’s. It was good move as India unearthed one of its best openers (Tests as opener: Average – 50, 22 hundreds; ODIs as opener: Average – 37, 14 hundreds, Strike rate 105) in generations. The game changing batsmen remained a crucial part of the Indian line-up till 2011.
Many credit him for the rise of Zaheer Khan and Yuvraj Singh as well. However, when you look at their careers during Ganguly’s captaincy and after his reign, you will realize that these two were actually at their best in the latter period. What turned things around for Zaheer was his stint in England in 2006. Post that, he was a different bowler especially in tests. Yuvraj got abundant support from Ganguly, but given his talent, it wasn’t a surprising move.
Another reason why Ganguly’s captaincy is lauded is because he is believed to be the one who made India believe that we could win abroad. I have never really agreed with this, as I always felt that Dravid was the one, who led from the front and set up most of our famous away wins with the help of different bowlers.
There were many aspects of Ganguly’s captaincy, which I will never be able to understand. To start with, selection of Dinesh Mongia over VVS Laxman in ODIs has always baffled me. The stats below clearly show that Laxman outperformed him with the bat. Mongia wasn’t even a good part-time bowler, yet he was the one picked for 2003 World Cup.
Another player who in my opinion did not get a fair chance was Murali Kartik. In my opinion, he was a valuable bowler to have, especially in the shorter version of the game. But thanks to Ganguly’s hate of left arm spinners, he never got a regular place in the squad.
Apart from these selection issues, where I disagreed with him the most was how he treated himself differently from other players. Sometimes, players (Laxman as an example) who were ordinary fielders were not considered for selection. Ganguly, surely one of the worst in that team, did not have to worry about his place even when his bat was not doing the talking. Had the same rules been applied for him, his career would surely have been much shorter.
The graph above shows the Win/loss ratio of various recent Indian captains against non-minnows Test playing nations. While, MS Dhoni has a much better record in both tests and ODIs, it is clear that even Dravid got more success for India than Ganguly. We did not win any away test series under Ganguly, while we won 2 under Dravid. In ODIs too, Dravid’s team was far more consistent than his predecessor’s.
A friend on twitter recently commented that Ganguly as a captain was like India’s Imran Khan. Facts however, paint a completely different story as Imran performed better both as a batsmen as well as a bowler under his own captaincy. Also, percentage of wins for Imran was much more in ODIs and he lost very few matches in tests.
Ganguly’s consistency with the bat dropped once he took up captaincy. The only solid knock as captain that I can recall is his century in Brisbane test in 2002/3. Towards the 2nd half of his reign, I often felt that India had started picking their 10 best players and then adding him for his captaincy, instead of picking the best 11 and choosing a captain amongst them. On the whole, Ganguly, in my view, is surely among India’s better captains, but to say he was India’s best captain (or a great captain) does not seem right.