'A captain like Kohli gets extra respect'

Interview/Shashi Tharoor

Shashi Tharoor

Calcutta: Shashi Tharoor has worn many hats, most prominent being that of an under-secretary-general of the United Nations (2002-2007) and a Union minister during Manmohan Singh's second innings as Prime Minister.

The 61-year-old Tharoor is also a cricket aficionado and manages to, at least, watch the highlights of every India match.

Tharoor, who in his second term as an INC member of the Lok Sabha from Thiruvananthapuram, spoke to The Telegraph on the connect between leadership and captaincy.


Q Is there a distinction between captaincy in cricket and leadership or are all captains necessarily leaders?

A It's a very good question... In my view, even if you weren't a leader before you became the captain, then you simply had to be one as captain. In our country, captains are not always appointed for their leadership qualities. However, once the captain is appointed, he's the one calling the shots on the field, he's the one motivating players. A lot of that requires the ability to lead... Mike Brearley's biggest value was his leadership. He was selected for his captaincy, while others were picked for their batting or bowling. But that, I suppose, would only have happened in England. The Australians, for example, have a very different philosophy: Pick the best XI and, then, the captain... Getting back to your question, there is a distinction without a difference.

Q Brearley proved to be quite an exception and had an 18-4 win/loss ratio in the 31 Tests that he captained England...

A Of course. Brearley impressed those who appointed him and the players under him followed the culture he'd embraced... Brearley's a very nice man and I recall chatting with him when I was a 16-year-old, during the India vs MCC Test at the Eden in 1972-1973, but he wouldn't have made England's best Test XI purely as a batsman.

Q In my last interview with you, you listed the qualities a good leader should have (ability to inspire, ability to lead by example, ability to let the followers feel that victory is theirs, not the leader's)... Who is the first captain to have caught your imagination?

A (Mansur Ali Khan) Tiger Pataudi... He was the India captain in the very first Test I watched, against the MCC, at the Brabourne Stadium in January 1964. Pataudi was very stylish, was a tiger on the field and had real command over his men. Well, he had that aristocratic style. But while Pataudi was elegant, he kept losing matches (9-19 win/loss ratio). And, as a fan, you'd like to have a captain who wins more than he loses... Much later, Sachin Tendulkar was everyone's favourite batsman, but as captain, he lost more than he won. In Sachin's early years as an India player, he'd given the impression that he'd be a terrific captain. That wasn't to be, though. Some people have it in them to lead, some don't.

[Tendulkar captained India in 25 Tests, winning 4 and losing 9.]

Q Anybody after Tiger?

A Kapil Dev... Kapil, I must say, won my heart. He had that bravery, a daring attitude. With Kapil at the helm, you felt India wouldn't lose. Or, at least, not go down without a fight. That was a great feeling to have as, in those days, we'd lose more than we'd win... Goes without saying that Kapil led from the front in the 1983 World Cup. Kapil's 175 not out against Zimbabwe, when India were 17 for five at one stage, remains the finest ODI innings for me. What batting from the captain!

Q There have been a couple of inspirational captains in the past decade, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and, now, Virat Kohli. Your thoughts on both...

A Dhoni still is a giant in the team. He hasn't just been indispensable as a player, but his calmness is also indispensable. There's a quiet sense of authority and command. The Dhoni of recent years has been such a contrast from the image he had early on, long hair and twinkling eyes... Kohli is arguably the world's best batsman, which gives him an extra edge (as captain). That shouldn't really be relevant to captaincy, but a captain like Kohli gets that extra respect. Steve Smith is close to Kohli in that respect. Kohli also has that commanding personality, a man who knows what he wants. If someone drops a catch or fails to take a single, his face says it all. I'm looking forward to the next few years of Kohli the batsman and captain. It's quite astonishing that once he gets going, the opposition very rarely succeeds in dismissing him before a hundred. England has been one black mark in Kohli's career, but I'm confident he'll erase that this summer.

[In five Tests on the 2014 tour of England, Kohli managed just 134 runs at an average of 13.40. Since then, of course, he has kept raising the bar.]

Q Kohli's style of captaincy differs from the way Dhoni led. Have you tried dissecting the way they captain/captained?

A They are vastly different... Kohli is excitable, Dhoni never got excited. Rather, he stayed calm. Kohli wants to do everything all by himself, while Dhoni preferred asking others to do their bit. Dhoni is a very good 'keeper and a very good batsman, but in neither category would he be called the world's best. However, as a package, we've been lucky to have Dhoni. Kohli, on the other hand, is arguably the No. 1 batsman in the business.

Q Any other India captain you'd like to talk about?

A Sourav Ganguly turned out to be the captain India probably needed at that point in time... Anil Kumble had a short stint, but the captaincy came to him very late in his career.

Q Sourav had superstars in his team... How would you have captained that India side?

A Look, Sourav did a very fine job and I'm not saying that because he is a fellow Xaverian... I have captained mediocre teams and, the last time I went for the toss, it resulted in the Ministry of External Affairs suffering a thundering defeat at the hands of the British High Commission. So much for my captaincy.

Q A non-India captain who stood out for you...

A Allan Border... Clive Lloyd too was a towering captain. To have led such a star-studded team could never have been easy, that too for the length of time Lloyd captained the West Indies.

Q Why Border?

A Because Border took over an Australia team which had been in a shambles after Kim Hughes's resignation in tears. In the next few years, Australia changed dramatically. Indeed, the team Border handed over to Mark Taylor was totally different from the one he'd inherited. He created a new nucleus and helped make Australia into world beaters.

Q When you lecture on leadership, what's the No.1 advice you offer?

A True leaders make sure that the others believe victory has been theirs. It's a sense of belonging... Also, take advice. There's never any harm in listening. Leaders in all fields need to sound out others.

Q Finally... Team India lost the Test series 1-2, but pulverised South Africa 5-1 in the ODIs... Reaction?

A If only the Board had sent Kohli and his men to South Africa well before the January 5 start of the first Test... It takes time to acclimatise and look at what our players did once they'd familiarised themselves with the conditions. India didn't play a single practice match before the Cape Town Test. Two such fixtures against proper first-class teams would surely have counted for a lot. In fact, the Test series result could have been different.


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