The Roar
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Time for captains to stand up and be leaders

Roar Guru
25th October, 2010
20

“The Bastards will never get me like that.” Ian Chappell has been taking aim at administrators from the day he learnt Bill Lawry had been dumped in his favor. The statement reflected Chappell’s angst at the treatment of a fellow player and his own determination to fight for the collective rights of cricketers.

To put Ponting’s captaincy in perspective it is important to take an inventory of the captains past and present. Captains are not born to lead. First they have to be appointed .Bradman’s choice of Benaud and Ian Chappell was inspirational. It was ironical that Chappell ultimately became Bradman’s detractor.

And in so doing became a Leader.

The progression from Grace to Strauss is a lineage littered with expediency more than vision.

India has gone from C.K.Nayadu to Dhoni. The soldier who had served his time to the soldier now determined to be his own man. Sri Lanka has Kumara Sangakkara modest yet ambitious. Daniel Vettori is a Lion among his pussycats. Graeme Smith is striving to project the new South Africa. Shakib and Bangladesh are competitive in the one day arena and out of their depth in the Test arena.

Who are these men?

Are they just Captains or are they Leaders? All relatively young men not yet burdened with doubt and mortality. These men hold the future of cricket in their hands.

Commentators and retired cricketers cannot play the game. Some of them find it difficult to accept the game has changed. Nothing stays static except the electricity on worn woolen trousers. Australia has had only four Captains since Allan Border took charge in 1984.His was not so much as an ordainment as a fait accompli.

He was the most reluctant of Captains in his early avatar but his obdurate and unflinching bravery energized the players in his watch. The “Sunglass Kid” Jones scurried between wickets like a man chased by demons. Geoff Marsh became an able Lieutenant and sacrificed his wicket like a Victorian prude would her virginity.

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The “keg” Boony became the bulwark at short leg. It was no coincidence that a man with short legs would field there.

Not for Border the armchair comfort of leaders unwilling or incapable of fighting.

Allan Border was very often bloodied but not for one moment was he ever bowed. Consequently his men became leaders in their own right and the Captain’s job suddenly became easier and more enjoyable.

What was a cumbersome journey for Border was for Benaud a cursory glance at the vintage on the bottle of Bollinger. The legacy of Richie Benaud is that of a selfless renaissance man.

He was inclusive and charitable. Most importantly he had a vision of how cricket should be played. It was an act of providence that his opposing captain was Frank Worrell.

In 1961, Test Cricket was struggling from its own induced Global Warming. The corpse was being embalmed and the coffin was ready.

This was Lazarus rising and cricket’s reincarnation all in one. This was the age of Brylcreem and the upturned collar. It was acceptable to show emotion and though the celebrations were muted by today’s kissing and hugging it was the beginning of a greater camaraderie among cricketers.

Benaud and Worrell gave Test Cricket a vitality and relevance that was timely and endures to this day. In an era where the stiff upper lip was still overly starched and Apartheid well entrenched the embrace of Benaud and Worrell was before its time and two years before Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream”.

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Sir Donald’s reign was more a proclamation of his batting genius than an acclamation of his generalship. There was respect for his courage against Larwood and Voce. Bradman singled out Pollock (Graeme) Sobers and Tendulkar as batsmen of the highest class and his eye in picking a batsman was as good as picking the best of bowlers.

Bradman’s “Invincibles” is arguably the greatest in Test history followed by Benaud’s team of ’61 and then Ian Chappell in the early to Mid seventies and Clive Lloyd’s juggernaut from the late 1970’s to the late 1980’s. Somewhere in between sits Waugh’s reign from 1999 to 2004 and Mark Taylor’s class of 1994-‘99.

These Captains were willing to lead from the front. They all cared about the way they played cricket.

All these Captains, especially Benaud and Ian Chappell, fought for better conditions and their efforts led to the abolition of “cricket slavery” where the best were for too long paid chimney sweep wages.

These were Generals willing to share in the spoils. In Alan Davidson Benaud had a leader willing to “take the initiative” Davidson’s vision was that you could not win a war in the trenches. Davidson exulted in running batsmen out while fielding on the square leg boundary.

The casual call of “two” became a manic scream of “go back” as Davidson was anticipating before the ball had left the bat and was swooping even as the batsmen were turning for the second. In his ninth decade now, Davidson was as feisty as a twenty something at a recent Dinner for the Australian Cricket Society.

Brian Taber discussed the three Captains he played under, Simpson, Lawry and Chappell They all led by example and Chappell was the most embracing of his fellow players.

This inclusiveness was rarely if ever evident in the Bradman era, cricketing or administrative. There is a body of opinion that maintains it was Bradman’s intransigence in awarding better conditions that led to World Series Cricket.

