When MS Dhoni took over the Test captaincy of India, he led a charmed life. He won 8 of his first 11 matches and in the process took India to the top of the ICC Test rankings. It may be noted that India had never made it past No. 3. The first three teams he faced were the toughest in the form of South Africa, Australia and England.
Another point to be noted was that Dhoni and Anil Kumble co-captained two series with Dhoni winning all his matches and Kumble none. There was definitely something about Dhoni. More so because his batting average was 50+ as captain in those days and it was clearly a case of leading from the front.
On the eve of the England series in 2011, Dhoni had an impressive 15-3 win-loss record as captain. Then mysteriously, things fell apart. We were whitewashed not once but twice on foreign soil. None of it made any sense.
The last time we toured England before 2011, we had won 1-0. The Australian team was in decline and we had finished a tough 1-1 series on South African soil.
But crash we did and suddenly the captain who could do no wrong now could do no right. There were calls of his sacking and post England 2011, Dhoni’s win-loss ratio is a sad 3-7. The 3 wins come against weaker teams.
Interestingly when the No. 1 position passed from India to England, Strauss found himself in a similar position as Dhoni. He was seen as someone who had revived England and had the Midas touch as captain.
By the time he had finished with India, his win-loss ratio was a very impressive 21-5, one of the highest of all time. The No. 1 ranking was an added crown.
But since then, the fortunes of Strauss and England have plummeted. The only series they won was against a lowly-ranked West Indies. In the other 3 series against stronger teams, Strauss registered a 1-6 win-loss record.
Again, like the way Dhoni crashed, Strauss doing the same is unfathomable. England were expected to be out of sorts in places like Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sri Lanka. But going down to South Africa on home soil 0-2 was not expected. It’s the same leadership, batting and bowling.
Dhoni and Strauss are not the only ones to have fallen like this. Australian Ricky Ponting’s decline was also sharp. He has the most Test wins as captain, winning in a whopping 48 Tests, which is a world record. But even his career can be divided into two phases.
In the first phase, he had a win-loss ratio greater than even Steve Waugh. In the second phase, he lost back to back Ashes series with England and went down to India 0-2 not once but twice.
People pointed to a general decline in the Australian team, but there was a revival as soon as Ponting stepped down. Michael Clarke has made as great a start as Dhoni and Strauss. He currently has a win-loss record of 9-3, including a 4-0 whitewash of India, something which Ponting never achieved.
In fact a huge dollop of beginner’s luck for captains seems to be the rule rather than the exception. The man who toppled Strauss from his perch was none other than Misbah-ul-Haq of Pakistan. Misbah has a win-loss record of 9-1 and that W-L ratio is the highest of all time. He has captained Pakistan in 17 Test matches, so it is a fair number to assess him.
Whether Clarke and Misbah can continue to shine or will see a decline like Dhoni and Strauss remains to be seen.
West Indies also faced Test defeat after defeat in the last decade, but new captains have had a great start. Chris Gayle won his first Test as captain against South Africa while Darren Sammy drew his first series with Sri Lanka and won a Test with Pakistan thereafter.
The only consistent thing in Test captaincy has been Graeme Smith and South Africa. Smith had decent start to his captaincy in 2003 and even in 2012 continues to shine. He has a record 94 matches as captain and a win-loss record of 44-26 and has the chance of becoming the first Test captain to register 50 wins.
The author is a Bengaluru-based journalist and blogger.
He blogs at http://sunilrajguru.com/