500 Tests & 32 Captains, But These 10 Skippers Stood Out For India

Make your pick for India’s greatest Test skipper and comment in the section below.

By Chandresh Narayan

India’s Test history has been defined by captains who have moulded the sides in their personality. Before the 1960s, Indian cricket preferred the safety first policy and did not attempt too many risks. It was a largely unheralded era full of individual milestones, but never one of grand team performances.

All this changed in the 1960s and this list of some of India’s best captains starts with that time period. Of the 32 men who have led India in Tests, these 10 achieved a lot.

1. Tiger Pataudi

A prince with a tragic story brought his own charm to Indian cricket. Tiger Pataudi was Indian cricket’s youngest-ever captain as he set about changing the mindset of the country’s cricketing system.

Fielding became important in his tenure and there was special emphasis placed on it with the captain himself leading the way. More importantly, Pataudi realised that if India has to win Test matches there was a need for a bowling attack that took 20 wickets.

Thus arrived the famed Indian spin quartet. Under the imaginative leadership of Pataudi, India opened their minds, learnt that they could win, field and also spin a web. India achieved their first-ever overseas Test series win in New Zealand under him in 1967–68.

2. Ajit Wadekar

When the Pataudi era was ending, in a dramatic move iconic former Indian opener and then chairman of selectors Vijay Merchant plumped for this Mumbaikar. This lanky left-hander was chosen as captain for the tough tour of West Indies in 1970–71.

India achieved the impossible with unforgettable performances by veteran Dilip Sardesai and debutant Sunil Gavaskar. India won the series in West Indies for the first-time ever and Wadekar was hailed like never before. He was considered lucky, but he followed up West Indies with a series win in England on a tour that followed closely thereafter to prove that he was a shrewd leader of men. Chandrasekar’s brilliance and a solid team effort helped India beat the then powerful English side.

3. Sunil Gavaskar

If anyone represented the risk-averse Indian middle-class of the 1970s and 1980s, then it was this Mumbai opener.

Sunil Gavaskar put a price on his wicket while batting and followed a similar approach as a captain. He realised that the quartet was gone and he had just Kapil Dev to bowl sides out.

So, Gavaskar adopted a policy whereby India did not lose. But despite these tactics he did manage a series-levelling win in Melbourne in 1981 with three half-fit bowlers. He was tactically sharp and managed his meagre resources very well. If he had been an Indian captain in any other era, he would have been rated amongst the best-ever.

4. Rahul Dravid

He was India’s most under-rated captain ever. India achieved historic series wins in West Indies and England, all against the odds. But sadly Dravid will always be remembered from the prism of the 2007 World Cup failure. India owes a lot to Dravid the skipper ad batsman.

5. Sourav Ganguly

Took over at a difficult time for Indian cricket when the match-fixing scandal had sucked out all hope. India turned a corner under Ganguly, finally, thanks to a group of committed seniors. Overseas wins became regular and India gained stature under his leadership.

Anil Kumble © waves to the crowd after the end of the fifth and final day’s play of the third test cricket match against Australia in New Delhi November 2, 2008. Kumble announced his retirement after the match. (Photo: Reuters)

6. Anil Kumble

At the fag end of his career, Kumble took over India captaincy when the side was in crisis. He had limited time, but he showed his leadership in trying circumstances at the height of the Monkeygate scandal. His crowning glory will forever be the Perth Test win in 2008.

7. Mahendra Singh Dhoni

Statistically India’s best-ever Test captain, but not certainly the most celebrated. He was able to carry forward the hard work put in by his predecessors for a short while. But when the seniors failed, he did too and India were back to the old failings. But just for the short while that India reigned the Test world, he deserves a mention.

8. Bishen Bedi

Part of a golden quartet, Bedi had his set of fans all over the world. His artistry with the ball was hailed by one and all. He was also a charismatic captain, who led from the front and was always one of the boys.

Both seniors and juniors felt at ease with Bedi.

Under his leadership, India overhauled the mammoth 406 target against host West Indies in 1976. He always stood up for his boys when it came to unfair short-pitched bowling (by West Indies) or unfair tactics with the ball (by England). His next big moment was an epic series in Australia where India lost 2–3.

Mohammad Azharuddin (L) talks to Sri Lankan cricketers before the start of their triangular series match in Colombo on July 1, 1988. (Photo: Reuters)

9. Mohammed Azharuddin

A surprise choice as captain in 1990 and a controversial choice in this list, Azhar cannot be overlooked, simply because he led India in almost the entire 1990s. His sides under-achieved abroad and roared to wins at home. Never a great communicator, but achieved results, albeit in friendly conditions.

10. Kapil Dev

The iconic all-rounder took three years to achieve his first Test win as captain. He was unlucky in many ways as on either side of the 1983 World Cup win he encountered a rampant West Indies. But his side fared well, without ever coming close to winning. His first Test win came at the home of cricket, Lord’s in 1986 thus breaking a hoodoo that stuck with him. He never really got a chance to show full potential as Test captain, as it was the start of the ODI boom in India.

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