They are in absolute control

Indian skipper Sourav Ganguly congratulates New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming after the Kiwis won the Test series 2-0 in 2002-03. -- Pic. N. BALAJI-

Fleming and Ganguly are distinct personalities but have a similar approach to the task. The emphasis obviously is on playing quality cricket and making the most of the resources available, writes VIJAY LOKAPALLY.

As captains in modern day cricket, Sourav Ganguly and Stephen Fleming, both left-handed batsmen, realise well that winning matters most and their aim has always been to lead by example. But then they also realise they alone cannot alter the course of the competition unless support comes from all quarters.

Ganguly and Fleming, who have been promoted through the ranks, make an interesting subject for a captaincy debate. It is not just who is better tactically, but who ranks high in terms of achievements.

It must be noted that Ganguly and Fleming did not take time to fit into the role, with the backing from all quarters. Aggression, though has different meaning for them, has been an integral part of their performances as captain. They savoured in their moment of success, but failures too have left an impression on their personalities. But, to be fair to them, Ganguly and Fleming have learnt to accept the realities in a most sporting manner.

Fleming assumed the responsibilities at a critical time when New Zealand cricket was going through a transition period. He had the challenging job of leading one of the most inexperienced teams in international cricket. In modern sport, aggression is a key factor, but the affable Kiwi has not allowed it to be the dominating aspect of his plan.

In contrast, Ganguly believes in aggression. There is no doubt, he is leading a talented side. The Indian skipper, widely believed in cricket circles, has two faces — aggressive on the field and a cool customer off it. This cannot be said of Fleming.

Fleming commands absolute control. So does Ganguly. Yet, one is tempted to add that the India captain has grown in stature with far greater speed. The Kiwi was handed the job four years after he made his debut, the same way as Ganguly, but the latter has made a place for himself among the top captains in contemporary cricket.

Skipper Ganguly, in the recent past, has been an asset to Indian cricket. His aggressive postures have worked. -- Pic. V. V. KRISHNAN-

Their distinctive style of leadership is a development based on the strengths of their teams. Ganguly has been lucky to have some committed and gifted cricketers in his team while Fleming has often struggled to get the best together.

Injuries to key players, at different stages, have been the major source of worry for Fleming, who likes to lead from the front. In Ganguly's case, the team has often delivered, making his task easier. The fact that Ganguly has a pool of talent to pick from makes his job easier.

The circumstances have taught Fleming and Ganguly to study and react with maturity. The Indian seems better placed, what with the list of seniors comprising accomplished names like Sachin Tendulkar, Anil Kumble and Rahul Dravid helping him out. In Fleming's case, there is a lack of experienced players.

Fleming, born on All Fools Day, is widely acknowledged as a sharp cricketing brain. Ganguly has no challengers to the post, having done well, leading India to the finals of a few limited overs tournaments.

Given the system in his country, Fleming cannot be accused of promoting his favourites. Generally, he is satisfied with the squad handed over to him by the selectors. In comparison, Ganguly has enjoyed immense clout in the selection of the team.

Often the India skipper claims his greatest contribution has been his success in crushing factionalism, which was the bane of Indian cricket in the past. Well, as much as he deserves, the credit should also go to the seniors who have supported his moves in the interest of Indian cricket. Ganguly indeed should consider himself fortunate that he has a bunch of senior cricketers who have given their best. There have differences among the players, but when it comes to team's interest all of them have stood united. Ganguly certainly cannot complain of lack of support from any quarter. The selectors have always lent an ear to him and the team has remained committed as a whole despite the fact that there have been occasions when Ganguly has not been seen as a fair captain.

Ganguly's handling of left-arm spinner Murali Kartik has left a lot to be desired. It is a pity that Kartik, no doubt a fine spinner, has never been allowed to flower as have been a few of his tribe. It is also an irony that Kartik has to acknowledge in public that he has the backing of his skipper. Then the case of Anil Kumble only highlighted the dark side of Ganguly's leadership. The captain clearly failed to utilise the senior leg-spinner, who may have a very different and interesting tale to narrate when he quits the game.

