In the mid 1990s, when Mohammed Azharuddin was leading the Indian team and Sachin Tendulkar was his deputy, it was almost certain that the latter would take over as the next captain.
After India’s dismal loss in the semifinal of the 1996 World Cup, followed by a runner-up finish in the Pepsi Cup in Sharjah and a poor show in the Singer Cup in Singapore, the selectors headed by Ramakant Desai finally decided to hand the captaincy to Tendulkar.
While Tendulkar started off brilliantly, by winning the one-off Test series against Australia at the Ferozeshah Kotla in 1996, it turned out to be the last Test series that he managed to win.
One man who had followed Tendulkar right through this phase was Sambaran Banerjee, representing East Zone in the selection committee.
Speaking to Mail Today, Banerjee said while he has immense respect for Tendulkar, he was one of the men instrumental in Tendulkar’s removal as skipper and reinstating Azhar in 1998 for the home series against Australia.
“I have known him from when he was just 14 and not many had even heard his name. Dilip Vengsarkar had taken me to watch him play in one of the local matches and I was impressed. Even today, I can tell you that he is as good a human being as he is a cricketer. It would only be considered a cliché if I say that he sleeps, drinks and eats cricket, but that is him,” Banerjee said.
“Coming to the decision of removing him and bringing Azhar back as skipper, well yes, it was a tough call. We had a lot of discussion, before we concluded that it was best both for the team as well as Tendulkar, the batsman.” Commenting on what he feels is the reason behind Tendulkar not succeeding as a captain, Banerjee said: “Who do you think was a better captain, Don Bradman or Ian Chappell? So you see, it is not necessary that you have to be a good captain, if you are a brilliant cricketer.
"Tendulkar focussed a lot on his batting and as a skipper, somewhere, you need to balance it out. You have to focus as much on your own game as you need to think about the team. I personally feel that he wasn’t able to focus on his batting with the burden of captaincy and it was the best thing that he decided to focus on his own game and let others lead.”
But Banerjee is quick to add that Tendulkar was a very reasonable skipper and even though not all discussions went according to Tendulkar’s wish during team meetings, he never sulked over it.
“We would often have debates and at times, he would ask for a certain player, but we wouldn’t agree to his choice. But the best think about him was that he was very logical and even though he would try to convince us on his choice of player, the moment we were out of the meeting, he would smile and laugh and not carry the discussion inside the selection meeting outside. He knew where to draw the line,” Banerjee said.
“Captaincy is also a lot about tactical moves and I still believe that Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi and Sourav Ganguly were the best tacticians that we had. Yes, MS Dhoni is getting there and his results are already better than others.”
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