In a recent survey, Sourav Ganguly was pitted against MS Dhoni to judge who was the more impactful captain. Well, stats don’t lie, and it didn’t need a supercomputer to crunch the numbers and deliver the verdict.
But if we were to park the stats aside and have Dada face-off against MSD … wait, wouldn’t this be akin to a Mobius Strip? Dada passing the baton to MSD was only equivalent to the single side of the Mobius strip. A start-up that simply scaled up.
A comparison would thus be unfair. There is no doubt that the parameters applied to the survey are very much valid. But they would present a completely different result when normalised for the times and conditions in which they played the game – and more importantly, when MSD is seen as Dada’s successor, and not as a competitor.
In Tests, India was always a tough team to beat at home. As captains, neither let that advantage slip away. However, Ganguly’s team were better travellers than Dhoni’s. One can argue a rather thin pace attack didn’t help Dhoni’s cause, but it wasn’t just pace that delivered the wins for Ganguly overseas.
As an ODI captain, Dhoni had a knack of taking simple decisions at crucial moments of the game. And this made him the best limited-overs captain – not just for India, but among his contemporaries. Be it throwing the ball to Joginder Sharma in the 2007 World Twenty20 final or getting R Ashwin to bowl openings spells for CSK in the IPL, Dhoni disrupted coaching best-practices. He promoted Rohit Sharma as an opener and he hasn’t looked back since. Also, thanks to the increased emphasis on fitness, Dhoni never had to ‘hide’ any fielder in the field.
Ganguly had a heart of a lion and his energy was infectious. His intent was clear, and his team made the fans believe that India truly belonged in top tier. Ask any Indian fan his favourite moment and inevitably the 2001 India vs Australia Test series would have the maximum mentions. Ganguly couldn’t have asked for a better time to lead the team that had the Fab Four at the peak of the careers. If Dhoni could hit the ground running as a captain, he owed it to his inheritance from Ganguly.
As for individual performances, Dhoni’s much talked about ability to absorb pressure and finish off matches would pip any batsmen of his era. He mastered the art of last-ball finishes – something nobody could replicate, even with moderate success. Dhoni’s numbers could have been much better had he continued to bat at No 3, but he chose to be the finisher.
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Ganguly’s numbers are no less impressive. The sight of Ganguly dancing down the pitch to loft a spinner for a six would delight any cricket lover. While Dhoni’s approach to batting established his image of an aggressive limited overs batsmen, Ganguly’s Test match numbers were legendary. After all, not many debuted with a hundred at Lord’s.
Ganguly’s team was no less spirited but the lack of silverware in the trophy cabinet remained a sore point. This despite Ganguly having a glorious run during many ICC tournaments – be it the 2000 ICC Champions Knockout or the 2003 World Cup. On the other hand, almost anything Dhoni touched turned into gold – The T20 World Cup in 2007, The ICC Champions Trophy in 2013, The 50-over World Cup in 2011, the ICC Test Championship mace plus three IPL championships and two Champions League T20 trophies.
Dhoni was successful in taking forward Ganguly’s legacy and this is something that needs to be seen as the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. While Ganguly infused energy into the team, Dhoni channelised it to yield results consistently. While Ganguly groomed youngsters to take up pivotal positions, Dhoni ensured they were slotted into the right roles, thus delivering to their maximum potential. While Ganguly gave hope to carry on, Dhoni finished what was started.