What makes a better cricket captain?

June 24, 2009

“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
time.
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……


Wimbledon 2009 Diary

June 24, 2009

Shades in shade?

 The biggest topic of discussion in Wimbledon this year has been on two things: Whether Federer will gain back his Wimbledon crown this year and the spanky new roof at the centre court. The latter has clearly out’shadowed’ the former and how.

First, former tennis legends Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf come together to play a match against Tim Henman and Kim Cljisters. Over the years, many matches have been delayed due to rains in Wimbledon and while the organisers are reluctant to change the dates for this prestigious tournament, the All England Club decided to spend £80 million to put forth a new roof to ward off rains. However, the roof has not come to optimum use as Wimbledon was soaking hot at 33 degrees and the roof was used to provide shade from the sun than from the rain.
Tattoo or a taboo?

Well, the game of tennis is more the battle on the court and the war of words off it. The ongoing Wimbledon is a proof of that. Li Na of China faces a war of different kind altogether. She has a tattoo on her chest and China does not approve of it and has long been considered a taboo in the South Asian nation.
However, when the Chinese 19 seed comes face-to-face against Belarussian world number 82 Olga Govortsova, it will be a war of tattoos as the Belarussian has three stars tattooed on her inner left forearm.
Li’s best performance in the Wimbledon has been her quarterfinal appearance in 2006 and she aims to go much further than that in 2009.
We don’t know how far the Chinese lady will go, but her tattoo seems to be making more news than the lady winning matches.


India West Indies One-Day series curtain raiser

June 24, 2009

For a change, the spotlight will not be on Mahendra Singh Dhoni and will be on the entire team as they take field against the West Indies at Kingston, Jamaica on Friday in the first ODI of the 4-match series. The first and foremost question that a fan would like to know is the fitness levels of the Indian squad that is in Jamaica as no one likes to see the players showing sorry levels of commitment and then playing blame-games when they are being ‘paid’ handsomely to ‘perform’ on the field.

Dhoni, over the last 2 years has been leading his side with a lot of dignity and grace and the results are all for everyone to see. Wins in South Africa, Australia, against Australia at home, England at home, in Sri Lanka, in New Zealand and the loss at the World Cup in England will be soon forgotten only if the team comes strongly in this series.

Steve Waugh in his interview had stated recently to a newspaper that Dhoni’s honeymoon period is up! Well, the Ranchi lad had to lose some day but as a fan who roots for my nation and our Men in Blue, I believe in a way of winning and a way in losing too. If the performance is up to the mark, the results frankly don’t matter. Steve had his assessment of Dhoni and many did expect him to lose and no one is sulking yet but the Men in Blue will have to prove their detractors wrong and prove them right away.

The road is difficult though. Four key players are absent. Sachin Tendulkar and Zaheer Khan have opted out of the tournament. Virendra Sehwag and Suresh Raina had injury concerns and were not selected for the series at all. Sachin (425 ODIs, 16,684 runs), Sehwag (205 ODI, 6592 runs), Raina (65 ODIs, 1558 runs) are strong players and their collective experience of 695 One-day internationals added a lot of weight to the burly batting order of Indian side. Zaheer Khan on the side (162 ODIs, 225 wickets) has been producing lethal spells for this Indian side and has been the spearhead for years now. The loss is quite apparent from the aforementioned statistics.

To make matters worse is the fact that India had lost their last series against the West Indies 1-4 in 2006 and in 2007 were knocked out in the first round itself. There have been a lot of changes in the nucleus of the team and one will pray that India puts up a good show. Earlier this year, Dhoni’s men had proved their critics wrong by winning their first series against New Zealand and I surely believe that this team can outwit the odds.

On his part, Chris ‘Zombie’ Gayle is playing it safe and is not taking this Indian team lightly. He admitted that Indians will not be walkover by any means and is bringing in changes in the WI squad too. Fidel Edwards will be missing the first two one-dayers due to a back injury and Darren Bravo and Narsingh Deonarine will be in the team. With Dwayne Bravo, Gayle, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Shivnarain Chanderpaul, Jerome Taylor and Denesh Ramdin —-if played to potential can be more than handful for the Indians.

