Saturday, July 7, 2012

My View - Sehwag on Dhoni's Captaincy

Sehwag's is a wonderful batsman but he is certainly not the greatest cricket strategist or man manager. For sure he is not a great captain, a below average one for me at best (revised from average after this year's IPL 5). His understanding of the role of the captain and the way the dynamics of teams works was once again exposed today when he commented on how the Indian team won the World Cup in 2011 because it was a strong team - backed by a captain who really did not have much to do what with such a great team going out and winning everything. It is time Sehwag (and for that matter Gambhir, who I would like to believe says it more out of modesty) learned that much of how the team performs depends on the person at the helm and not the other way round. It is the captain's job to get the team to root for the team, for him, and if he cannot do that, he is not a great captain. And if the team believes that the captain can do magic and pull the team out from somewhere, he steps into the realm of greatness. 

Dhoni's leadership record has been established and he need not even respond to Sehwag's rather immature and childish outburst. Dhoni won with a rookie team at the World Cup T20, showing remarkable leadership qualities in his first outing. He won the IPL twice with an average team. He won the World Cup against many odds (including the problem of king sized egos in the team's seniors). So if Dhoni won the World Cup, it was in spite of the strong team that he had. Among his many wonderful attributes as captain Dhoni has displayed one quality that to me is the key to the greatest leaders - he gets every player to perform as if he was the captain himself. How many times have his sides had the most unexpected heroes, has had everyone pulling their weight at the time that it mattered most, how many have benefited from his seemingly unshakeable trust in their abilities (far greater than they trusted themselves as Joginder Sharma found out in that World Cup). It is the highest form of man management. Dhoni has also shown an extremely high amount of responsibility as he constantly uses himself and adapts himself to positions in the batting order that are most difficult, sacrificing perhaps his own career statistics. The ice cool confidence he brings to the situation, the uncanny faith he has in his players, the excellent reading of the game and the situation and an incredibly clear headed and simple approach to the game makes him one of the greatest for me. He works on things he can control, lets everyone do their job without getting into their space and focuses on what he can do.

Sehwag, as captain, on the other hand has made some awful gaffes in the recently concluded IPL 5 despite having one of the strongest teams and the best starts in the tournament, including the one in the last game when they left out Morkel and made several other tactical and strategic blunders. Much of his approach as the captain is that of hoping for the best - go out there and enjoy yourself and hope that it all works out. Good captains close out opportunities, create openings when all else seems to be failing. They do not hope and leave it at that. Your players lose faith and confidence when they know that perhaps you don't have a plan A, forget plan B. Players can sense that and much of their confidence comes from knowing that the captain, like any inspirational leader, can pull out a rabbit from the hat. Dhoni has produced the rabbit more times than one.

Whatever Sehwag feels, it is the leader that makes the team. Going back to the old quote that it is better to have a bunch of sheep led by a lion than a pack of lions led by a sheep, one must understand that effective leadership is a fine art and a highly refined one. It requires a supreme sense of security, a fine balance between push and pull, unshakeable trust and faith in oneself (and thereby the team) and certainly being two steps ahead of the pack at all times. Few have understood or mastered this and Dhoni for one, at least knows and has shown, that he does. In recent years, one other captain who has proven this line of thought was Shane Warne, who did an incredible job with a bunch of rookies in the IPL 1st edition. One cannot find too many names in cricketing history that match up as great captains and perhaps Ian Chappell, Clive Lloyd and to a lesser extent Mike Brearley would fit the bill. Imran Khan, Arjuna Ranatunga and Kapil too. However for me Dhoni is in the highest bracket even with such luminaries. It is interesting however to hear Sehwag's views because I know that this is an argument that for many, could go either way. But for me, clearly it is the captain who has a greater influence on a team's performance than a team having its influence on the captain's performance.

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