Cricket Captain – What is Involved in This Role?

The job of a captain in most sports is not terribly demanding. In football, for example, he might have to toss the coin and be available to speak to the media after the match, and he will probably act as a conduit between players and management. The good ones will be able to inspire the players around them, but they are unlikely to be responsible for tactical changes in play.

The rugby captain has rather more influence on the field when it comes to strategic thinking and can certainly bring motivational powers to bear along with everything else. The captain of a golf team, as in the Ryder Cup, does not actually take part in the playing of the match, but is more of a coach or manager than is usually recognised by the word captain.

When it comes to cricket, however, the captain’s role is different. Apart from tossing the coin, talking to the media, acting as that conduit referred to earlier and playing a vital role in strategy, he also has a few other jobs to do. He has to be diplomat, psychologist, motivator, man-manager, mathematician, tactician, weather forecaster, selector, gambler, philosopher and, in some cases nursemaid. Add to that underlying requirement that he should be a player worthy of a place in the team and becomes evident that captaincy in cricket is one of the most demanding tasks in sport.

Cricket is a complex game and requires astute tactical thinking. An analogy could be drawn to a general manoeuvring his army in battle. If that appears to be overstating the case, examine the contents of a losing captain’s postbag. You will see that the consequences of losing a cricket match and a battle are regarded by many as being of parallel importance. On the sub-continent, a losing captain who is thought to be responsible for defeat can expect his house to be attacked and his effigy to be burnt in the streets. All the while, the winning captain might have to move to a bigger house just to accommodate all the rewards that come with success.

Despite the inescapable fact that a captain will be praised or damned for the performance of his team, there are limits to the control he can exert. Although he might have done everything he could and met all the criteria bar one, there has yet to be a great captain of a losing team. The one criterion he has failed to meet is that of winning. Similarly, a captain with a world-beating team at his disposal can be excused for concealing the fact that his maiden aunt could do the job just as well.

It might be considered unfortunate for some very able leaders that their captaincy skills do not attract the accolades that might be warranted because of the strength of the teams they command. Clive Lloyd was undoubtedly such a case. Although a fine captain, his skills as a leader were seldom tested for the mere fact that he had such a powerful array of talent available to play for him.

It could be argued that a team sheet that reads: Greenidge, Haynes, Richardson, Gomes, Richards, Lloyd himself and the wicket-keeper Dujon to bat and Marshall, Holding, Garner and Walsh to bowl does not really need a captain. The same could be said of Steve Waugh’s Australians. It is a captain’s dream to see the asterisk by his name in a line-up that includes Hayden, Langer, Ponting, Mark Waugh, Steve Waugh, Martyn, Gilchrist, Warne, Lee, Gillespie and McGrath. A match between those two sides at the peak of their powers is one to be played on the Elysian Fields. It would certainly test the two leaders’ powers of captaincy.

If the successful captain from that heavenly contest was to seek new challenges, he could contemplate a fixture against the England side of 1932/33, skippered by Douglas Jardine. Australians would undoubtedly claim that a call would have to be made to, the other place’ to arrange the match, for as England captain during the Bodyline series Jardine was not held in the greatest of esteem by his opponents.

While he certainly marshalled his team with a sure touch, his generally haughty demeanour, to say nothing of his Harlequins cap, did nothing to endear him to the locals. Leg theory, as it was termed by Jardine rather than the more emotive Bodyline, did the job required in that it won the Ashes for his country, but at a considerable cost in terms of Anglo-Australian relations. On one occasion, Jardine was fielding near the boundary, oblivious to everything other than the match in progress. He idly flicked away a bothersome fly from his face, only to hear a raucous cry from someone in the crowd. “Hey Jardine. Leave our bloody flies alone.”

There is no doubt that captains do make a difference to the performance of a team. Perhaps the greatest example of that came in 1981 when England were playing Australia. Ian Botham was England captain when they lost the first Test and managed a draw in the second. With virtually the same team, Mike Brearley then led them to success in the next three Tests to end the series in possession of the Ashes.

What was the difference between the two men? Botham was a great player while Brearley might have struggled to make the side had he not been such an outstanding leader. A highly intelligent man, he was able to get the best out of those around him, including Botham who had the series of his life after relinquishing the captaincy.

Perhaps the fact that Brearley was not such a gifted player meant that he could empathise with those of his players who were not on a level with a natural cricketing genius like Botham. Whatever the difference, Brearley was a natural captaincy genius who was never afraid to try something outrageous if it would help him towards success on the field.

On one occasion, he was leading Middlesex in a county match at Lord’s when Yorkshire were batting their way towards a draw. Phil Edmonds was bowling his left-arm spin with all the variations he could muster to Jim Love and Richard Lumb who were taking no chances. Just to enliven proceedings, Brearley dispensed with his short leg, but instead of putting the discarded helmet behind the wicket-keeper, he carefully positioned it at short mid-wicket to see whether the prospect of a five-run bonus for hitting it might induce one of the batsmen to play against the spin and get out. The regulations were changed after that so that the helmet has to be placed behind the keeper. It is also rumoured that on one occasion in Australia, Brearley was trying to slow the game down. Rather than indulging in blatant time-wasting, he took some cake crumbs out after tea and scattered them at the end of the bowler’s run-up. Seagulls swooped down to pick up the crumbs as soon as the bowler started to run, the distracted batsman pulled away and valuable time was consumed, as were the crumbs. On the evidence of this and other stories, it might be that there has to be another quality added to the list of those required by great captains. A Machiavellian streak does