With the match set to start at 2000 hours on Friday at Kingston, Jamaica—all eyes will be on the Indian team to see if they have shed off their bad fortnight in England and have come back to winning ways or will West Indies continue to give Indians ‘blues’!


Tailor-made tournament for Federer?

June 23, 2009

 Duels between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are legendary and when his favourite foe withdrew his name from the Wimbledon 2009, Federer’s disappointment was palpable. “Of course, it is quite (disappointing),” was how the 14-time Grand Slam champ had said. The road is clear for the Swiss ace to go all out to clinch the record-breaking 15th title and go past Pete ‘Pistol’ Sampras’ record and emboss his name into immortality. But there is big glitch which Federer will himself admit—that he will not have beaten Nadal to win that title.

 

Is Nadal really the only factor why Federer could go on to lay his hands on the Gold crown? Yes, it is a single biggest factor for him. Why? Because whenever the last three finals that Federer and Nadal have played have been won by the Spaniard with two of them being convincing wins (French Open 2008 final and Australian Open 2009) and one being an interesting battle (Wimbledon 2008) that stretched way past sunset. Nadal has been Federer’s nemesis for a long-time and such has been a psychological advantage that the Swiss master had to admit how he disliked being called the ‘No.2’ in many press conferences and news reports. “I just do not like it. Please don’t say that,” he had said in a very uncharacteristic manner.

 

Nadal on the other hand has been ruthless in every tournament that he has played until he was ‘shocked’ by Soderling in the French Open, opening up the floodgates for the eventual winner Federer to win his record-equaling first French Open title. Make no mistake, I am a huge fan of Federer but of late I feel he is largely going untested—a fact he himself had pointed out. Facing Nadal in the French Open the last three times in the finals at Roland Garros only ended in heart burns for Fedex fans. Nadal has gone from strength to strength in deflating Fedex’s fortunes over the years but off the court the two have shared great admiration for each other and reveled in each other’s success.

 

There were even-wide spread reports that Fedex’s child could even be named ‘Rafa’ but don’t know the truth behind these tales. On the court, its been carnage for Federer and he from his ‘Godly’ status, he has been made to look like a mere mortal —-more than once, with critics asking the ‘God’ to vacate his place and join the mortals’ race. Is losing such a big deal? Yes, it is. Especially when you have the aura of Federer and it gets rolled over by a Spain boy, do? match after match. What did this loses mean? This meant that Federer was beatable and gave enough confidence for other players to go ahead and make a match against Federer.

 

For any champion, the prospect that there are chinks in his armory is not a healthy sign at all. Federer went through this and lost titles after one after another and Wimbledon 2008 was the last pack in the card. Nadal had been beaten by Federer in the last two finals of Wimbledon and it gave the Swiss enough belief that he shall pull it off. But then fate proved a fickle mistress once again.

 

Nadal did the unthinkable and carved his supremacy on grass of the All England Club lawns, much to the agony of Federer. Again, the US Open 2008 was tailor-made for Federer as Nadal had lost in the rounds and Andy Murray was no match for the Swiss ace in the finals. And when it came to the Australian Open this year, Nadal outclassed Federer to show whose a better player?

 

Having said that, Federer has had a great reign across the world but Nadal shall be a nuisance (Its a harsh word but on the court he surely has been such a pain in the a***) and the moment he gets to court (probably for the US Open 09 at the Flushing Meadows), Federer will have his task cut-out.

 

But Wimbledon this year looks tailor-made for Federer unless surprises are in store!


Shahid set to take Pakistan’s Twenty20 reins from Younis Khan!

