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Ganguly the captain - How good was he?

Last updated on: July 06, 2007 18:11 IST

There is an argument that the captains with the best record are not necessarily the best leaders.

Steve Waugh, with a 72 percent win rate, may statistically be Test cricket's most successful captain but the argument goes his tactical nous was hardly taxed: watch your batsmen score at four an over, declare with a massive lead, give the new ball to Glenn McGrath, let Shane Warne bowl into the rough and wait for victory.

Is Michael Vaughan a better captain than Mike Brearley because he has won more Test matches? Surely Brearley achieved more with less talent at his disposal against tougher opposition.

Nasser Hussain admits that he got an easier ride as captain than his predecessors Mike Atherton and Alec Stewart because his reign covered the era of central contracts, Duncan Fletcher and consistency in selection.

So what to make of Sourav Ganguly?

Statistically he is the most successful Indian captain of all-time. He had 49 Tests in charge from 2001 until 2005, winning 43 percent, although take away the victories over Bangladesh and Zimbabwe and this success falls to 30 percent.

Consider also the records of other great Indian leaders: Mohammad Azharuddin was captain in 47 Tests from 1990 to 1999 and he won just 14 matches while Sunil Gavaskar was captain in 47 Tests and he won just nine times.

Some would say that a team with the talents of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble, VVS Laxman, Harbhajan Singh and Virendar Sehwag should be expected to win matches.

The biggest tick in Ganguly's column is his success away from home, where India played 28 Tests, winning 11, drawing seven and losing 10.

But he never actually beat anyone. Ganguly's India won four series away from home: again take away the two wins over Bangladesh and one over Zimbabwe and the only team of any merit they beat was Pakistan. Drawn series away against Australia and England were a good start but nothing more.

To fully appreciate Ganguly's legacy, his one-day results must also be examined. He won 76 of his 147 games in charge (54%). Yet against leading nations, India under Ganguly only beat England (53.85%) and West Indies (53.33%) more often than they lost.

During his tenure India made it to the final of the 2003 World Cup and the 2004 Asia Cup - and lost both.

But perhaps that is to miss the point of what Ganguly brought to the team. Ganguly brought a hard edge to the team, most famously by standing up to cricket's playground bullies Nasser Hussain and Steve Waugh.

But was he the right man for the job or simply in the right place at the right time?

A telling story emerged during his fallout with Indian coach Greg Chappell.

In 2003 Ganguly supported the appointed of the Australian Chappell as coach. Yet the honeymoon was brief and the pair found themselves constantly at odds.

The relationship reached its nadir in September 2005 when an email that Chappell had written damning Ganguly's captaincy was leaked to the press.

In the letter Chappell accused Ganguly of setting a bad example with his approach to training.

"Everything he does is designed to maximise his chance of success and is usually detrimental to someone else's chances," Chappell wrote.

"This team has been made to be fearful and distrusting by the rumour mongering and deceit that is Sourav's modus operandi of divide and rule.

"Certain players have been treated with favour, all of them bowlers, while others have been shunted up and down the order or left out of the team to suit Sourav's whims."

Chappell is no longer coach of India after a disastrous World Cup but Ganguly remains in the squad.

Former England captain Alec Stewart told sportasylum it was well known that Ganguly could rub people up the wrong way, but that did not make him a bad captain.

He did point out that Ganguly inherited a very talented team who were extremely difficult to beat at home so his success was not unexpected.

"If you asked me if Shane Warne was a good captain, I could say 'yes' because he did some brilliant things when he was in charge of the one day team.

"If you asked me if Stephen Fleming was a good captain, I could say 'yes' because he took a group of average players and shaped them into a formidable unit.

"But I don't remember anything Ganguly did that stands out as brilliant or stands out as a waste of time."

Stewart sums it up. Nothing Ganguly did stands out. His greatest achievement away from home was a drawn series against Australia. He never won a major one-day trophy. He was accused by his coach of undermining his own team. It's fair to say based on results since he left that post that he didn't lay the foundations for future success.

Ganguly's statistics are average when compared to the likes of Waugh or even Michael Vaughan, but fantastic when compared to other Indian captains. It seems that either Ganguly was a good captain with an average team or an average captain with a good team.