Monday, June 7, 2010

The Art of Captaincy!

A few years back I had read a book on captaincy that has evolved the Australian cricket into becoming the world beaters of the modern era that they are. And all this while I have been very inspired by the leadership skills by the Chappells, Borders, Taylors, Waughs. I never include Ricky Ponting in this list of great captains. Ponting has had a fairly great run with his luck. Having lost the Ashes twice, the Final Frontier, CB final back home, the inglorious Monkey Gate scandal are reasons enough for him to be sacked long back. And compare this with just one poor VB series that wielded the axe on Steve Waugh. More importantly he inherited the legacy that was left behind by Steve Waugh in the form of a team which comprised of Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne, Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden, Damien Martyn, Justin Langer.

Coming back to the 1970s when Aussies were developing the arsenal to take on the world. Ian Chappell has always been the best commentator. His knowledge of the game is immense and is ever so perfect with his analysis. And it wasn’t just this knowledge of the game that made him one of the better captains of his time. He could understand the situations well enough to make things turn around for him, even if the situations meant understanding human relations. His handling of Dennis Lilee and Jeff Thomson has been so immaculate. This reminds of one such situation in the book. Dennis Lilee and Rodney Marsh were the best of friends. And this was one aspect that was very well acknowledged by Ian Chappell himself. However, to have used this as a means for getting the message across was very tactful of him. On an Ashes tour, Dennis Lilee struggled through the first few tests, even though he was bowling at a fiery pace. So in one of the test matches, when the Aussies had set a competitive total for England to chase, the fiery Lilee failed to get important breakthroughs. And Ian Chappell, with all his great cricketing acumen would observe the way the ball would land in the keeper Rodney Marsh’s gloves, standing right next to him at first slip. “When Lilee would be at his best, there would be a thud sound as the ball would land in Marsh’s hands” remarked Chappell. Seeing this, Chappell remarked to the second slipper “I will have him dropped for the next test”. The best friend in Rodney Marsh picked this one up and conveyed it to Lilee. And the temperamental Lilee ended up taking up 6 wickets in the innings with 3 in that very spell. That comment from Chappell was an intended one, and it did the trick!

Ian Chappell’s younger sibling, Greg Chappell was also a very shrewd captain, famous for his decision to bowl under arm in a match against New Zealand. The mantle was later passed on to Allan Border, followed by Mark Talyor. While Border was a brilliant motivator, Taylor was an impressive tactician. I fondly remember Taylor struggling with the bat in 1996-97. He even dropped himself in the one day matches so that the team did not suffer. But his captaincy skills were always perfect. Steve Waugh took over the one day captaincy in 1997 and the test captaincy in 1998. And, like his predecessors, was again very different. He changed the way test matches were played, with the Aussies scoring in excess of four runs an over throughout the day. This gave his bowlers enough time to bowl out the opposition twice. I can’t recollect the number of test matches that Aussies won by an innings, for they were far too frequent. Under Waugh, the Aussies even changed the way they approached “dead rubbers” or matches that were played after the series was won. Mark Taylor would often lead his side to victory in the first few matches and then go on to lose the last one. However, Steve Waugh, being a perfectionist himself, always yearned for the perfect series result – a whitewash. During the later years, after being sacked of the one day captaincy, Steve Waugh suffered from a batting slump, but continued to lead the Aussies to victory in every series. It would have been a perfect end to his illustrated career if he had managed to claim the Final Frontier – a series win in India.

I would also like to mention the captaincy skills that were showcased by Ian Healy and Shane Warne. Ian Healy was a deputy to Mark Taylor for a long time and was a smart leader as well. I remember him taking over the leadership during the one dayers of the 1997 tour of South Africa, when Mark Taylor failed to find his batting form and dropped himself from the side. Australia went on to win the win the seven match series 4-3 with Healy leading in six of them. Shane Warne was made captain in few games in the VB series of 1999-2000 when Steve Waugh was injured. And that stint was highly appreciated by all. He came out with innovative field placements during the first 15 overs and would bring himself on to bowl first in the first ten overs. The tactics were an instant success. This was further lamented in the first IPL season, when Warnie led an ordinary looking Rajasthan Royals to silverware. Unfortunately, his off the field behaviour meant he could not lead Aussies after Waugh had left the game. Many have called him to be “The best captain Australia never had”.

Even our very own Sunil Gavaskar is a keen observer of the game was known to be a master tactician of the game. In one of the books authored by him on the success of World Championship of Cricket in Australia in the year 1985, he mentions about how Laxman Sivaramakrishnan was unleashed against other teams. All the teams continued to struggle against his leg spin and his googly was his lethal weapon. Gavaskar, himself the captain on that tour, had special orders for Siva not to bowl a single googly in the nets. Gavaskar had known the Australian media well enough in the years gone by and was sure the media would have put up cameras to pick up Siva’s secret weapon. Even Ravi Shastri showed exemplary leadership skills in the one test match that he led against the West Indies. But, he like Warne was not given the “job” for his off the field demeanor.

Yet another captain who has been a success story is Imran Khan. I remember Imran walking out for the toss in the 1992 World Cup semi final against New Zealand, wearing a T which had a tiger imprinted on it, instead of the national colours. This was immediately asked by Ian Chappell during the toss interview, to which Imran replied “I want my boys to play like tigers”. Pakistan of course went on to win the World Cup, with Imran leading from the front and Chappell, talks about this incident, to this date.

All these cricketing greats have gone on to become successful commentators, a feat that laments their stature as players, as captains and as visionaries of the game. They wore their hearts on their sleeves and went on to become national heroes. They made CAPTAINCY an art, more than a job, a difference which made their sides into world beaters!

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