Waugh at the pinnacle, Ganguly climbing gamely

Steve Waugh's reputation as a captain has been awesome. True, he did not conquer the Indian team in India but then that should not go against his great quality of having led Australia to some stirring triumphs all over the cricketing world. But skipper Sourav Ganguly's stock as captain has suffered on occasions. writes VIJAY LOKAPALLY.

"A good captain must be a fighter. Confident but not arrogant, firm but not obstinate, able to take criticism without letting it unduly disturb him, for he is sure to get it and unjustly, too.'' Thus noted Sir Don Bradman in his epic The Art of Cricket.

Steve Waugh has never been seen as a biased leader towards certain players and it is this quality which really stands out in his favour as one of the greatest captains the game has seen.-

This observation aptly sums up the personality of Steve Waugh, the senior statesman of international cricket, a sportsman who commands a prominent place in the history of the game with few opposing his stature as one of the finest men ever to lead a cricket team. Incidentally, Waugh will be retiring at the end of the Test series against India.

Sourav Ganguly may not qualify to figure in this category but then in the three years, as captain, he has managed to justify his elevation to the coveted spot. Not always convincing but in some cases seen as a players' captain, which, in Indian cricket, can be a rare happening.

We all know what captaincy means to Waugh. It is not just about picking the playing eleven, setting the field and ringing in the bowling changes. For Waugh, captaincy means setting an example and leading from the front... . and winning matches.

Ganguly, too, loves leading from the front, accepting the blame and standing by his players in time of distress. He has been a slow learner but has learnt the finer points and has put them into practice for the benefit of the team. In the process, Ganguly has made progress on the captaincy front even if not with great results in Test cricket, barring the home triumph against Waugh's team.

Waugh has the class and the charisma to lead a strong team like Australia to great heights. His courage in difficult situations has been legendary. As a batsman, the sight of Waugh taking on the West Indian speedsters on their soil, standing up to their aggression, meeting fire with fire, has been well documented. That was before he took over as a captain but then he has toiled to maintain the legacy left behind by some glorious leaders in Australian cricket.

Often, doubts have been raised about Ganguly's ability to accumulate runs in difficult situations. He appears to be a good Test batsman on a good pitch. Well, there may have been an odd innings in the subcontinent in demanding circumstances but then such occasions have not raised his stature as a Test batsman, especially when he happen to lead the team.

Waugh's reputation as a captain has been awesome. True, he did not conquer the Indian team in India but then that should not go against his great quality of having led Australia to some stirring triumphs all over the cricketing world. He has ensured that when it comes to placing Australia on the top, there would not be any distinctions. His team stays the best and Waugh has played a major role in Australia acquiring this status in contemporary cricket.

Ganguly's reputation as a captain has suffered on occasions. His fans would like us to believe that he has introduced a certain degree of pride to the role, but then it is also true that Ganguly has prospered on the strength of the seniors, such as Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble, Javagal Srinath, in the team. So it is not just the case of the captain backing his players but the players, too backing their skipper. The credit has to be shared.

The best player necessarily need not be the captain but Waugh is different. He is as good a batsman as any in the team and commands a place on merit. Waugh would still be picked on his batting strength alone in Tests, if not one-day cricket.

Ganguly does not enjoy the same ranking. The National selectors do not have to debate his case only because he picks himself on the privilege of being the captain. And then, of late, he has retained his Test place on the basis of his success in one-day cricket. The same logic does not apply to many others, who have been identified to play either the Tests or limited overs circket.

Sourav Ganguly is seen as a man of strong likes and dislikes. There is a distinct lack of communication between him and some players and his poor handling of Kumble and Murali Kartik has not really pushed his case as a fair captain.-

His strong character has been Waugh's greatest asset as captain. It takes loads of commitment to remain in the hot seat and Waugh has not been found wanting on this count at all. His loyalty to his duty has been a singular contribution to Australia's rise as a superpower in world cricket, far ahead of the rest.

Ganguly is seen as a man of strong likes and dislikes. There is a distinct lack of communication between him and some players and his poor handling of Kumble and Murali Kartik has not really pushed his case as a fair captain. It is another matter that Kumble and Kartik have taken the humiliation in their stride to maintain the smooth functioning of the team under Ganguly's captaincy.

If there has not been open resentment against Ganguly, the reasons could be many. The success achieved by the team in limited overs cricket, reaching the final of the World Cup for example, has meant more teeth and power to the captain to have greater say in matters concerning the team. The so called team management is a misnomer.

