Ganguly & Dhoni: A Statistical Comparison of India’s Greatest Test Captains

Leading a team is one of the greatest honours a player can receive.  The opportunity to lead a nation in any respective field, is given to the one who is extremely talented and has earned trust and respect of his teammates. However, with this great honour also comes great responsibility. A captain is made accountable of team’s performance and is expected to perform under pressure and lead the team to victory irrespective of circumstances.

Test Cricket

Longest format of the game has got history of over a century and half and is considered as the highest standard of the sport. Indian test cricket has been blessed with fantabolous leaders over the time. Players like MAK Pataudi, Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Mohammad Azharuddin and Rahul Dravid stand in the front row of great skippers. However, when we think of captaincy two big names that strike to our minds are Saurav Ganguly, fondly called as Dada and MS Dhoni, popularly known as Captain Cool. Though both had extremely good stint during their tenure, they had different approaches towards the game, while the former believed in sheer aggression, the latter found the calmness to be an effective way to get things done. What is common in these two greats is their six hitting ability, they would project any ball over the fence and sometimes across the stadium.

Elegant Left Hander – Saurav Ganguly, the test batsman

The God of off side had a fairy tale debut in the test cricket when he announced his heroic entry during the summer of 1996 with the knock of 131 followed by another century knock of 136. Dada held a prominent role as test batsman and formed a formidable force with Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman popularly recognized as Fabulous Four. The elegant left hander scored 7212 runs with an impressive average of 42.17 in 188 innings that includes 16 hundreds and 35 fifties. The batting all-rounder has also made 32 batsmen his prey with his disciplined medium pace bowling skills.

Greatest Finisher – M S Dhoni, the test batsman

On other hand, Dhoni made a debut under Dada’s captaincy and is regarded as one of the best finds of Dada. Ranchi lad’s aggressive batting coupled with his lightning fast wicket keeping skills made him the first choice for the job. He stood on to his duties and proved his abilities by carrying the burden of keeping wickets and batting at lower middle order for over a decade. Mahi scored 4876 runs with a decent average of 38.09 in 144 innings that includes 6 hundreds and 33 fifties. He has accounted for 294 dismissals behind the stumps. Considering the stats and impact they had on the game, it will not be inappropriate to say Ganguly is a better batsman in the longest format. Dada has got more 100’s, better average and a greater impact as a batsman. Having said this, one cannot deny Mahi’s contributions behind the wickets.

Captain Aggressive

What we are more interested in is their captaincy records. India’s greatest Left hander took over the regime after infamous match fixing saga when there was no trust among players and India ranked 7th in test cricket. He proved to be a tough, intuitive and uncompromising leader. The Bengal Tiger groomed youngsters and formed a brand new force which got rid of the tag “Tigers in home, minnows away”. This team won the matches across the globe and earned a respect from toughest opponents be it Australia or England or any other strong test playing nation. Within a year India went on to become a top ranked test nation though for a shorter duration, they were recognized as second best team after Australia who dominated world cricket in that era.  This period is also known as golden generation of Indian test cricket as it was prime time of the greats like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Anil Kumble and Virender Sehwag.  All-time great captain Steve Waugh said, “Ganguly was the first captain that changed the perception of the way India played their cricket. Now, there is not much difference between Indian and Australian teams”.

Few notable achievements of Team India under Saurav’s assertive leadership are:

  • India defeated Australia in home series of Border-Gavaskar trophy (2-1) in 2001-02. Laxman’s 281, Dravid’s 180 and the epic 376-run partnership in a first match of this series are numbers that can’t be forgotten.
  • India also halted the winning streak of Steve Waugh led fierce Australian team who had won 15 consecutive test matches before coming India.
  • Test win against England at Leads in which skipper himself scored a quick fire 126, which helped India level a series on British soil (1-1) in 2002-03.
  • First ever test series win on Pakistan soil (2-1) in 2003-04.
  • Test win against mighty Kangaroos in Australia that helped India retain Border-Gavaskar trophy (1-1) in 2003-04. The skipper himself had set the tone of the series with his aggressive knock of 144 on a bouncy track of Brisbane under difficult batting conditions.

