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On Sourav Ganguly’s captaincy

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.

The good

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.

The bad

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.

Captaincy record

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.

Filed under india Test Cricket Sourav Ganguly imran khan captaincy Rahul Dravid ms dhoni

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A comparison of three stalwarts - Ponting, Kallis and Dravid

The recent retirement of Jacques Kallis sparked more debates and comparisons of the legendary player with Australia’s Ricky Ponting as well as India’s Rahul Dravid. I have always believed that purely as batsmen, Ponting was the best, followed by Dravid and then Kallis. Many disagreed on this assessment of mine and therefore, I decided to take up this issue and see if stats actually back what I thought.

Consistency and performance under pressure


As the 1st graph shows, all three of them averaged 33 in the worst 2 calendar year (with 10 innings or more) phase of their careers. Dravid started as well as ended his test career in better form than both Ponting and Kallis. But, during their best 4 calendar year period, Ponting fared better than Kallis as well as Dravid, though all three averaged above 65 during this time. In terms of number of calendar years with more than 800 plus test runs, Dravid leads with 9, followed by Ponting with 8 and Kallis with 7.


Ponting used to be extremely dominating in Australia and not surprisingly, he averaged the highest at home. However, in foreign conditions, Dravid was ahead of the other two. While Dravid and Ponting batted mostly at 3, Kallis batted at 4 most times. Both 3 and 4 are positions which need to handle the pressure of early wickets. In such situations (coming into bat with less than 50 on the board), Kallis outperformed Ponting, who did better than Dravid.

Post 1997 (by this time, all three had spent a fair amount of time in their teams), Ponting averaged less than 40 in any calendar year 6 times, as compared to 3 each for Dravid and Kallis. For each score of 150 or more, Kallis and Ponting took about 20 innings on average, while Dravid took 26. Clearly, all three are neck to neck on consistency and performance under pressure, but Kallis can be considered slightly ahead of the other two.

Value to the team and contribution in its rise to #1


[2 years prior to #1* - ICC Test Championship System was started in 2003, but the period considered for Ricky Ponting is 1997-99.]

Since its difficult to call by just looking at consistency, I decided to take a look on how crucial these players were for their respective teams. Australia, South Africa as well as India reached #1 status with the trio in their ranks. Australia had arguably been the best test team since 1999, so I looked at Ponting’s contribution from 1997-99. Ricky Ponting averaged just 38 and really came into his own only after 2000, after Australia had already established themselves as one of the best test teams ever. Therefore, in spite of being Australia’s best batsmen in 1997-2008 phase (where the team was at its peak), he had little to do with their rise to #1.

Kallis, on the other hand, averaged over 80 in the two year period before South Africa became #1 in August of 2012. Out of his 8 hundreds in this period, 3 were brilliant knocks against the Indians at home, which helped them avoid defeat. His average in draws during this period was over a 100 and that in wins was over 150. Therefore, there is absolutely little doubt that he played an instrumental role. Dravid averaged 41, poor by his own standards before India achieved numero uno status towards the end of 2009. However, to say that he had little to do with India’s rise to number would be foolish.

In test cricket, India’s performances had been steadily improving from 2000 till they became number in 2009. In the 2000-07 phase (by this time, India was close to being the best), Dravid averaged 86 in wins, 68 in draws and India never lost a match where he scored a hundred. He played a big role in almost all overseas victories (Leeds ’02, Adelaide ’03, Rawalpindi ’04, Kingston ’06, Perth ’08)  during the 2000-10 decade.

Another aspect which proves the impact of Dravid is his contribution in the 4th innings. In matches that were won or drawn away from home(neutral included), he averaged over 100 in the 4th innings. Ponting(78) and Kallis(50) did well, but they were nowhere as good as Dravid here. Hence, in terms of value and contribution to the team, Dravid leads Kallis by a bit and is well ahead of Ponting.


