Is there any such thing as a great Captain?

In football, the coach is the boss, however in cricket, the captain rules the roost.

The skipper makes the crucial decisions from the toss until virtually the last ball of the match.

He also plays a major role in team selection – he is invariably consulted while the team is selected and plays a crucial role in selecting the playing 11. Once the team is selected, the captain makes all the important decisions, like batting order, bowling changes and field placements.

With regards to the captain being a selector, there are contrasting views. Some feel that the captain’s biases get in the way, while a selector will be detached and impartial. Others feel that since it’s the captain who has to deliver the results he should be allowed the players of his choice.

The role of Australian captains over the years makes for interesting study. Allan Border was particular about his players and once reportedly had a heated telephonic discussion when Geoff Marsh was dropped, so much so that he delayed the match by 20 minutes.

Steve Waugh was not interested in being selector, while Ricky Ponting fought his entire career to be a selector but did not succeed. Ironically, when Ponting stepped down Michael Clarke was given the role of both selector and captain, although he stepped down when Australia lost 4 nil to India, and since then the captain is no longer a selector.

In India, while the captain is not a selector, his views are given importance. Earlier selectors in India were even more powerful and in fact took part in panel discussions on TV and wrote much awaited syndicated columns in newspapers.

Currently, the BCCI does not allow selectors to write columns and during both Sourav Ganguly and Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s tenure it was apparent that the captain played a very important role in selection. This is justified as the captain is expected to get the results on the field and hence is entitled to get the players of his choice.

The problem is that when it clicks, the captain is praised. When Tom Moody was reportedly not in the Aussie team for 1999 World Cup and Steve Waugh had a long argument with the entire selection committee ending in his selection, it proved a masterstroke, with Moody playing a vital role in Australia regaining the World Cup. In contrast, Sourav Ganguly, who is regarded by many as India’s best ever captain, was severely criticised for selecting Dinesh Mongia over VVS Laxman for 2003 World Cup, for bowling first in the 2003 World Cup final, and for dropping Anil Kumble for that crucial match.

What about other areas where a captain is expected to show leadership skills? First is the Toss. Don Bradman said, “One bats first, or thinks, then bats first.” Sunil Gavaskar said, “Give the first hour to the bowler, next five hours are yours.”

However, of late, the captain has decided to bowl first – if it clicks, he is called brave, although if it doesn’t, and the opposition runs away to a big score, then his decision is criticised bitterly.

Next is batting order. Normally in Test cricket the batting order is more or less certain but in ODIs pinch hitters are often sent in. It may click, may not. Dhoni’s decision to promote himself in 2011 World Cup final was a captaincy masterstroke, after he hit 92 not out, including the winning six, to lift the World Cup.

However, if he had failed, he would have been howled down, as he promoted himself above the in-form Yuvraj Singh, when he himself was not in form.

Bowling changes and field placements are two other important areas. Here too, if the decisions taken by the captain clicks, it is praised and he is termed inspirational. If it doesn’t, then he is shouted down for allowing the game to drift.

Success or failure determines a captain’s legacy. It also shapes his temparement. Dhoni was praised as ‘Captain Cool’, but when his team did badly, the coolness was frizzled. Similarly, Alastair Cook is relaxed, but in the on-going Test series versus India, he has displayed irritation in press conferences.

If a captain has a terrific team, his job is simpler. When Ricky Ponting had Brett Lee, Jason Gillespie, Glenn Mcgrath and Shane Warne as bowlers and a terrific batting line up, including Adam Gilchrist, his record was second to none. But was he a great captain?

In contrast, if a captain doesn’t have such riches, his job is very difficult.

To sum up, a captain is as good as his team and captaincy is an overrated concept.


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