A lot of people are ready to brandish Mahelas numbers to prove he was the best ever skipper for SL.We don’t doubt Mahela was a good captain. He was, for a period, probably the best in the market.
Mahelas test record reads
15 wins in 26 games. On the surface that’s very good. But 7 of those wins are over the kittens.
Out of the 15 , 8 wins have come at home, so 7 wins away seems good. But again, 4 of those are in Bangladesh.
So the record that matters reads 8 wins out of 19 with 3 away wins and 5 home wins.
That’s a winning percentage of 42. As compared to the 57 people see on the surface.
In the shortened form of the game Mahela captained 97 matches, winning 57. This amounts to a winning percentage of 58.
But if you reason this out to only include the other 8 test nations (excluding Bangladesh and Zimbabwe), the figure drops to 29 wins. Which more or less equates to the same amount of wins against the lesser teams.
So on the basis of these numbers Mahelas’ captaincy seems inflated by results against weaker opposition.
This brings us very basic problem of judging how good a captain is. Winning percentages are important. It proves beyond a reasonable doubt that the man with a ‘C’ next to his name in the team sheet is doing something right (or wrong).
But relying on stats alone is unfair on a man who in the end is responsible for everything that happens on the field.
If Arjuna Ranatunga was the messiah who changed the Sri Lankan culture then Mahela was the one who perfected it. At least for a part of his career.
Together with Tom Moody he formed one of the best partnerships of captain and coach. Much like Arjunas one with Dav Whatmore. The Aussie-Lankan combo seems to be a hit. Who says we don’t get along?
The team Mahela led to the 2007 WC final was probably the most well drilled, aggressive bunch of Sri Lankans ever to take a cricket field. Every player knew where they belonged and had the freedom to express themselves in their positions as long as they got the job done.
Another weird coincidence was the almost non existent board politics. To me one of the key factors in Mahelas success as a leader was the air of calmness that prevailed at HQ.
Every captain has his defining moments. Arjuna had the WC win and his protection of Murali. Graeme Smith has his win over Australia. Mahela will be remembered for his role in getting to the WC final and his last test ending with him being shot at.
Under Mahela, Sri Lanka rediscovered Chamara Silva and unearthed Splendid Mendis. He groomed the team into understanding the benifits of being aggressive and showing ‘character’. And barring maybe the last 6 months of his career he managed what most players struggle with, excelling in his own game with the pressure of having to lead.
And although he now leaves Sri Lanka in a precarious position, he always knew he would be leaving it in the able hands of Kumar Sangakkara.
So, if someone asks me how good Mahela was, I could tell them his percentages.
Instead I’d tell them about how he dropped Marvan during the WC and how it was the right thing to do at the time no matter what anyone says, how he took a stagnating team from a bunch of aging has-beens to a fine tuned unit who enjoyed their cricket and the direction it was going in.And about how he kept picking Mubarak and Dilhara which annoyed me and half the country.
How in the end he probably wasn’t the same captain he started out as and had the courage to quit before he was asked to.
And the story about how he became the answer to an ageless trivia question at the bar.
“Who was the player who was shot at in his last test as Captain?”