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Dhoni's turn as test captain will come
by Partab Ramchand
Nov 10, 2007
A captain being appointed for the first time at the age of 37 in this day and age when the focus is increasingly on youth is an unusual step. The decision to appoint Anil Kumble to the Test captaincy is by any yardstick a major surprise. Everything pointed out to Mahendra Singh Dhoni being elevated to the top job. After all the 26-year-old Dhoni besides showing results has also displayed a natural flair for leadership. His uncannily right bowling chances, his adventurous field placings and his image as `Captain Cool’ was proof that the charismatic Dhoni was a leader with vision and someone who could emerge as a tactically shrewd captain even at the Test level where matters of strategy assume greater importance. One can only surmise that Dhoni will be disappointed at not getting the biggest plum in Indian cricket but it can be said for certain that he will shrug it off and give Kumble all support in his capacity as vice captain.

Kumble’s credentials to lead the country are based on his being a fairly successful captain of Karnataka, his long and distinguished service to Indian cricket as the country’s most successful bowler and his image as a thinking cricketer. In fact Kumble was vice captain to Sachin Tendulkar way back in 1996. But then with the captaincy swinging back from Tendulkar to Azharuddin and back to Tendulkar Kumble went out of the reckoning. In the new millennium came the era of Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid and Kumble while being in and out of the ODI side kept his place in the Test team. In the process he seemed to have lost his chance to lead the country. Earlier this year he announced his retirement from one day cricket and in the evening of his career appeared set to add to his bulging bag of wickets. Though there is no chance of him catching up with Shane Warne and Muthiah Muralitharan or being a member of the 700-club there is a fair chance of him becoming the third bowler to take 600 wickets and this seemed motivation enough for Kumble to carry on. Now of course there is much more motivation.

At 37 Kumble is not the oldest Indian Test captain to be appointed for the first time. Hemu Adhikari was 39 when he became India’s captain against the West Indies at New Delhi in February 1959 – the only time he led the country. Vinoo Mankad was a few months older than Kumble when he took the Indian team on its first tour of Pakistan in 1954-55. Those were very different days of course and for years now younger captains have been in vogue and the healthy trend seemed to continue with the appointment of Dhoni for the ODI squad. Just as it appeared that he would be elevated to the captaincy of the Test team comes the appointment of someone who is eleven years older.

Kumble is not without his qualifications or his supporters but the logical move would have been to appoint Dhoni. The Indian captaincy need not be a crown of thorns as Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar have made it out to be. It all depends on the captain’s attitude and Dhoni’s is refreshingly different. It’s palpable that he is actually enjoying the job even while taking difficult situations and adverse conditions in his stride. His perennial sunny smile symbolizes his optimism and upbeat mood. He is natural in his inter action with the media laughing and sharing a joke and not looking upon it as a chore that has to be gone through.

Dhoni's hands-on captaincy has made him an inspiring leader who considers himself first among equals. Besides displaying astute leadership qualities Dhoni is also the public relations man supreme. This is not to say that Dhoni has not pulled up his players when needed. After the hearing when Sreesanth was fined for excessive appealing in the ODI against Australia Dhoni made it a point to mention that while the speedster was an exceptionally talented cricketer it was time he concentrated on his bowling rather than indulging in his theatricals.

Dhoni should have been made the Test captain also because he had not done his cause any damage. Since his elevation to the leadership he has steered India to a famous triumph in the Twenty20 World Cup, lost the ODI series to Australia by four matches to two and defeated the Aussies again in cricket’s newest and shortest form. He has rightly received the plaudits for the victory in South Africa while not much blame can be attached to him for the loss to Australia the world champions and a vastly superior outfit. In fact his captaincy has been marked by a few intuitive touches and the willingness to try something different. Like his batting, his captaincy too is adventurous and full of surprises. The promotion of Irfan Pathan to No 3 in the Nagpur ODI was a case in point for while the Aussies would have been expecting one of the regular batsmen to come in following the Ganguly – Tendulkar century partnership the entry of Pathan would have forced them to rethink on matters of strategy and tactics. Pathan vindicated his captain’s confidence by getting a run-a-ball 29. The manner in which he placed an ultra attacking field for Murali Kartik in the Mumbai ODI underlined his aggressive instincts.

Behind the ready smile lurks a wise cricketing brain and Dhoni's calm demeanour and ``Captain Cool’’ image are qualities that have stood him in good stead. He graduated from the Twenty20 to the Fifty50 leadership and the natural promotion to the Test captaincy should have followed in due course.

More Views by Partab Ramchand
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