June 22, 2009

 If sources are to be believed then Peshawar da Puttar Shahid Afridi will be leading Pakistan in the Twenty20 format of the game and his first assignment could come in on August 12 when Pakistan will a Twenty20 game against Sri Lanka in Colombo. And the dope does not end there.

Pakistan’s One-day unit will also have Afridi as the captain if World Cup winning captain Younis Khan decides to focus his energy only on Test cricket. Afridi has always been quite vocal about captaining Pakistan and this opportunity will be embraced by the Pathan with open arms. But Afridi will have to wait a little longer as Younis wants to captain the side till the 2011 World Cup in the sub-continent.

Earlier, Younis Khan inspired Pakistan to lift their first ever Twenty20 World title defeating the much-favoured Sri Lanka by 8 wickets and Shahid Afridi played a key role in ensuring that the Cup was theirs for the taking. During the press conference after the win, Younis famously declared that he is no more going to play Twenty20 and will concentrate his energies

Some facts on the Pakistan win

1. This is Pakistan’s second World Cup title

2. Pakistan, with this win, became the second team after India to lift the ICC World Twenty20 trophy.

3. Shahid Afridi and Shoaib Malik put on a third wicket stand of 76 (unbroken), which Pakistan’s highest for the third wicket in the Twenty20 World Cup.

4. Umar Gul, with 13 wickets at an average of 12.15, was the highest wicket-taker in the tournament.

5. Afridi, with Player of the match awards in both the semifinal and final of the same Twenty20 World Cup, became the first player to accomplish the feat.

6. Abdul Razzaq with his 3 for 20 registered his best bowling performance in Twenty20 Internationals.

7. Afridi’s 54 off 40 balls is his best-ever innings in T20 games, surpassing the 51 off 34 balls against South Africa on jat Nottingham on June 18, 2009 # Afridi, in his last four innings, has batted reasonably well to post 29 not out against New Zealand; 24 against Ireland; 51 against South Africa and 54 not out against Sri Lanka.


The perfect timing!

June 22, 2009

The most of invincible cricket teams in the history of the game always gone on to believe that they shall get back to their best whenever they lose the aura of invincibility. Pakistan, has however never had such a luxury and every time they have won a major tournament be it Sharjah or in Australia, they have gone on to go for years without a major title.

As skipper Younis Khan lifted Pakistan’s maiden World T20 Cup at the Lord’s beating compatriots Sri Lanka in a one-sided encounter that ended when Shahid Afridi counter-attacked to send the Lankans packing, Younis announced his retirement from Twenty20 cricket stating, “This is my last game, I am retiring from T20 as I am 34 and old.”

It was as curt as the person himself, who believed that he was the captain, behaved like one and not surprisingly wanted full control. His batting was crisp and always sported a smile during press conferences and forever was busy nudging one and twos to the square-leg boundary or towards the covers. His attitude towards the game was exemplary and with age had slowed down and this was glaring if one saw his fielding drills as the Pakistani dropped catches that a younger Younis would not have.

His leadership qualities reached a step ahead with the World Cup victory and I am tempted to compare Younis’ retirement with the one Imran Khan had announced once he lifted the ‘Crystal ball’—1992 Benson&Hedges World Cup in March 23, 1992 defeating the much-favoured England with the help of a side that had the right mix of youngsters such as Mushtaq Ahmed, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Moin Khan and had seniors such as Wasim Akram, Rameez Raja to take the game to the next level. But Pakistan never delivered much as they promised and immediately lost the England series in 1992.

Younis Khan too has announced his last game on a similar circumstances and one only wishes that this side is more prepared and matured to handle the pressure that the game of cricket comes up with. While Shahid Afridi, Abdul Razzaq and Shoaib Malik are seniors in the team and have the ability to take the game to the next stage and with juniors such as Saeed Ajmal and others coming into the ranks, it remains to be seen whether Younis’ retirement that has uncanny resemblance to Imran Khan’s, will be helpful or not.

