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The difference a leader can make

An army of sheepled by a lion, is better than an army of lionsled by a sheep.” – Alexander the Great.

Can anybody be a captain in sport? Yes. But, can that anybody be a successful captain? No. A leader can be the difference between a win and a loss in sport. He can single-handedly provide the edge over the opponent. Leadership is not an attribute that comes naturally to a lot of individuals – there is plenty of evidence for that. The best example of that is when Tillakaratne Dilshan was made captain of Sri Lanka following the World Cup 2011, taking over from Kumar Sangakkara. Not only did Dilshan’s own performances take a beating and wilt under the pressure of the added obligation, but the team also suffered in the bargain; Sri Lanka lost the Test and ODI series’ against England, Pakistan, Australia and South Africa.

On the other hand, when Mahela Jayawardene took back the reins from Dilshan before the Commonwealth Bank tri-series in Australia, the same team started looking like a different unit altogether.  His inspired captaincy not only transformed the attitudes of the players but also took them to the periphery of the gold. They had a new-found purpose and motivation that drove them. Leading from the front, he promoted himself up the order to open with Dilshan, and the result of the move was instantaneous – the team, inspired by his intrepid batting at the top, suave contributions in the field and street-smart captaincy began consistently performing better. Dilshan, relieved of his duties, returned to his blithe self and got back to tearing apart bowling attacks. The team started genuinely threatening  Australia and India by lifting themselves from the plummet they were languishing in.

While it is clear that good captaincy can alter the outcome of a game, its full effect can never be accurately measured. The difference that a good leader makes behind the curtains is evident in the performances on the field. An efficient captain propels individuals by showing faith in them. There have been instances when captains have shown unwavering belief in particular players, copping plenty of criticism in the process. During the 2003 World Cup, Ricky Ponting showed immense faith in Andrew Symonds although nobody else saw the rationale in the same; as it turned out, Symonds was included in the squad and he contributed substantially to Australia’s victory. In the recent tri-series, Jayawardene showed undying faith in his champion bowler Malinga after he got butchered in Hobart. The rapport between the two came to light after when they embraced warmly after  Sri Lanka’s victory in their must-win game at Melbourne that Malinga played a crucial role in, despite an irksome injury. The kind of connection a captain has with his players determines the overall accomplishments of the team – which in Sri Lanka’s case was quite obvious.

That was the kind of atmosphere you would find in the Australian camp as well during Ponting’s reign. Being given resources doesn’t guarantee success; one should know how to utilize the resources in the most efficient way possible to attain success, which is precisely what Ponting did all through his term as captain. He made the best use of what was given to him and tried to win games for Australia. He earned the respect of his teammates who stood by him regardless of circumstances; he backed his players by placing undying faith in them; he always led from the front and took all responsibility in times of failure, acknowledging his team’s efforts during victories; and he stood by his team during testing times. These are all the attributes one would look for in a captain – and Ponting possessed them all. Michael Clarke now after taking over from Ponting has displayed some inspired bursts of governance that have paid off for him and his team, which has given Australia plenty of success in his tenure so far.

As capable a captain as Dhoni is, his recent stints against England and Australia as captain have been substandard. He repeatedly  failed to inspire his team to even try and be competitive in their matches. The Indian line-up on paper was the best among the three teams, but they wilted and succumbed meekly to the enthusiastic performances of a famished team craving for success. They were ousted and beaten in every aspect of the game. Ultimately, it all boiled down to three individuals who proved to be the difference-makers. Mahela Jayawardene and Michael Clarke acquitted themselves well as leaders, contributing to the resurgence of their teams, while Dhoni floundered, which left India in disarray.

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