DUBAI // Any conversation on cricket and the art of captaincy invariably steers towards the charismatic Pakistani Imran Khan and the outspoken Aussie Ian Chappell. The irresistible Pathan shaped a talented but underperforming, and frequently feuding lot into one of the most formidable units in world cricket, which won the 1992 World Cup against all odds.
"Chappelli" is recognised as the one of the greatest captains the game has seen. The term "ugly Australians" took birth under his reign, and the famous England captain Mike Brearley was forced to state that "playing against a team with Ian Chappell as a captain turns a cricket match into gang warfare". To get an endorsement from these two would be a like a throne on Mount Olympus, and the India captain Mahendra Dhoni has managed just that. "I like the look of Dhoni as captain," said Chappell, who has described Steve Waugh as "selfish" and a captain who "ran out of ideas quickly".
"Dhoni is the sort of cricketer that guys play for. Part of the job of the captain is to make the cricket interesting for his players and that's what he does." Imran, who captained Pakistan to the 1992 World Cup at the age of 39, subscribes to the same view. "Dhoni, I believe, has all the attributes of becoming an outstanding captain," said the "King of Swing", who is now one of Pakistan's leading politicians.
"After a very long time, I have seen a captain from the subcontinent who has the [Australian captain] Ricky Ponting type of approach. He clearly gives 100 per cent. "You learn the tactical side of the game as you go on, but the basics - courage, leading from the front and taking the pressure - he has those qualities in abundance." Chappell's self-described philosophy as Australian captain "was simple: between 11.00am and 6.00pm there was no time to be a nice guy", and the Indians seem to be following that principle in the ongoing series against Australia.
But to the Aussie great, the hosts have been two different sides under Dhoni and Anil Kumble. Dhoni led India to one of their biggest wins at Mohali when Anil Kumble sat out due to injury, but the difference was apparent in the first Test to Chappell. "Probably the worst thing that happened to Kumble as far as captaincy was concerned, was the couple of hours he spent off the field in Bangalore," says Chappell.
"Dhoni took over and it was two different teams. The Indian side for two hours under Dhoni and then when Kumble came back on the field, looked like two different teams. "If you go back and look at the video tapes of the Mohali Test match, every time you saw a shot of Virender Sehwag, he [Dhoni] had a grin from ear to ear. Sehwag is an attacking cricketer and to have an attacking captain there is right up his alley. He looked to me like a guy who was enjoying every minute of that game.