The Indian cricket team has produced some of the greatest captains to have played the sport. Right from the time of Tiger Pataudi to now Virat Kohli, there have been many leaders to have led the Indian side in their own styles of captaincy. However, there have been two leaders namely Sourav Ganguly and MS Dhoni, who brought in majestic changes to Indian cricket with their decision-making abilities, both on and off the field.
While Ganguly steered the Indian side out of the 2000 match-fixing scandal and built a team of youngsters for the future, MS Dhoni ensured the rise and rise of Indian cricket and scripted the iconic feat of possessing all ICC trophies – World T20, World Cup, and the Champions Trophy through his sharp cricketing acumen.
Let us take a look at five decisions taken by Sourav Ganguly and MS Dhoni that initiated the rise of Indian cricket.
#1 Ganguly promoting Virender Sehwag at the opening slot in Test cricket, and MS Dhoni batting up the batting order in ODIs
The Indian Test team needed an opener in the early 2000s, someone who could give a solid start to the innings, blunt the new ball before the legendary batting order comprising Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman and Ganguly himself could take over.
Another issue was where to position Virender Sehwag in the batting lineup, as he had shown his mettle with a century on Test debut against South Africa in Bloemfontein in 2001.
It was during India’s tour to England in 2002 that Ganguly decided to elevate Sehwag up the batting order and he reassured the Delhi cricketer stating that he won’t be dropped from the team even if he fails as an opener.
Another notable fact is, Sehwag had never opened the innings before. Even for his domestic team Delhi in First-Class cricket, he always played in the middle-order.
“He (Ganguly) explained to me that the opening slot was vacant, so if I take it, my place in the side will be guaranteed. But in case I was against the idea and wanted to stick to the middle-order, he explained, I would have to wait for someone to get injured. He said,” I will give you three to four innings as an opener. Even if you fail, you will continue to play. And before I drop you, I will again give you a chance in the middle order,” Sehwag wrote in a column in The New Indian Express.
Sehwag bashed the English bowlers for 84 runs off 94 deliveries in his first innings as an opener at Lord’s and followed with 106 at Trent Bridge. In a career that spanned 13 years, Sehwag aggregated 8586 runs in 104 matches averaging 49.34 at an astounding strike rate of 82.21.
In the year 2005, Ganguly, sensing the six-hitting potential in Dhoni and the fearless style of cricket that he brought with himself, decided to promote the latter at No 3 in the second ODI of the 6-match series against Pakistan. Dhoni rammed Pakistan’s bowling attack with a 123-ball 148 announcing his arrival to world cricket. Rest, as they say, is history.
#2 Ganguly backing Yuvraj Singh in spite of his inconsistencies in the initial two years
Ganguly had the knack of picking match-winners. He knew which players had the potential to churn up numbers in clutch moments and thus, he backed them to the hilt, regardless of their initial failures or inconsistent exhibitions. That’s one of the qualities one expects from a leader and Ganguly was an epitome of the same.
One of India’s biggest match-winners in white-ball cricket – Yuvraj Singh had a dream debut under Ganguly, scoring 84 against Australia in the ICC Knockout Trophy in 2000.
However, Yuvraj had a series of low scores post this performance, and in the first 27 innings aggregated only 498 runs at an average of 22.64, including two fifty-plus totals.
Regardless of such hot and cold exhibitions till 2001, Ganguly backed the left-hander to the hilt. The result: Yuvraj scored 7 fifties in 2002, amassed 661 runs at an average of 36.61.
And who can forget, the 2002 Natwest Trophy final, where the southpaw notched 69 off 66 deliveries thereby assisting in a historic Indian conquest.
Cometh the 2007 World T20 and 2011 World Cup, Yuvraj surfaced as the ‘Man of Big Occasions’ that cemented his position in the hearts of cricket fanatics.
In the maiden edition of the T20 World Cup, Yuvraj accumulated 148 runs in 5 innings at a strike rate of 194.74 His most notable knocks were the ones against England (58 off 16 deliveries) and Australia (70 off 30 deliveries) that knocked the latter out of the tournament in the second semi-final.
And the 2011 World Cup, the all-rounder was adjudged as the ‘Man of the Tournament’ for scoring 362 runs including a hundred and four fifties along with 15 wickets and four ‘Man of the Match’ awards.
#3 Ganguly risking his captaincy for Anil Kumble’s inclusion for the 2003-04 Australia tour
Sometimes one can wonder, what would have been the outcome of India’s tour of Australia in 2003-04, had Sourav Ganguly not fought with the then selectors for Anil Kumble’s addition into the Test squad.
