I think of the various issues circling around the sport we love, the one that involves a lot of loose tongue talk covering both sides of the coin has to be the subject of “Captaincy”. How much credit or discredit shall be given to a cricket captain? What is the effect of this intangible element onto the most tangible element in sport -> Win/Loss. If we go through the conventional sports management literature, we will come out with a few basic roles of a sports captain, namely – mentor, guide, coach, motivator, planner, controller etc. But, it is easily one of those topics where you need to read between the lines, sometimes by skipping the visual lines also. Although one piece cannot be enough, we will try our best to decode the role of a sports captain.
Obviously, the captain of a cricket team needs to be decided very carefully. But, what are the parameters that need to be looked in for taking such a massive decision. Basically, the first and the foremost credential of the skipper should be that he should be able to book a place in the best XI on merit basis. I know this will not go down well with a few Mike Brearley supporters, but it’s high time we realize that the world is not governed by the law of exceptions. Rather, it needs to be handled with the efficiency of the probability. The major reason behind my persistence of the aforesaid is that if the skipper cannot command respect on the basis of skill sets, it surely can instigate a few other obnoxious elements in the whole setup.
Having said that, there are other very strong characteristics that differentiate natural leaders from others who are not adept in the same manner as the former as far as leadership is concerned. There is an aura about a captain which is quite clearly visible in his personality. All the Lloyds, Chappells, Benauds, Taylors, Waughs, Khans(Imran) had a unique aspect about their personalities. The onlooker got a feeling that they are like those magnets which everyone wants to stay in close vicinity of.
Of the current lot, there are a few such personalities. The name that comes to the mind instantly is that of the current Australian skipper – Michael Clarke. His batting oozes class and his leadership style preaches a ruthless winning mentality. This was quite evident with his premature declaration, 50-odd runs behind the West Indian total in the Barbados Test to try and force a result out of a dead rubber. I really doubt that we have many captains in the game who would have done the same. Clarke being an Aussie, reinforces the way these guys play their cricket even when they are going through a rebuilding phase. Australia winning the Test match was like a perfectly placed cherry on the top of an already enticing cake. Also, most of us will agree that Clarke has been giving a doubly focused impression since he took over the reigns from Ponting and his mission to revamp Australian cricket has taken a rollicking start to say the least. How it turns out eventually will only be decided with the grace of time. Having more Clarkes in world cricket certainly wouldn’t harm Test cricket.
However, the discussion doesn’t end with Clarke. There are others like Andrew Strauss and Graeme Smith who also have been the perfect role models as leaders for their respective countries. The current England Test captain Andrew Strauss is an interesting candidate for being the world’s best Test captain alongside Clarke. His personality oozes natural leadership which becomes even more visible through his interviews. England have become the No.1 Test side under his captaincy with the pummeling job down under in the 2010-11 Ashes being the biggest highlight of his career although subcontinent respect still eludes the Brits. But, his biggest criticism has been his own batting form which has even raised questions like – Is he the player he once was? But, it can be safely assumed that Strauss’s leadership has worked wonders for the Poms in the longest format of the game.
Another important person that needs to be a part of this debate is the current South African Test captain Graeme Smith. Smith’s leadership credentials were rewarded as early as 2003 after the Protean debacle in the 2003 World Cup which raised a few eyebrows, but more importantly showed the kind of trust the South African Board had in the then 22-year-old. That decision has actually worked wonders for South Africa as Smith remained as one of the top Test batsmen in Tests until recently along with his obvious leadership skills. South Africa’s first victory in a Test series in Australia since their re-entry in 1992 came under Smith’s captaincy which is the biggest highlight of his career, although the one day World Cup will always be a disappointment.
Two other important names that need to be mentioned here are that of the Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni and the West Indian captain Darren Sammy. Both have heavy backing from their respective countries as being excellent leaders. But their case is much more under the scrutiny especially in Test cricket. Since both of them are excellent limited overs cricketers, with Dhoni being outstanding, it turns out that their position is much less under the scanner when it comes to the shorter versions of the game. It is only ironic that their leadership skills are better suited for the same versions. But, when it comes to the five day game, there are more questions asked about their leadership with one main reason being their own credentials as Test players. Eight straight overseas losses for Dhoni and scarcely distributed Test victories in case of Sammy don’t put flowers on their case either.
The best display of leadership skills has been shown by the current Pakistan skipper Misbah-ul-Haq. Being an excellent player himself in a team of inexperienced individuals barring a couple, his main contribution has been to revamp Pakistani cricket from the spot-fixing saga and garner the respect of his team mates like no other recent leader from this country has. According to many, this is the first time since Imran Khan that Pakistani players look united to play for their captain, one hell of an achievement considering the topsy-turvy turns Pakistan Cricket takes. Misbah reinforces our trust in the need for great leaders as Sourav Ganguly did once, to get India out of the hole of match-fixing and turned them into a force to reckon with.
What can we finally infer from all this? Leadership is an art with some people having a knack for it more than the others. Having said that, cricket, being a highly performance oriented sport does much better with leaders who know their craft as well as the others in the team.
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