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A vice captain for India
by Suresh Menon
Jun 13, 2011

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By Suresh Menon


Not always in Indian cricket has a vice captain automatically become captain. It is unlikely that either Harbhajan Singh or V V S Laxman, who have the job in the West Indies in the shorter and longer forms of the game respectively, will do so. Vice captains, like Vice Presidents of the country, come into prominence only when the man at the top is no longer in charge. Yet the list of those who have been vice captain of the national side but never led is an interesting one.

It includes Vijay Merchant and Mohinder Amarnath. Others like Chandu Borde, Pankaj Roy, even Ravi Shastri led only (one Test each) because the captains at the time were injured.

Indian selectors have often had a problem with the vice captain. During one phase the convention was that no vice captain would be named for a home series. It often led to ridiculous situations. When skipper Pataudi had to leave the field during a Test against the West Indies in Bangalore, the team which included future captains Venkatraghavan, Sunil Gavaskar and G R Vishwanath didn’t know who was to be in charge. Then substitute Rajinder Goel ran onto the field to inform the players that Gavaskar would take over.

Traditionally, vice captains were of two types. The young, promising future leader who was chosen to serve a period of apprenticeship under a captain expected to carry on for a few seasons. Or a young captain was given a senior man as his deputy.

Thus it was that a 21-year-old Pataudi was given the job when almost the entire team was senior to him. Nari Contractor, 28 then, was struck on the head by a Charlie Griffith delivery in Barbados on that 1962 tour and never played again. Pataudi took over.

On Pataudi’s first two tours, he had as vice captain Chandu Borde, senior to him by seven years, and expected to be the voice of wisdom and experience.

Harbhajan Singh is the second type of vice captain; older, more experienced than Suresh Raina, and expected to provide the stability and advice. Raina has led an Indian team before – to Zimbabwe, without the leading players – but the West Indies tour is a different kettle of fish. He probably welcomed Harbhajan’s presence as vice captain.

Yet, even here the selectors were repeating a move they made (of course it was a different set then) some three decades ago when, with two bowlers competing for the same slot, they made one of them vice captain. This was on the 1971 tours of West Indies and England and subsequent tours when the younger Venkatraghavan was named Ajit Wadekar’s deputy leaving the more experienced Erapalli Prasanna out in the cold.

In the West Indies, there might have been a tussle for the off spinner’s slot between Harbhajan and Ravichander Ashwin, but at least in this case it was the senior man who was made vice captain. With the success of leg spinner Amit Mishra, it is difficult to see India play both the offies in the same game. It could lead to embarrassment.

The appointment of V V S Laxman as vice captain to M S Dhoni in the Test series is illogical. It is a tribute perhaps to a third reason for such appointments – a way of honouring a senior player. With Dhoni well established in his job, it would have been the ideal opportunity to pick a younger man, a future captain. A case could be made for Raina himself, but he is yet to cement his place in the middle order despite his century on debut. This tour could be the making of him. Or it could have been Virat Kohli, who has shown a combativeness and understanding of the job that bodes well for India.

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