Should the role of a manager be made prominent in cricket?
Should good teams be affected by a bad leader plainly because there isn't a good leader in the XI? Or should cricket adapt and reinvent?
Cricket is a team game played by individuals, it is said. It is true to an extent in a way that multiple players combine together at a single point in time to score for their respective teams in most of the other team sports, while in cricket, it is merely a battle between two individuals, the conglomeration of which decides the winner. Hence, in a game like cricket, it is the collection of individual brilliance that determines the winner.
This deprives cricket of having any influence from the managerial level on the performance of the team. In games like rugby, hockey, soccer and American football, the formation of players, the structure and the types of players- all of which are decided by the manager- can have a protuberant effect on the outcome of the team. A manager’s decision can influence how the defense of a team works or how the offensive cohort plays. If a football team wants to have Lionel Messi in check, the manager can always devise various ploys to have him restrained. On the other hand, a manager in cricket cannot control the way how a batsman is going to face Trent Boult or how a bowler is going to bowl to a batsman like AB de Villiers. It is often up to the individuals to come with their own plans and a team cannot hunt down an opposition player in a pack.
Why cricket doesn't have its Jose Mourinho?
So, it is no surprise that cricket doesn’t have its own Jose Mourinho or Alex Ferguson. But does it have to remain that way? Of course, as aforementioned, a manager in cricket cannot have the same impact as a manager in a game like soccer, but is that a buyable argument to say that cricket doesn’t need an active manager, especially when great captains with their shrewd strategies are known to have altered the course of games throughout the annals of cricket?
It is mostly a group of individual performances that helps a team win. But is it exclusively individual performances that determine the outcome? Though the collective work of players doesn’t affect the end result in cricket as much as it does in football, it still affects it in its own minimal way. The field set to a batsman can affect the way he plays. Sometimes the pressure a bowler creates at one end can help the bowler at the other end pick up a wicket. An in-form hard-hitting batsman might need his partner to turn the strike to him in order to sustain his momentum. In addition, the decision made at the toss, the type of field set, the structure of the batting order and game plans have to be strategized by a leader.
A good player doesn’t mean a good captain
But isn’t that the reason why cricket teams have a captain? There is where the inherent problem in cricket lies, in my point of view. Dexterity with bat or ball and at times with both will never account for cerebral niftiness. At the same time, intellectual brilliance alone will not make someone a good cricketer. Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara, Aravinda de Silva, Angelo Mathews and Hashim Amla are/were all great cricketers. Their performance can never be questioned. But skepticism has always prevailed over the way they led their respective sides. On the other side of the spectrum, Mike Brearley, Ray Illingworth, Nawab of Pataudi, Darren Sammy, and Mark Taylor were all great captains and inspiring leaders, but more often than not they hogged a place in the team by virtue of their leadership.
It must be admitted that there was a slew of great cricketers who were both great performers and astute leaders such as Rahul Dravid, Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara, Don Bradman, Richie Benaud, Sir Gary Sobers, Arjuna Ranatunga, Stephen Fleming and Graeme Smith. But how often do you get such great players who are great captains too? Should a team be led by an innate leader just because there aren’t any great players within the team who have a sound thinking ability? Or should a great thinker hog a place in the XI at the expense of a player who performs better? Here is where, in my view, a manager along the lines of football, can give teams a welcome solution.
At present, the management of a team in cricket can be stratified into three hierarchies. The captain is the leader of the team and he makes most of the decisions, right from electing to bat/ bowl first to deciding the team combination. The head coach, despite his main role being helping the players with their technique and training, also contributes to the final decision making. The selectors are responsible for the selection of squads. In most countries, captains are not allowed to have a say in the squad selection, which renders them powerless in getting the right team they want.
The role of a manager in a cricket team is shadowy, but one thing that is certain is that he is not influential. He is merely a figurehead. However, if the role of a manager can be made more active and prominent, then teams with a paucity in leadership therein can greatly benefit.
It is the manager, not the captain, who should lead a team
A manager should replace the role of a captain and a captain’s role should be reduced to just executing the decisions of a manager in the field. Of course, the captain should be able to make suggestions since the captain might be able to gauge the on-field scenario better than an outlying manager at times and this would require an inveterate liaison between the two. The coaches’ role should merely be to train the players and make adjustments to their technique when needed.
The manager should select the playing XI, choose what should be done if the toss is won and should make all strategical decisions. The kind of field that should be set, the approach the batting lineup should adopt and the style of play of a team should all be determined by the manager. Long story short, a manager must have the capacity to completely alter the culture and style of play of a team.
The fact that dressing rooms are always replete with real-time statistical information would help the manager make better decisions on the field. For instance, if the manager with the help of hawk-eye finds out that a particular batsman is struggling against a particular line, then he would be able to draw a scheme to exploit that.
The practical quandary and a possible solution
But the pragmatic problem is how the manager can convey his plans to the team. In football, the manager often shouts his plans at the players. But in cricket, this cannot be done. The only chance of the players receiving a message from the dressing room is during the drinks break and session intervals.
As it is the case with most things, there is a workaround. The captain should be allowed to use a contraption that would help him communicate with the dressing room. This is not new to cricket. In 1999, Bob Woolmer, the coach of the South African team at that time, made Hanse Cronje wear an earpiece so that he could communicate his plans to him. Subsequently, it became a controversy and the use of such devices was completely banned.
But still you find players speaking to the commentators live using a microphone and an earphone to pander the broadcasters’ quest to improve the quality of viewer’s experience. The on-field umpires communicate with the third umpire to make the right decisions. The use of such devices is common in American sports. It might just be the right time, that cricket embraces technology and allows the use of such devices which can open more avenues in cricket. After all, who would be harmed if the dressing room sends a message to the captain? If play can be held up briefly to have the 12th man run into the field with a drink and a message only to convey the latter, the use of technology will actually help cricket become better.
Centralizing decision making is, without a doubt, a double-edged sword. However, if the administration believes that the manager is unbecoming, there is always an opportunity to find another better person to fulfill that role. What must be noted is the fact that finding a new manager is not as a difficult as finding a new captain, since the options to choose a manager from is not as limited as that for a captain.
Another advantage of this that cricket’s best brains would not go a waste just because they are not able to hold a bat properly or land the ball on the pitch. With team management games in cricket gaining popularity, who knows, cricket’s Mourinhos and Fergusons who are capable of changing the fortunes of teams world over might be squandering their time sitting in front of a TV, lampooning the antics of captains. If teams can be contrite in hindsight after imbibing various statistical information, then they must realize that a person with real-time access to such information would be able to make better on-field calls. Good teams should not be affected by bad leaders. And a good manager can always make a bad team better.