Anil Kumble takes a look at how Mahendra Singh Dhoni compares with his predecessor, Sourav Ganguly, and India’s only other World Cup-winning captain, Kapil Dev
LEADERSHIP STYLES Kapil was never my captain but he was the seniormost player in the side when I made my debut. He was always leading from the front, even when he was not captaining the side. He was always positive and had the ability to motivate his team mates by talking to them as well as inspiring them with his performance. Ganguly took over at a time when things weren’t very rosy for Indian cricket (the match-fixing scandal had come to light). Yet, he was a fighter. He had confidence in his players and always backed them even when things weren't going their way. He was an inspirational captain and it was under his captaincy that we started to believe we could win overseas as well. I hate to use the cliché but Dhoni is Captain Cool. He never loses his temper. We might be in a fight but he is always composed, maintains his poise and never lets pressure bother him. He is an excellent motivator as well. He could have gotten out on a low score (in the World Cup final) but he never let his form affect his team mates' confidence.
TEAM BUILDING It wouldn’t be fair for me to comment too much on Kapil as a captain. But whatever little I saw and played with him, he would always offer a word of advice to players low on confidence. Even though he wasn’t the captain, you could always go to him and talk about anything. I think under Ganguly, we had some exceptional talent coming through. Sehwag, Yuvraj, Zaheer aren't Ganguly’s finds but they became match-winners under his captaincy. He knew talent and always backed them even if they were low on confidence. Like Ganguly, Dhoni too backs his players to the hilt and is not afraid of taking risks. The world might see picking one player as the wrong option but Dhoni goes by his instincts and has full confidence in his players. Sometimes he gets it right and at times he gets it wrong. But that’s the nature of the beast.
HANDLING PRESSURE I got a glimpse of Kapil under pressure during the 1990 Test series against England. I was a rookie and in a Test match we needed 20-odd runs to save the follow-on. Kapil went and smashed four sixes off four balls as if it was nothing. Ganguly, even if he felt the pressure, never let it show. Being captain of the Indian team is a hard job and there are all sorts of pressures; to his credit, Ganguly never let it affect the team.
He had his lean patches with the bat but not once did he let that affect his captaincy style. I would say he was one of the captains most under pressure. The expectations under him were tremendous. In Dhoni's case, I don't think the word pressure exists in his dictionary. And the way he batted in the final is an excellent example. He is focused and knows how to handle the resources very well. He is someone who is extremely flexible and doesn't hesitate in taking advice from senior players.
MIND GAMES? I don’t think Kapil played mind games with the opposition. He let his performance speak for him. He had been around for so many years and commanded respect from everyone. I know a lot has been said about Ganguly's mind games with Australia. But Ganguly was a thinking captain and wanted to be a step ahead of the opposition — both on and off the pitch. He and John Wright worked very hard in instilling a winning mentality in Indian cricket. And they had wonderful players like Sachin, Laxman, Rahul and Harbhajan who weren't scared to take on the other side. Dhoni has great belief in his own ability and that of his team. I don't think he believes in mind games but knows how to handle pressure, which is the biggest asset. So if the opposition tries to play mind games, he remains calm and lets the team do the talking.
ENVIRONMENT MANAGEMENT Kapil was a great team mate to have. He always mixed with the young cricketers, and what better example of his captaincy than leading rank outsiders to the World Cup triumph. Ganguly had a lot of faith in his players and defended them against everyone. This not only gave young players confidence but also a belief that with their captain backing them, they could perform without any pressure. He made everyone feel that we could beat the opposition and that we weren't inferior to them in any way. As a captain, you are better off ignoring some things written in the media and he was quite good at that. Dhoni is one of the boys and never lets his position come between him and his players. I was a senior player under him and he never had an ego issue. He loves his cricket and doesn't get bogged down by any internal factors. He, like Ganguly, doesn't let the media affect the team.
FINEST HOUR OF CAPTAINCY Kapil: I actually can’t comment on this.
Ganguly: The 2003-04 series against Australia. He was under a lot of pressure but scored a hundred in the first Test and he believed that we could beat Australia in Australia.
Dhoni: The way he led the team to 2011 World Cup triumph was fantastic. He never flinched under pressure and knew that his team was good enough to deliver the trophy.
FINAL WORD Kapil: Inspirational.
Ganguly:Confident; backed his players to the hilt and instilled a winning mentality in the team.
Dhoni: Coolness personified, not afraid to take risks.