Who is India's best captain? A man who has probably seen the best of two leaders has a very clear-cut opinion, much like he cleanly hits a cricket ball. Yuvraj Singh says Mahendra Singh Dhoni has done a "commendable" job as captain, but Sourav Ganguly is his "favourite." (Virat is India's angry young man, hates to lose: Yuvraj Singh)
Yuvraj made his debut under Ganguly's captaincy in the ICC Knockout Trophy (later called the Champions Trophy) in Nairobi in October 2000. That was the start of a new generation of cricketers as India tried to wriggle out of the match-fixing scandal. Not only Yuvraj, Zaheer Khan too made his debut under Ganguly's leadership in Kenya.
Yuvraj caught the attention with a gutsy 80-ball 84 against a quality Australian pace attack led by Glenn McGrath and Brett Lee at Nairobi's Gymkhana ground. India won that quarterfinal match by 20 runs as Zaheer got the crucial wickets of Adam Gilchrist and Steve Waugh. By running out the dangerous Michael Bevan and holding Ian Harvey's catch, Yuvraj won the Man of the Match award and more importantly, won Ganguly's trust.
Yuvraj's career prospered under Ganguly, who backed the left-handed Punjab lad even when the chips were down. Yuvraj, Zaheer, Virender Sehwag and Harbhajan Singh formed the core of Ganguly's new India. For Yuvraj, Ganguly was more a friend than a strict captain. For the fun-loving Yuvi, the relationship worked perfectly.
Ganguly's self-belief and aggression impressed the likes of Yuvraj, Sehwag and Harbhajan. "My favourite captain was Sourav Ganguly. I learnt a lot from him and my career flourished under him the most. He infused the feeling in us that we could win a series abroad," Yuvraj told Indian Express in an interview. Most North Indian cricketers who played with Ganguly and 'senior' to Dhoni would probably endorse this feeling.
But Yuvraj has seen golden days with Dhoni too. The 2011 World Cup was a dream come true as Yuvraj emerged Man of the Tournament with his cavalier batting and spirited body language that lifted the team during challenging times. Dhoni has trusted Yuvraj too and at a time when his career was uncertain due to cancer.
Dhoni always saw Yuvraj's potential in the shorter formats of the game. Yuvraj broke IPL salary records when Royal Challengers Bangalore bought him this year for a whopping Rs 14 crore. Money never guarantees runs as Yuvraj ran hot and cold in the IPL, very much like his skipper Virat Kohli. But Yuvraj made the Indian squad for the World T20 in Bangladesh. Against Pakistan, he scored just 1 run but escaped the critics because India won the match by seven wickets. A win against Pakistan 'masks' all short-comings!
A 60 against Australia saw glimpses of the vintage Yuvraj, but his 11 off 21 balls against Sri Lanka in the World T20 final on April 6, 2014 was highly criticized. India lost a low-scoring final by six wickets and that was the last time Yuvraj Singh wore an Indian shirt.
"People came down heavily on me after the final. But they did not give credit to the Sri Lankan bowlers for performing well. The conditions were tough to bat, the ball was not coming onto the bat so well. I know this that I tried hard," Yuvraj said.
Yuvraj doesn't see Dhoni as a 'hurdle'. At a time when the Indian middle-order is spoilt for choice, Yuvraj understand the value of consistent goof performance. "When it comes to the selection process, that is left to the selectors. I do not think about selection or anything related to it. My job is to do well and work towards excellence," said Yuvraj
Pushing 33, Yuvraj feels Dhoni is the right man to lead India, and in all three formats. There is no need to adopt a formula that has worked for England, Australia or South Africa, feels Yuvraj.
"I think Dhoni is doing the job quite well at the moment. He has been instrumental in many India wins. He is fit enough to do the job in all three formats, then why make the change. He has done a commendable job when it comes to captaining India," Yuvraj said.