Waugh is not seen as a promoter of certain individuals, or opposed to certain players. He understands his job as a captain well and leaves little scope for criticism. Waugh has never been seen as a biased leader towards certain players and it is this quality which really stands out in his favour as one of the greatest captains the game has seen.

True, Waugh and Ganguly have different systems and work ethics to tackle but then the common factor is the aggression they bring to their job. Waugh, in fact, is quietly aggressive, getting the best out of his players without making his presence felt in a big way. It reflects in the results that Australia has achieved. This cold aggression, so ruthless when dealing with the opposition, has been an asset as far as Waugh is concerned. He knows when to act tough, without ever attracting attention.

In Ganguly's case, it is clear that he is demonstrative. He would like to believe that he ought to be in the thick of the action to get the best out of the players but it appears a poor strategy because it keeps the individuals under constant pressure. The bowlers will be tense up because of the demands of the captain.

There is also a lively spirit that Waugh employs when leading the side. He makes it a point to keep his players relaxed and focussed and he does it with a rare flair. History has seen many outstanding captains but none with the intensity that Waugh brings about to his job.

Not that Ganguly is any less intense as captain. He is too involved but then this also leads to strong reactions from the man, often on the field, and at times in bad taste. Ganguly may not be unpleasant but then he hardly comes off a captain who would evoke confidence in a man struggling for runs or wickets. Two individuals, Amit Bhandari and Thiru Kumaran, were left to themselves on a placid track at Dhaka against Pakistan with the captain's argument being if the bowlers were good enough to be picked for India then they ought to deliver. Fair enough, but is not the captain expected to provide the moral support to his players on the field? It is this inconsistency that stands out sorely in Ganguly's role as a captain.

Waugh has been fortunate to enjoy the services of a lethal bowling attack and a sturdy batting line-up. And also at times he has faced an opposition going through a transition period but then the same applies to India too. But the last series against New Zealand showed the Indians in poor light and the captain was unconvincing in his defence of the team, which had failed to win at home despite favourable conditions.

Ganguly has got his own way in certain selections. And rightly too. As a captain, he must have a hand in forming his army. There is the other side too to this story, the willingness of the selection committee to concede some ground to the captain. To Ganguly's credit, he has had an excellent rapport with the selectors, who find him quite receptive to ideas and suggestions from various quarters.

The ease and warmth with which Waugh allows a newcomer to settle down and feel important speaks for the man's inherent quality to conquer all frontiers. Waugh is said to spend as much time analysing the strong and weak points of his mates as himself. At times he is reportedly more engrossed in his colleagues at the price of ignoring his own problems. But that is what works in favour of Waugh when it comes to picking the ideal captain. He has always put his own interests in the background.

As a tactician too, Waugh has proved he is far superior to the other captains in modern cricket. He has had a pace battery at his disposal, which he has exploited with care, and then he has used the spinners too with good thinking. Ganguly does not lay claims as one of the best students of the game but he is effective in his own manner, making the best use of the talent available to him. And as the youngsters say, `Ganguly is one fine motivator.' We shall accept their word.

The success achieved by Waugh at home and overseas is in proportion with Australia's abilities as a team capable of excelling in all conditions. Great teams are judged on the basis of their performances away from home and here Waugh, with humility has a strong point of his character, leads the table as a captain who can meet any challenge.

Ganguly, it may be noted, has had an unimpressive record in Tests outside India as a captain. His feats have come in limited overs cricket and he obviously is keen to take that all-important leap which would place him among the best in his country provided he inspires his side to beat Australia in Australia.

A debacle could spell disaster for Ganguly, with Rahul Dravid showing laudable leadership qualities in the few matches that he has led India in.

Waugh's calibre and commitment is gloriously reflected in his decision to step down as a captain and a player at the end of the series against India. "My present form and fitness suggests I could play on but all good things must come to an end and I believe Sydney is the perfect place. I want to leave the game on a high and I just think the time's right now,'' he said in his emotional announcement before the series, acknowledging the support of his family, friends and the administration. A fitting statement from a great sportsman who knows what is the best time to say goodbye.

Winning at home might be routine work for Waugh but Ganguly would add a feather to his cap if he leads India to a triumph that could transform the face of Indian cricket in Tests overseas. An arduous challenge indeed but he has the team to pull off a miracle, only it needs to perform to its potential. "A good captain must be a fighter.'' Let Ganguly remember Sir Donald's words when he walks out to toss with the most decorated of all modern captains.