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A Statistical Comparison of the Captaincy of Ganguly, Dhoni and Kohli

One of the biggest decisions a fan has to make while playing fantasy cricket is the choice of captain. But choosing a leader in the real world is even more difficult. Choosing a fantasy cricket team captain is largely a number-crunching exercise, but selecting the person who controls strategy out on the field is far more challenging. As much as their individual skill sets, you’re looking for someone who can inspire their teammates and keep a calm head in the tough times. Indian cricket has been blessed in terms of leadership in the 21st century. Here we look at the captaincy records of three great cricketers – Sourav Ganguly, MS Dhoni, and Virat Kohli – who took Indian cricket to the top of the mountain. 

Sourav Ganguly

      Format      Matches          WinsDraws/Ties/NR      Losses
          Tests            49            21            15          13
          ODIs          146            76              5          65

When Ganguly took over as captain in 2000, Indian cricket was still reeling from the match-fixing scandal that cost Mohammad Azharuddin his career. In half a decade, Ganguly led the team to Test wins in England (a first in 16 years), Australia (a first in 22 years) and a maiden series win in Pakistan. India was the joint-winner of the Champions Trophy in Sri Lanka in 2002, and a few months later, reached the World Cup final in South Africa.

But what Ganguly is most remembered for is the 2-1 Test defeat of Steve Waugh’s invincible Australian team in 2001, when his spiky leadership and belief in the unproven Harbhajan Singh’s off-spin turned the tide and inspired a glorious victory. He may have lost his captaincy in controversial circumstances, after a clash of views and egos with Greg Chappell, the new coach, but no one will ever forget Ganguly’s role in pushing India towards the forefront of the world game. He had a 11-10 win-loss record in overseas Tests, after a decade (the 1990s) when India had won just one game away from home. 

MS Dhoni

      Format      Matches          WinsDraws/Ties/NR      Losses
          Tests            60            27            15          18
          ODIs          200          110            16          74
          T20s            72            41              3          28

When Dhoni was first given the captaincy, before the World Twenty20 in 2007, it was a left-field pick made necessary by the fact that none of the seniors was playing the tournament. He promptly went on to lead India to the title. After taking over from Anil Kumble as Test captain in 2008, Dhoni enjoyed three golden years – taking the team to No.1 in the Test rankings and winning the World Cup in 2011. There was an impressive Champions Trophy win in 2013 as well, but by then, the sheen had well and truly gone from his Test leadership, with 4-0 defeats in both England and Australia, and even a home defeat to England. 

Dhoni will ultimately be remembered as a fantastic limited-overs leader who won all three of the ICC trophies. But a 6-15 win-loss record in away Tests reveals his limitations in the long format, especially once the core group he was most comfortable with grew old. After a narrow 1-0 series win in the West Indies in 2011, India won only one more Test overseas under Dhoni’s captaincy, at Lord’s in 2014. In his defence, there will be those that say the selectors didn’t manage succession planning properly, allowing the team to decay.

In his early years as a Test leader, Dhoni did win a series in New Zealand and drew one in South Africa, at a time when South Africa were at their strongest. But by the time he quit the job with a Test remaining to be played in Australia in 2014-15, his critics were convinced he wasn’t too bothered about the long format. Those that knew him better will tell you that nonchalant attitude that made him the target of much condemnation was merely a target to deflect attention away from a young team that was struggling to find its feet. Either way, his all-round achievements are unlikely to be matched. 

Virat Kohli

      Format      Matches          WinsDraws/Ties/NR      Losses
          Tests            68            40            11          17
          ODIs            95            65              3          27
          T20s            50            30              4          16

If you have at any point asked someone for fantasy cricket tips over the past half decade, there’s a good chance they would just have told you to make Virat Kohli the captain. But beyond his remarkable achievements with the bat in all three formats of the game, Kohli has built a leadership legacy that’s unmatched in Indian cricket history. He has been instrumental in making India the best all-conditions Test side in the world, winning 16 overseas Tests since 2014. Seven of those wins have come in Australia, England and South Africa, venues where Indian teams have traditionally struggled.

After tasting no success in Australia for 70 years, India have won their last two Test series there. Though Kohli was missing for 3 of the 4 Tests in 2020-21, there was no mistaking that it was a team shaped by its leader – aggressive, hard-working and with a knack for winning the big moments in a game. If there is a criticism of Kohli’s captaincy, it lies in the team’s failure to perform to potential in the big limited-overs events.

India’s last title was the Champions Trophy in 2013, and losses under Kohli’s leadership in the 2017 Champions Trophy final (to Pakistan) and the 2019 World Cup semi-final (England) cut deep. Those near-misses may have prompted the selectors to look at Rohit Sharma for ODI captaincy too, but Kohli’s overall win percentage in every form of the game will take some beating. And he led the Test team to new heights, with a lethal pace attack that he has assembled over the years. 

So Who is the Greatest?

How do we compare these three, who led India to unprecedented success?

  • Ganguly helped India get rid of the ‘sick travellers’ tag and gave them the belief that they could beat even the best. 
  • Dhoni was a master of the white-ball formats. 
  • Dhoni’s Test record away from home wasn’t great, but it should also be recognized that many of the defeats came in a time of transition. 
  • Kohli took one step forward from Ganguly, making India a feared Test opponent wherever they go in the world.
  • Kohli suffers in comparison to Dhoni, and even Ganguly, as a white-ball leader. There were many wins, but not enough of them in crunch matches and big tournaments.