Tiger Pataudi showed his India teammates what self-respect is, Sourav Ganguly taught his troops to stand up to the best in the business and Mahendra Singh Dhoni provided them the spunk to be world-beaters.
There have also been captains who can be categorised as brilliant and even inspiring. They led the side by personal example, like Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev and Sachin Tendulkar, or even Mohammad Azharuddin. They all had their innings, never looking like leaders of champions.
Not that they lacked leadership qualities, they only left others in the team awestuck by raising their own bar, making it difficult for others to aim at. Dhoni inspired confidence in his players that they are free to go about their work diligently as he was there to back them.
In any team, egos come into play, more so when equals start performing and start thinking that they, too, should get an opportunity to lead the side. Indian cricket is replete with internecine wars affecting the morale of the players. It took close to 50 years for things to fall in place and evolve systems to ensure that the right men are there to lead the team.
Dhoni is one leader who said after his first major success — the inaugural World Twenty20 in South Africa — what he looked for in his teammates: He would like to see them stand in front of a moving truck! In other words, he wanted them to sacrifice everything for the team and the captain.
Certainly not all were willing to do that and there were times a couple of them challenged his authority, but he overcame them without the arguments getting ugly. Of course, like some of his predecessors he had the backing of the Indian cricket board, to be precise, its chief.
It was India coach Greg Chappell who noticed a great talent in Dhoni as wicketkeeper-batsman but also the potential to be a captain. Greg surprisingly, very early in his stint, thought that both Dhoni and another wicketkeeper, Dinesh Karthik, could be groomed to be captains.
If he were just a batsman, bowler or even a wicketkeeper, Dhoni would have prolonged his career, but he managed a far tougher assignment as a wicketkeeper-batsman captaining a side. He did all this without betraying his emotions on the field of play.
In a time span of six years he has achieved everything possible, starting with the 2007 Twenty20 title to the World Number One Test team in 2009 to the 2011 World Cup and finally the Champions Trophy in 2013. Incredible! And the only man who can aspire to reach such heights is Virat Kohli, brought up in the same school of thought in recognising the talent of his players and nursing it.
Whether he called upon Joginder Singh to bowl the do-or-die last over in the World Twenty20 final, that too against Pakistan with 13 needed, pushing himself to go ahead of in-form Yuvraj Singh in the 2011 World Cup final to play a match-winning unbeaten 91, or in that nerve-wracking Champions Trophy final against England in their backyard, reveal him as an unflappable leader.
Virat has aleady achieved the No.1 Test ranking and in six months he can have a shot at the Champions Trophy in the country where Dhoni won it, in England and Wales where in two years’ time he will be up against the world’s best One-Day sides to try and win the World Cup.
Virat, like a good leader, has built his Test squad with a strong bench and it’s time for him to carry forward Dhoni’s legacy in the other formats. That’s not going to be easy. Virat will have the benefit of his predecessor’s sound advice behind the stumps for some time and if everything goes well, even in the 2019 World Cup.
There are very few who can command the respect that Dhoni did. His deputy, Virat Kohli, paid the greatest tribute to his captain saying he will always remain a captain to him. If the captain and his deputy are not on the same wavelength, there will be fissures in the team.
Many addressed Nawab Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi as Nawab Saab and he straightaway told them to call him just Tiger. Another gentleman who has always been a captain to his players is Cottari Kanakaiya (CK) Nayudu, India’s first captain, even when intrigues made life of a cricketer difficult.