Kumble wasn’t the first choice for the selectors, as they wanted to try Murali Karthik, left arm-spinner, and they further reasoned that the Karnataka cricketer doesn’t pick wickets outside the subcontinent.
In came Sourav Ganguly, who put his captaincy at stake to rope in Kumble for his services in the Australian tour.
“I told John if you leave Anil, he may not play for India again. I said I am not going to sign the selection sheet till Anil is in the side.
The selectors got fed up with me and said if I don’t play well if the team does not play well, and if Kumble does not play well, I will.be the first person to go before anyone goes. I said fine, I am ready to take that risk and we will see what happens,” the former Indian skipper was quoted as saying by Hindustan Times.
Long story short: Kumble had a tour to remember. The leggie finished as the highest wicket-taker in the series, scaling 24 wickets across threw Tests, averaging 29.58, including 3 five-wicket hauls in an innings and a ten-wicket haul in a match. His best figures being 8/141 in the final Test match at SCH.
Not only the heroics in Border Gavaskar Trophy 2003-04, but Kumble also ended up picking 80 wickets in a calendar year – the most number of wickets in the history of red-ball cricket.
#4 MS Dhoni promoting himself to Number 5 in the 2011 World Cup Final
“Dhoni finishes off in style. A magnificent strike into the crowd.. India lifts the world cup after 28 years.. The party starts in the dressing room.. and its the Indian captain who has been absolutely magnificent in the night of the final.”
Those words by an overjoyed Ravi Shastri will stay etched in the minds of the Indian cricket fans forever.
Now there have been many stories behind Dhoni promoting himself up the order ahead of Yuvraj Singh, who had already scored 341 runs in 7 innings including 4 fifties and a hundred.
While Sehwag has spoken about it in a brief as to how Sachin Tendulkar had asked Dhoni to send a righty on a right-handed dismissal or lefty on a left-handed dismissal, which was followed by the latter discussing the same with the then Indian head coach Gary Kirsten.
Still, the fact that MS took such a humongous decision, which in hindsight turned out to be a master-class on his part, and steered the Indian side to glory after 28 long years is what makes the story worth listening to on a loop.
What’s to be taken note of is Dhoni’s performance in the 2011 World Cup leading to the finals against Sri Lanka. In 7 innings, he had aggregated 150 runs at an average of 30.00 and a strike rate of 69.44.
However, his experience of playing his then CSK colleague – Muttiah Muralitharan in the nets during the Indian Premier League (IPL) was at the back of his mind that further cemented his decision to bat up the order.
Batting alongside a well-set Gautam Gambhir, who had earlier stitched 31 and 83 run partnerships for the second and third wickets with Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli respectively, MSD added 109 runs off 120 deliveries for the fourth wicket.
Post Gambhir’s dismissal, the onus was now on the duo of Yuvraj and MSD to scrape an Indian triumph and the latter ensured that it happened in a stylish fashion.
Dhoni’s calculated risk coupled with his exceptional self-belief and to score a match-winning 91* off 79 deliveries with a humongous six in the World Cup final is one of his traits that prove why he’s touted as once in a generation captain.
#5 Dhoni backing Rohit Sharma; promoting him as an opener
What Ganguly pulled with Sehwag’s promotion at the top-order as an opener, a similar step was taken by Dhoni in the case of Rohit Sharma, who had shown his prowess to the cricket fraternity in the 2007 World T20.
However, the journey for Rohit Sharma as a middle-order batsman to an opener had a string of lows before he became the ‘Hitman’ we know.
Rohit averaged a mere 30.82 and had an acquired tally of 2065 runs after 88 ODIs, comprising 2 centuries and 13 half-centuries. In the meantime, he wasn’t even picked for the 2011 World Cup squad for his dry run with the bat preceding the selections for the 50-over tournament.
However, the numbers were about to change for the good in a few years. Cometh the 2013 Champions Trophy in England & Wales, and Rohit opens the innings against South Africa, smashing a match-winning half-century. That was just the start of what was about to come in the next seven years and continued.
Since the 2013 Champions Trophy, the right-hander has been one of the leading run-getters in ODIs, scoring 7050 runs in 136 innings at a jaw-dropping average of 59.74, including 27 hundreds and 30 fifties. He has got 3 ODI double hundreds under his belt which is the most by any cricketer in the history of 50-over cricket.
In fact, the Mumbaikar was the leading run-getter in the 2019 World Cup in England & Wales, as he clocked 648 runs in 9 matches at an average of 81.00, including 5 hundreds and a fifty.
Truly, one of the gems that the cricketing world has ever witnessed.