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Pure heart, pragmatism and tigers at home

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How can there be a select list of India's best captains and Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev and Mohammad Azharuddin not figure in it? While that sounds unfair, it's not as if the celebrated trio does not make the grade. They have left their indelible impression on Indian cricket - after all, while Gavaskar preached the path of pragmatism, Kapil Dev taught an entire generation to believe when he led India to an improbable World Cup triumph, and no one exploited home conditions better than Azharuddin.

So, who among this lot would come up trumps? It's obviously a tough nut to crack because they were so different from each other. If Kapil Dev was someone who preferred to lead from the front, Gavaskar was a safe captain and Azharuddin was a soft-spoken skipper who believed each player in the team was experienced enough to work out his own solutions to problems.

"Picking the best skipper among these captains is indeed a tough job, " says Krish Srikkanth, who played under all three and also led India during the 1989 Pakistan tour that saw the emergence of Sachin Tendulkar. "But Kapil was a very positive leader. He never gave up till the match was over. In the 1983 World Cup final when we had some 180-odd runs on the board, he told us to go out and enjoy every moment of it. Kapil was not in favour of putting pressure on his teammates, " said the current chairman of selectors. On Gavaskar, Srikkanth said: "He was a shrewd captain and had a safer approach. He was like an orthodox captain and was not scared of any situation. "

Wicketkeeper Kiran More is another who played under all three. "It was always a great feeling to play under Kapil. He was a young captain and tried doing everything. He set examples and wanted his teammates to follow suit. He worked hard on his fitness and gave a lot of emphasis on teamwork. He also bowled, fielded and batted with enthusiasm. "

For More, Azhar was a shy captain who learnt the tricks of the trade slowly. "He was a soft-spoken skipper. He was a very reserved but strong character. The likes of Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly were some of the young players who got picked during his time. "

More also said that he shared a good rapport with Azhar. "I shared a good relation with him. We were best of friends and still are. He knew from inside what his team needed and he offered space to every cricketer. "

Gavaskar was methodical, according to More. "We learnt a lot from Sunnybhai. He was mentally very strong and disciplined. He used shrewd tactics and was a natural leader. He did all the planning in advance and put in a lot of effort. "

Former fast bowler Manoj Prabhakar remembers Gavaskar as a captain who was always in control. "He was a cool captain. He demanded 100 per cent from his teammates and supported the youngsters to the hilt. I remember dropping a catch in some match, he came up to me and asked me to be doubly alert when the next catch would come. He didn't lose his temper or shout at the players. "

In comparison, according to Prabhakar, Azhar got a well-equipped team when he was made the captain. "Everyone in Azhar team knew their job well. He had quite a few proven match winners and the balance of the team was just about perfect. Due to this, he won a lot of series at home and quite a few outside India. Some of the stalwarts of Indian cricketer played under him and he was quite a leader, " Prabhakar said.

He, though, doesn't remember much about Kapil's captaincy.

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