But, I feel that Younis might have missed a trick or two in his timing of this shot. Well, as long as the team benefits, its fine. Else…..we know what Pakistan can turn into..don’t we?


Pugnacious Pakistan pummels, wins Twenty20 World Cup at Lord’s!

June 21, 2009

Ahh! The comeback kids. Who would have thought that Pakistan which has suffered in the hands of the media for years now and continues to get bombarded by bombs and by bad press over the world will come together with a performance that will help them win the ICC World Twenty20 title.
Many of us had our favourites (done to death) as India, Australia or South Africa but Pakistan proved many under the sun wrong. What made them win the title has been written here in a set of 10 points.

Reason 1: When the going gets tough, the tough gets going— says an old cliched line. Whether we like it or not, there can’t be a more terrible times for a country to be playing cricket than what is being tailor-made for Pakistan. The in-fighting amongst the PCB (Pakistan Cricket Board) and the government (allegedly!) fighting insurgents and extremist groups would have made any outfit’s shoulders drop but not this side.

Reason 2: Twenty20 is and will be a game of enormous unpredictabilities and the Pakistan side has the most dangerous mix of unpredictable characters in their team and that won them more than one match in this WC.

Reason 3: Nothing came on a platter for Pakistan. They went through close to year of absence from cricketing circuits with teams refraining from touring the nation and when Sri Lanka did manage to show how good a neighbour they were, the unceremonious exit from Pakistan will still be giving them sleepless nights.

Reason 4: Right from the time he sent Jayasuriya for towering sixes to record his 36-ball century in Nairobi, Sahibzada Mohammad Shahid Khan Afridi (Shahid Afridi in short!) has remained an enigma. While on one day he bats and bowls like a dream, the very next morning— he forgets the basics but that has been his story ever since his debut against Sri Lanka way back in 1996. This 276-ODI matches veteran is in the team more for his bowling than for his batting. But, Afridi in this tournament has shone with the ball and the bat, a bonus that took a long time coming. It did come this time and how.

Reason 5: The importance of having experience in the side helps and it was shown when Abdul Razzaq who was drafted into the side in place of injured Yaser Arafat showed the role of experience even in the shortest format of the game. Razzaq was the top-wicket taker with his 3/20 outburst. And the most important heartening aspect of Pakistan attack was its variety and sting with Umar Gul, Afridi, Saeed Ajmal and Razzaq peaking at the right time that made all the difference to the outcome of the series.

Reason 6: If Kamran Akmal fired at the top, he had Shahzaib Hasan  who was making his debut in the tournament to compliment the keeper brilliantly. The duo combined caution with aggression and enabled the side to put up a good start everytime they opened. Plus with Afridi in such a rollicking form, skipper Younis Khan played a master-stroke by sending the Pathan from Peshawar at No.3 against the Proteas and he pummelled them to submission. The middle-order had the strength of Younis, Razzaq, Shoaib Malik and Misbah-ul-Haq to take their side to safety in times of crisis.

Reason 7: Apart from their batting and bowling peaking at the right time, the right mix of players being selected or ‘horses for the courses’ policy was given importance and PCB took the risk of dropping an unfit (forever!) Shoaib Akhtar for this tournament and went with a fit team even as their neighbours packed in a under-fit team for this tournament which has global importance.

Reason 8: When I had penned down the SWOT analysis of this Pakistan side I had mentioned the importance of the zeal to prove people wrong. I feel that zeal was more in this team than any other side that played the World Cup.

Reason 9: One of the best examples of astute captaincy was displayed by Mahendra Singh Dhoni in the first edition when he remained at the background of all the celebration and allowed his team to enjoy the time of their lives. Younis Khan of Pakistan did the same thing after the team’s victory and never went overboard on the emotional front but showcased his happiness in a charismatic manner.

Reason 10: Faith as they say can move mountains. With such stupendous talent available, it was only a matter of time that Pakistan restored its pride in the cricketing circles of the world. They have done it now.

Pakistan—take a bow!


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