West Zone's stranglehold on Indian cricket

2007 Oct 02 by Suresh Menon

And it means only one thing - the next Test captain of India will be Sachin Tendulkar.

West Zone’s stranglehold on Indian cricket was strengthened with the appointment of Ravi Shastri as the Director of the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore. The Chairman of selectors is former captain Dilip Vengsarkar; the manager is another Mumbai man, Lalchand Rajput. The chairman of the technical committee is Sunil Gavaskar. It is no coincidence that the president of the cricket board is the Maharashtrian Sharad Pawar. And it means only one thing - the next Test captain of India will be Sachin Tendulkar. The three-Test series against Pakistan begins November 22.

The fortunes of the Indian cricket team have risen and fallen with the fortunes of the personnel of the Board. When Kolkata’s Jagmohan Dalmiya was its president, it was Kolkata’s favourite son Sourav Ganguly who was captain. When Tamil Nadu’s C D Gopinath was chairman of selectors, S Venkatraghavan who hailed from there was made captain.

Rahul Dravid’s comment that the shelf life of Indian captains is a short one tells only part of the story. The fact is, shelf lives are shared by captains and officials. Dravid probably got out of the race when he sensed the direction in which the wind was blowing. Few Indian captains have been this sensitive; therefore few have managed to quit with dignity.

Indian captaincy is a game of checks and balances. The media, the officials, colleagues, and advertisers are trying to checkmate you with their various moves, some of which overlap.

The hullabaloo over the twenty percent or so extra that advertisers were willing to pay an Indian player for “greater visibility” might have ended Ganguly’s career if it had been investigated to the fullest. Contracts with advertisers do not actually spell it out , but increasingly it is becoming clear that an Indian captain stands to make more money than any other player. This is suitably disguised in the language of the contract.

There is nothing the Board can do about it for those who deal in the bottom line are far subtler and more sophisticated than the Board’s more blatant money-grabbers.

Checks apart, there is the balancing act that the captain has to perform, keeping his enemies and supporters in harmony while dealing with the renegades in the team. Dravid had hardly paused for breath after saying that he didn’t enforce the follow on in the recent Oval Test because his bowlers were tired when his lead bowler Zaheer Khan rubbished that saying no one was tired. Thus are captains left on a limb.

The only counter to the games that are played around a team is victory. Win, and the world celebrates with you, especially the politicians both within and outside the team. You can get away with the odd unpopular selection, a short period of poor form, an indiscreet word to the media. Watching Mohammed Azharuddin making a speech as captain on his first tour, to New Zealand, teammate Kapil Dev whispered, “By the time I learnt how to make captain’s speeches, they kicked me out of the team.”

Mahendra Singh Dhoni is the flavour of the season. He is popular at all levels, but more importantly, he is successful. It will be interesting to see what happens if India beat Australia in the one-day series. Especially if it is by a big margin. There will be a clamour to retain him as Test captain. Even the Mumbai lobby will be wary. So now you know who, apart from the Australians, are praying for an Indian defeat.