March 08, 2006


The worlds of one day and test cricket
continue to collide, and consume
many a good captain.
By Gaurav Sethi

“What have you got, Skip?” That was Naseer Hussein on air - targeting a clueless Rahul Dravid - at first slip, in the Nagpur test v/s England. Apt, as it came from a former skipper - one who made a bunch of wannabes into world-beaters. In a way, the comment summed up the modern game – where a captain must be on the button all the time. Even in the commentary box. Right, Nas?

“Where have you gone, Skip?” Regardless of the India-England series’ result, the course of English cricket and its captaincy appears to have changed forever; somewhat like that of Indian cricket. Flintoff might say otherwise in the press, but surely he knows better than that.

If the door has been finally closed on Ganguly (India’s most successful captain), on the English front, Michael Vaughan (widely regarded as one of the best captains in world cricket) flew back home because of injury. This may not be the end of the road for Vaughan, but it could well be the beginning of the end. Famous last words or what?

Even though, like Ganguly, few will doubt Vaughan’s captaincy skills, questions might soon be asked of his batting form. From an average of 50 plus in tests and ‘top player in the world rankings” status, Vaughan’s test average (as ex skip Naseer Hussain might have observed, considering his keen interest in averages) has dropped to 42.94. Also his place in the one day side is anything but secure – with an average of 28.36, strike rate of under 70, with no century in 74 games – he doesn’t quite have the numbers of a top order batsman – especially with the 2007 World Cup looming large, and Andrew Flintoff being projected as future captain material. Coach Duncan Fletcher may soon be asking questions, quite like our own coach - Ignore youth at your peril could be the new mantra in world cricket. It doesn’t matter if a rookie like Raina comes in for a Ganguly with 22 ODI hundreds. Watch out Vaughan, with a fifty and a hundred on debut, Cook is knocking hard on your door.

As did Andrew Strauss, not too long ago, on Naseer Hussain’s door. “Dejavu, skip?” Now, it’s no surprise that failure in either cricketing format hastens retirement for a captain, as in the case of Nasser Hussain - after England’s indifferent performance in the 2003 World Cup, Hussain gave up the one-day international captaincy, going on to resign from all forms of cricket in 2004. In his last few months at the helm, Hussain had to endure criticism from all quarters, including the caustic commentary team of Sky Sports. So much so, when he scored his first and only ODI hundred (in the famous Natwest final that India won) this player made a rather public show of finger pointing. Could it be at Beefy, Willis and Gower in the box? However, immediately after a test hundred, Hussain called it a day, as Strauss had announced his arrival in the same series.
“It’s different series now, Skip” Michael Vaughan’s back home with the curse of the urn to contend with – Vaughan has not won a Test since the Ashes win. Incidentally, Vaughan is in distinguished company. England's last Ashes-winning captain, Mike Gatting, never won a Test again after that series in Australia in 1986-87. The one before was David Gower in 1985, and he never won another Test either, 0-5 in the West Indies and 0-1 against India before being sacked in favour of Gatting, only to return, three years later, for a 0-4 drubbing by Australia. The Ashes winner before that was Mike Brearley. He too never won another Test as he subsequently retired from international cricket.

As for Rahul Dravid, the best phase of his career just goes on and on and on - from Wisden Cricketer of the Year 2000 to ICC Test Player of the Year 2004 and ICC Player of the Year 2004; the last six years have seen The Wall become the backbone of both India’s test and one day sides. From having to keep wickets to secure his place in the 2003 World Cup under Ganguly, he has redefined his one day role, upped his strike rate (from the 60s to 70 plus) and average (from the late 30s to 40 plus). But like so many before him (Hussein, Vaughan and Ganguly included), Dravid will know only too well, that the shelf life of a one-day player is getting shorter, like that a teenage queen. And the 2007 World Cup may be his last tango with the youngster’s game. One can only wish, that a player of Dravid’s caliber does not let the vagaries of one-day cricket effect his value as a test player to team India. “Best of luck, Skip!”

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