“You have to try to reply to criticism with your intellect, not your ego,” said the one of the most revered England captains of yesteryears— Mike Brearley. Agreed. In his heyday, England were a stronger unit than what they are now and captains have been a topic of intense debate and discussions for decades now. If Sir Donald Bradman was discussed intently, so was England’s Douglas Jardine.
Over the years, esteemed cricketers such as Richie Benaud, Clive Lloyd, Vivian Richards, Greg Chappell, Kapil Dev, Imran Khan, Sunil Gavaskar, Sourav Ganguly, Steve Waugh, Mark Taylor, Sachin Tendulkar, Ricky Ponting, Brian Lara have donned the captaincy hat and while some achieved phenomenal success, some have failed quite miserably.
The biggest blot in Sachin’s otherwise glittering 2-decade old career has been his inability to motivate his players under his captaincy. No, it was not a fault on his part but at that point of time, the Indian team were labelled as poor travellers and rightly so.
Sachin was first made the captain during the Titan Cup in 1996 and he won his very first series and beat the much-favoured South Africans in the final held at Wankhede Stadium. Javagal Srinath’s best bowling figures won the Indian team a win against the Proteas in Ahmedabad and India won the series at the Eden Park in Kanpur.
But Tendulkar completely lost the plot when India toured South Africa and barring the chanceless 169 in Capetown in the company of the sublime Mohammad Azharuddin, Indian batting had nothing much to say. Dravid made his mark felt with his debut hundred at the Wanderers. The rest faltered.
Captaincy from time immemorial has been about not just leading good men but ensuring that the team performed at the right
Every cricket afficionado can point a good captain, but not many know how to become one. One of the critical issues is the presence of superstars in a side. The records of Allan Border, Clive Lloyd, Steve Waugh, Mark Taylor and Ricky Ponting is a case in point. Lloyd had the services of Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes, Best, Richards, Gomes, Logie, Dujon and had Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Joel Garner to fill the bowling shoes.
Similarly, Waugh or Border too had the best in the business when they were at the helm. The issue never whom to play but whom to drop. The Australians in the last 15 years have been spoilt for choice and when players such as Damien Martyn, Justin Langer, Matthew Hayden, Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne retired, Ponting suddenly appeared to be leading a bunch of amateurs who were not capable of winning in the same manner in which their predecessors were. There were a generation of players such as Adam Gilchrist who were not used to losing at all.
So, to put together mere mortals to function as a champion unit took time and Ponting’s next test will be at the upcoming Ashes.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni, another example of having the right men for the job has Sachin, Sehwag, Raina, Yuvraj, Gambhir, Harbhajan, Zaheer, Ojha, Dhoni (himself), Praveen Kumar, Laxman, Ganguly, Kumble for company and the unit won matches with aplomb.
Many scholars have researched the growth of captains over the years and they have concluded that the main principle behind captaincy will help a youngster become a better leader.
The idea of captaincy or leadership is being accepted as a key ingredient to the existence of the game. However, research on this part of the game is quite subjective. One of the main elements is the ability of a captain to influence the thinking of the game and the players under him.
Captaincy is often judged in a team settings and achievement of goals (in this case a win or a series victory).
If a Benaud or Tony Greig referred to the Australian side of late 90’s as a ‘team of skippers’, it had a valid reason. The thought processes of Steve Waugh dripped down to the lower ranked players such as Justin Langer, Mark Waugh, Matthew Hayden, Shane Warne, McGrath and others in the side. The result was ruthless victories against all and sundry.
The quest to become the best in the business always involves on: doing things right with doing the right thing. The combination of the can be lethal.
The best captains are those who make a mediocre player perform to the best of his potential and over a period of time help him become a match-winner. Sadly, in this particular point, leaders such as Steve Waugh, Mark Taylor had little to do as McGrath or Warne were individual superstars and did not have to be told what their roles in the team was.
Dhoni inherited the experience of demigods such as Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Kumble and the enthusiasm of youngsters such as Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina and Pragyan Ojha in the side.
Being a captain, is it crucial to being a great skipper? If yes, then how does one go about it?
Researches have proved that a smart cricketing brain is a trait one is born it and there are quite a few (mind you, very few!) who actually go on to learn this trait on the job. Others, just do not have it. An interesting factor also was the presence of no common factor to judge the captains. Some had good vice-captains (as in the case of Mark Taylor), some was too talented and the rest of the team just obeyed his orders (Allan Border and Clive Lloyd) and successful skippers were all different personalities and displayed different confidence levels at different stages of their captaincy.
An interesting observations of all researches was that the leaders played primarily on tasks at hand or their relationships with a particular player.
Another important trait was noticed that the best leaders were those who could adapt themselves on a situation given to them and had the uncanny knack of selecting the ‘best team’ than going in for the ‘best players’. Now this is slightly tricky because going by records (best player tag)— Rahul Dravid should be in the Indian team and that would have been a blind choice. The reality is far different and the Bengaluru boy is yet to play a ODI in the last 2 years. Sourav Ganguly is another case in point. His records speak of the southpaw but he had to retire when the Bengali himself admitted to have atleast a couple of more years left in service.
Maintaining equilibrium is another important aspect of a good leader. By equilibrium, I mean maintaining the right balance within the team and ensuring that the motivation levels are always looking positive and not otherwise.
This is one clear aspect where Dhoni seems to have failed in the World Cup and has looked clueless as to how he needs to go about it.
Cricket Australia had for the first time brought forth the concept of different captains for different formats of the game, something which definitely did not go well Tugga (Steve Waugh) at that point of time, but it worked. Soon other nations and India in particular followed the same theory and suddenly many players who were earlier featuring in all formats of the game were sidelined and labelled as Test players and ODI stars. The likes of VVS Laxman, Dravid were brought in only for the longest version of the game and overlooked for the shorter format.
Lastly, the ability to quickly juggle between different formats of the game is the modern mantra for success. That’s the bottomline and the quicker the captains across the world realise it, the better it is for their teams.
What makes a better captain?
It is ultimately the team that makes a captain and not otherwise. When one says, the captain is as good as his team, he is dead right. Dhoni can’t individually change the tide of the team but needs the fellow Men-in-Blue to maneuver the ship to the shore or else……