Aye Aye, Captain! Lessons in Leadership from Indian Cricket

AyeAyeCaptainWe are a cricket crazy nation or at least have been one ever since I can remember.

My love for watching cricket catapulted into a new orbit one summer day in June 1983 when India won the Cricket World Cup or the Prudential Cup as it was called.

It’s been a long journey since then with India reaching the top spot in Test Rankings, winning the T20 World Cup and then the ODI World Cup again in 2011. There was of course more glory along the way in the form of victories at other prestigious international tournaments.

As crazy as we are for the sport, we are crazier when it comes to the players often elevating them to cult even “god” status.

Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Tendulkar, Dhoni and now Virat their popularity has been or even is unprecedented. Nowhere in the world do players receive greater adulation than in India.

Often the stars are the game! While individuals can give superlative performances that determine outcomes or have their moment in the sun by setting records – the fact is that Cricket is a team sport.

It is good teams that win and the truly great teams are one that win consistently. That said, teams are what their leaders make them believe they are.

Belief, confidence, that’s what leaders instill. Great leaders are not necessarily the best at what they do but more often than not they are the most consistent at it.

There have been many good captains in the history of Indian cricket. Each having contributed to what Indian cricket is today. But there are 5 that stand out in my mind as the greatest captains to have led India. They are:


Kapil Dev – The captain who taught India that they could indeed win!

Most anecdotes around the 1983 World Cup win are around how the Indian team in general did not believe that they would last beyond the initial stages – save Kapil Dev. The Haryana Hurricane not really a great communicator kept pushing his players into believing that they could indeed win by his performance on the field. His knock against Zimbabwe baptised the entire dressing room in a span of a few hours.

Azharuddin – The captain who taught India that they could win again and again!

The controversy surrounding him apart. The charm of watching Mohd. Azharuddin on the field whether while batting or fielding is undeniable. Just like he could flick most any ball from off, middle or leg towards the leg-side or take catch after catch, he taught India that they could win time and again. The 14 test victories and 90 ODI victories under Azhar proved that the wins that started post World Cup 1983 were not just a purple patch!

ganguly2Ganguly – The captain who taught India that they could win against anyone, anywhere!

Not only did Ganguly go on to better win-loss-draws record once he took over as captain the wins under him were against almost all the best teams. This puts him in a different league. He led India to test and even series wins against mighty Australians, South Africans and the English at home and away! Till then the perception (some would argue it still is) about India was that they were tigers that roared only in their own den. Under Ganguly India actually won more tests abroad than they won at home!


M.S.Dhoni – The captain who taught India that they could win against anyone, anywhere and from any situation!

Dhoni is arguably the most impactful captain that India has had thus far. One may say that Dhoni’s impact as captain was largely in the shorter (later shortest) formats of the game. However, it cannot be denied that it was under his captaincy in 2009 that India ascended to the top of the ICC test rankings. Yes the ranking system itself came about in 2001 but it still was dominated by the likes of Australia and South Africa. Dhoni essentially converted the Indian unit into a machine sans emotions. Going about business regardless of the situation and with the ability to crank it up a few notches. Games are essentially won and lost owing to brief passages of play where the initiative is up for grabs. Dhoni had a knack or the ability to identify these passages and wresting the iniative from the opposition. Yes under Dhoni the away performance did dip but the context and concept of winning changed.

KohliFinally, Virat Kohli – The captain who is teaching India that they can win against anyone, anywhere, from any situation again and again.

The story of Virat’s captaincy and that of India under him is still unfolding. As I write this piece India has just won nine consecutive test series and prior to this seven odd series wins when the won the series against New Zealand. It’s not been often that a star, a captain and his team have been this scorching hot. Kohli with his own no compromises leadership style is writing history the only way he knows – his way!

Five leaders across five generations each giving something that on hindsight dove-tailed into the next great transformation that India made as a cricketing nation.

Lessons perhaps for leaders of nations and corporate world alike.

  • Belief is the prime ingredient for success. Those who do not see themselves winning or succeeding often never do!
  • Confidence stems from the conviction of one’s abilities. Great leaders are invariably great judges of strengths (their own, their team and the competition) and play to them while denying the opposition theirs.
  • Success is a journey and not a destination. Great leaders know this and always protect the foundation, continuously improving/strengthening it.
  • Building on something yields far better results than starting things from scratch. Great leaders never let ego get in the way of recognising the good done by their predecessors.

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