One thing any cricket fan would wish to forget for sure in this tenure is a series whitewash against New Zealand just before 2003 World Cup (0-2, 2002-03).

Captain Cool

Dhoni took over the captaincy after Kumble decided to retire, which was the last series of Dada. Captain Cool inherited a strong team and was successful in leading them to No 1 position, he replicated his success in shorter format of the game in the longest format as well. MSD’s captaincy tenure, if split into two halves will reveal two extreme results. In his first half of captaincy tenure, the legendary wicket keeper produce an astonishing figures losing only 11.1% of the games, while winning 55.5% of them and levelling the remaining 33.4%. The numbers speak converse in the second half of his tenure at helm with loss% increasing to 45.5 and win% and draw% dropping considerably to 36.3 and 18.2 respectively.

First half of Mahi’s stewardship shows team India’s glorious run.

  • India won eight test series and drawing other three.
  • India also won their first ever test series in New Zealand (1-0, 2009).
  • Team India didn’t lose a single test series during this time.

However Mr. Dependable was not able to produce similar results in the second half part of his test career, especially outside subcontinent. Indian test cricket saw a downfall post 2011 world cup win which includes:

  • Series whitewashes in England and Australia (0-4 and 0-3 respectively) in 2011-12.
  • A forgettable series defeat to England in home (1-2) in 2012-13.
  • Lost to South Africa and New Zealand in another away test season (0-1 and 0-1 respectively) in 2013-14.
  • Continued losing streak in away series as India lost to England and Australia (1-3 and 0-1 respectively) in 2014-15.
  • This rough patch was coincided with loss in form and eventually retirement from International cricket of legendary batsmen:
    • Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman (both retired in 2012)
    • Sachin Tendulkar (retired in 2013)
    • Virender Sehwag (retired in 2015).

The only achievement to cherish in this period is, defeating Australia in home (4-0, 2012-13) in which the swashbuckling hitter scored his only double hundred. India becomes the first country to whitewash Australia in a test series.

Authors’ final Say:

Looking at the stats, it may appear that Dhoni has a better overall win percentage. However, the intercase of stats reveals an entirely different story. Though captaining in fewer games, Ganguly has drawn as many as Dhoni and lost fewer matches. Despite taking over captaincy during critical times and playing fewer home matches, Ganguly has a better Win-Draw%. Dada is accredited to his never die approach and an instinct to win away matches, his away stats replicate the same. Undoubtedly Prince of Kolkata is the greatest leader when it comes to competing outside subcontinent, he leaves behind Dhoni by a big margin with a win% twice as that of the latter and considerably less loss%. Interesting fact to note here is that, Captain Aggressive has won more number of matches away than he lost, a record which no other Indian captain has conquered.

To conclude, I will pick Captain Aggressive over Captain Cool when it comes to leading the nation in 5-days format of the sport. Saurav Ganguly will lead my dream Test-11.


Legends’ Say:

“Saurav is the best captain India has ever had.” – Kapil Dev.

“Saurav is my favourite. His leadership against Australia in Australia was astonishing. I have a great respect for him.” – Ricky Ponting

“Whatever be the complex situations, the Indian team under Ganguly has moved to great heights. The fact of the matter is that Ganguly is determined to stay focussed.” – Brian Lara

“From keeping the opposing captain waiting at the toss, to playing mental games, he was the master at the art of gamesmanship” – Kumar Sangakkara

“Dhoni is the best captain I have played under” – Sachin Tendulkar

“Dhoni is one of the finest leaders in the game.” – Ian Chappell

“Dhoni has evolved as a leader, not just as a cricketer. In my opinion, if you see his records, he is definitely the best captain India ever had.” – Wasim Akram

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