In Fleming's case, he has had the mercurial Chris Cairns posing as challenger, if one may call him so. The Kiwi skipper has handled his players deftly and with a greater maturity. His reactions have always been measured and he is a professional to the core. He is one of the disciplined cricketers in the world of cricket.

This is not to portray Ganguly as a mean and demanding skipper. He has his plus points too. Like his backing of Yuvraj Singh, Mohammad Kaif, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, to name a few. The support is mutual, actually, and one which benefits the team as a whole.

To Ganguly's credit, he has stood by his players, and that enhances his rating as a captain. The players have always looked up to him for support and never compromised on their loyalty. If former captains like Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev and Tiger Pataudi have kind words for Ganguly, it does reflect on his calibre.

Fleming enjoys greater success overseas as a captain than Ganguly. New Zealand has won six Tests and 58 one-dayers overseas under his leadership. -- Pic. V. V. KRISHNAN-

True, it is not easy to lead an India team, what with the players drawn from different backgrounds. But Fleming too has a task in hand, his challenges being different. Take the tour of India for example where Fleming and his team would miss the services of Cairns and Shane Bond, two key men who could make the difference. Cairns and Bond have the potential to alter the course of the match in a matter of a session and their absence would mean extra pressure on Fleming, who has bravely warned the Indians to watch out even in favourable conditions.

Ganguly, in the recent past, has been an asset to Indian cricket. His aggressive postures have worked, not always though, in raising the standard of the team. The epic triumph against Australia at home remains the high point of Ganguly's captaincy. It was V. V. S. Laxman's grand knock at Kolkata that gave a new life to Ganguly the captain but then the gentle Hyderabadi did not receive his captain's support when he needed it the most. Ganguly instead backed Dinesh Mongia for the World Cup and Laxman was deprived of a chance he deserved.

Fleming enjoys greater success overseas as a captain than Ganguly. New Zealand has won six Tests and 58 one-dayers overseas under his leadership. Ganguly has led India to five Tests and 56 one-day victories abroad. His Test wins have come in Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka and England and the West Indies but the two match defeats in the last series in New Zealand, before the World Cup, will rankle him for long. His aggregate in four innings was a mere 29.

Fleming has led New Zealand in 51 Tests and 142 one-day internationals. Ganguly has captained the team in 32 Tests and 104 one-day internationals. A few losses, narrowly, may have dented Ganguly's record but he has remained focussed on playing positive cricket, the main ingredient of India's 2-1 victory against Steve Waugh's Australians at home.

Fleming has been in the forefront of the Kiwi team's preparation for the tour to India. Known to handle pace and spin with skill, Fleming is the key figure if New Zealand is to repeat its performance in Sri Lanka where it drew both the Tests, countering the wily Muttiah Muralitharan's guiles deftly.

In winning the tri-series in Sri Lanka this year, the Kiwis gave an indication of the overall improvement of the team's profile under Fleming. His match-winning knock in the tri-series final against Pakistan and a career-best unbeaten 274 in the Test against Sri Lanka highlight the hunger the Kiwi has for runs. His career-best one-day score too came this season — 134 not out — was a classic act at The Wanderers in the World Cup match against South Africa. This innings mirrored Fleming's strong character and cool mind as a leader.

Ganguly too has played some match-winning knocks as a captain, but he revels in pushing his mates to give their best. There may be times when he is more demanding, putting pressure on the bowlers to deliver, but his approach to the job shows his belief in the team, which in turn raises the overall standard of the squad.

Fleming and Ganguly are distinct personalities but have a similar approach to the task. The emphasis obviously is on playing quality cricket and making the most of the resources available. Fleming of course will have a tough time in tackling the potentially stronger opposition but Ganguly too knows it is not going to be easy for him. The Kiwis are an under-rated lot and any complacency could result in disaster. It is this sense of complacency that Ganguly has to guard against.

Knowing Fleming and his ability to inspire the team, one can expect the Kiwis to give the Indians a run for their money. The series, at the end of it all, could well be a tale of two captains.