On consistency, Kallis seems to be the best, with hardly anything to chose between Ponting and Dravid. In terms of contribution to team’s rise and value, Dravid manages to outdo Kallis but by not much distance. Therefore, I believe Kallis is the best of the three, followed closely by Dravid and then Ponting at 3rd spot,  which is completely contrary to what I had thought at the beginning.

Filed under Ricky Ponting Rahul Dravid jacques kallis

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Why play sport?

The reason I love reading books, is that I always enjoy coming across new stories and perspectives. That is exactly what has happened with Rahul Bhattacharya’s “Pundits from Pakistan”. The prologue throws the question “Why play sport?” onto us. I was absolutely blank when I came across this question. Much like most Indians, I picked up the sport of Cricket just instantly at a very young age. Since then I have also watched few other sports, yet this question has never popped up in my head.

The question “why play sport?” is of course completely different from “why sports are played today?”. In today’s world, with all the commercialization coming into the picture, sports are played because people want to invest in the game and drive profits of it. It results in revenues for sportsmen, reporters, boards and all the associated people. But why were sporting rivalries started in the first place?

According to George Orwell, a British literary giant, organized sport is nothing but “war minus shooting”. He believed that all sport resulted in was division of society and in fact, many others also felt that it was a grand scheme of things to keep the masses in a state of competitive frenzy and readiness for war. While I do agree, that sport often makes us cheer for ‘our own’ team, therefore resulting in divisions, to call it a grand scheme of things to keep masses ready for war is definitely over the top.

Former cricketers(for example - Sir Donald Bradman) earned their bread and butter through other jobs and resources. Yet they took out time to play Cricket because they enjoyed the game so much. So, I would like to think, that it was the love of the game which pulled people towards playing and watching this sport or any other sport for that matter. Maybe it was to keep the masses fit and involved in a physical activity, or perhaps to keep the youth away from drug abuse or other wrong habits prevalent at the time.

Just a couple of pages further into the intriguing prologue, the author says:

"For, to ask the question, ‘why play sport’, is in my view analogous to asking the question, ‘why live life’ ".

"Sport is able to sum up life, able to strip it bare and put it under a drama-fulled magnifying glass."

While these statements do not answer the question, they are beautifully put. I watch sport because of the thrill associated with it, just as the 2nd statement written above expresses. When I first read the question, I had no answer, just like my reaction when I try to think reasons on ‘why live life’.

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IPL and its future

The sixth edition of IPL is about to come to a close in about a fortnight. Even though I am not sure of what TRPs say, it has been an incredible success in almost every city where matches have been held. While there may be many who do not like the IPL or do not consider it as ‘proper cricket’ (whatever that means), for me personally, the tournament has become an addiction I don’t want to get rid of.

One of the best things I noticed about this IPL is that the quality of cricket has certainly improved from the previous editions. Fielding and batting in particular have improved a lot. Even though we did see an odd dropped catch here and there, overall standard of fielding has improved. Some spectacular ones have also been taken by both youngsters from India and foreign stars. Batsmen have also become smarter and usually teams no longer seem to panic even when required run rate is over 12 for the last 6-8 overs. Bowling is probably the only aspect which hasn’t improved much, particularly in the final few overs where many bowlers seem to be bowling the wrong length and playing into the batsman’s hands. 

In this season, another new trend emerged. Teams have performed much better at home as compared to away, with 72% of the games won by the home team. In some cases, like with Sunrisers Hyderabad, the pitch at their home ground has really suited them. Rajasthan, Bangalore as well Mumbai have also been superb at home using the good batting surfaces to their advantage. If this trend continues in the upcoming IPLs, it will make the IPL very interesting. Roughly 9 to 10 wins are needed for a team to qualify for the play-offs, so if 5-6 teams are consistently good at home, (and win 6-7 home matches out of 8) then 2-3 crucial away wins will be the decider. Surely, IPL will be very closely contested as the final 4 teams won’t be decided till the last 3-4 matches(probably like it will be this year).

There was a lot of outrage over Virat Kohli being booed at the Wankhede stadium. While the Mumbai crowd was stupid to call Virat Kohli a cheater(since it was an unlucky but fair dismissal), I do not think an Indian player being booed is a big deal. I have little doubt that when he plays for India, he will be cheered. Yuvraj Singh for example, was booed by the same crowd in IPL 3 when he was playing for KXIP, but they surely cheered for him in the 2011 World Cup. In fact, what this incident really goes to show, is that city-based loyalties and rivalries are flourishing, which is great for the IPL and its success.

Overall, city-based loyalties and teams being tough to beat at home are surely positives for the IPL, which will help in making it a success like football leagues around the world. However, there are a couple of things which can be changed or thought on. Firstly, the length of the IPL is a major concern. 72 matches in the league stage is just too many. Now, that IPL 6 has been going on for more than a month, I find it hard to remember too many matches. Close finishes or unexpected turnarounds are remembered, but that is about it. I would suggest, a 40-matches long tournament, with 36 games in league stage(4 home and 4 away for each team) and 4 play-off games.

Another important issue is the auction held after every 3 years. In the 4th edition of IPL, I realized many(including myself) were struggling to keep up with the new squads. Ideally, instead of this auction system, I would prefer a transfer window with a certain amount of transfers possible at the end of each season. No need of having completely new teams. If however, the auction system is continued, it should be held every 5 years instead of 3 and no player retention should be allowed. That way, when the auction happens in the 6th year, the team will (most likely) be absolutely new.

Apart from this, I feel the league is wonderful event and very enjoyable. Around the 4th edition, some people believed that within a couple of years, people will start getting bored of T20 and this league. However, this year we have seen full houses game after game, at almost all venues except Chennai and Mohali. So the IPL has continued to prove its critics wrong and I believe it will only grow from here on, especially if the few issues mentioned are handled properly.

Filed under IPL ipl6

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MS Dhoni in T20 cricket

MS Dhoni is a fabulous ODI batsman. Wonderful finisher, who is always calm and gets the job done on most occasions. I have absolutely no doubt in his ability in the one-day format, but its the T20 format I am not so sure of. You look at his IPL career and 11 fifties in 75 innings, when he has batted mostly at 6 or 7, is very good. There have been some superb knocks, mostly (not surprisingly) in chases. Like the onslaught on Irfan Pathan at Dharamshala or just the other day, we saw him taking on Dale Steyn and the other Hyderabad bowlers to take Chennai home.

Dhoni has shown over and over again, that he is one of the most reliable finishers in the limited overs game, who can turn it in his team’s favor even when 12 runs an over are needed for the last 5-6. Many players have the big shots these days, but to get them going on a consistent basis is something that very few are able to do. MS Dhoni has done this in ODIs and IPL very nicely, but in T20Is, he hasn’t been anywhere as good.

His career stats in T20Is are quite ordinary, to be frank. In 39 innings, he hasn’t reached 50 once and batted with a strike rate less than 120. That for someone of his caliber is poor. Even though he mostly bats below/around 6 in T20Is, 30 innings is fair number of chances. The only good T20I knocks that one can recall him playing are 45 against South Africa back in 2007 T20 World Cup, a quick fire 46 vs Sri Lanka at Mohali in 2009 and the recent T20 with England in December 2012. Apart from these, he hasn’t really fulfilled his potential in T20Is. Suresh Raina, who mostly bats at 5/6, just one position above him, has not only scored more fifties, but his strike rate has also been a lot better.

Mind you, I am not here to bash him or ask him to be dropped. I have seen very little of Micheal Bevan, so for me, he is best ODI batsmen in chases barring no one. All I am saying is, MS Dhoni can do much better in T20Is, it almost feels like he doesn’t use his ability to the fullest. I wonder why that is the case and I just expect a lot more from a player of this quality. If and when he becomes more consistent, India will surely be a much better T20I side.