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And Richie Benaud and Ian Chappell were in the vanguard of this most necessary revolution. Cricketers and Captains finally had more say in the running of the game.

Some say it is now at the stage where cricketers are holding administrators to ransom. Andrew Flintoff’s rejection of an incremental ODI contract, cloaked as it is in protestations of having paid his dues, is nothing if not self serving. The truth may lie somewhere deeper in the picture. More specifically the dictates of TV broadcasters and major sponsors.

But that is a matter for another day.

For now we must reconcile with the fact that a prodigal son is capable of biting the hand that feeds him. Captains and cricketers cannot be immune to the imprimatur of those that have preceded them. C.K.Nayadu was a Holkar strongman.

He reputedly was struck in the mouth by a bouncer and spat out three teeth. Stuffed a hanky in his mouth to stem the blood and proceeded to bat. He was famous for refusing drinks while fielding or batting.

A sign of weakness he would retort.

And the legend has calcified into the DNA of India’s cricketing bloodline. Kapil Dev restored Indian Cricked back to the man on the street. The fans without which cricket is an empty shell. Indian Cricketers hitherto had a self belief and the administrators were forced to take off their proprietary glasses.

Indian Cricket is still enmeshed in politics that demean and internecine feuds that fester but the officials can no longer be merely self serving. Mahendra Singh Dhonigh has the trust of his team, including former captains in Tendulkar and Dravid. He also has the young lions champing at the bit and waiting to be let loose.

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Dhoni is refreshing in his candor and steely in his determination. He is willing to put himself up the order and to roll up his sleeves and get close and personal.

There is about him inclusiveness and importantly exclusiveness. He does not rant and rave. He admonishes with a raised eyebrow and encourages with an arm around the shoulders. This Indian Team is Dhoni’s team and the BCCI would do well to remember this. Kumar Sangakkara is Sri Lanka’s erudite and worldly wise captain.

In Mahela Jayewardene he has a former captain willing to make Sri Lankan cricket stronger. Both these men know the trauma of a Nation only recently freed from a debilitating internal war. Both these young men are aware that a terrorist’s bullet could have killed them in Lahore. That they are both playing cricket and leading a young team to the top speaks volumes of their courage and conviction.

In his own way the courage of Younus Khan is no less exemplary.

Graeme Smith will continue to struggle with the dictates of a Government that seeks to impose quotas based on color rather than ability. In a way this is apartheid in reverse and cannot be a comfortable situation. South Africa is a young country finding its identity and the Rugby and Cricket teams are viewed by social activists as representative of the old South Africa.

This is not of Graeme Smith’s making. He is a captain in a particular time of History and it is hoped he is judged by his courage and ability to lead rather than an adherence to political expediency.

Andrew Strauss is the 78th England captain in 890 Tests played by them. (Australia has had 42 in 713 Test matches) The England Captaincy resembles a tall and slender tree constantly bending and buffeted by swirling winds at the top. His recent Ashes victory will imbue much needed confidence in his team.

Whether there will be a symbiotic trust remains to be seen. It is hoped that English cricket can be strong again as it has underperformed over the last 50 years. It has also been sullied by the naivety with which it handled the Stanford debacle. There have been inspired choices of Captains but too often the reigns have been marred by individual tastes and childish dislikes.

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Mike Denness was denied the services of Snow and the 1974 tour was a slaughter.

All the bravery of Ray Illingworth’s 1971 side was dissipated and England has rarely been the same. Mike Brearley steadied the decline and Michael Vaughn had brief success but the continuity and stability evident in Australia is sadly lacking .England seems caught between the hopelessly unattainable ideals of a whimsical aristocracy and the stark and practical dictates of a playing pool of conflicting loyalties.

Ricky Ponting is coming to terms with an Administration, seemingly more intent on appearances and “marketability factors” than ground reality. There is a working relationship based on convenience.

There is neither trust nor mistrust. Just a wary acceptance of the need to work together.

To dismiss Ponting’s captaincy as lacking tactical sensitivity is to ignore the logic of collective leadership. Great teams have multiple leaders and Ponting’s young charges are still defining the boundaries of their talents. These young men will develop just as McGrath and Gilchrist did.

Then Ponting will be able to throw the ball to Johnson or Siddle and trust them to deliver. It may well happen over the course of this summer.

In between the pair of 2-1 losses to England sits his 5-0 whitewash. His most recent 2-0 loss to India was due to Laxman’s genius and Tendulkar’s mastery. No shame in that. If the truth be known Australia was the better side for 8 of the ten days. India is a rugged place to win. Just as Brisbane is a fortress for Australia. Ponting’s batting and fielding set him apart as a great player and History may well judge him as a great captain.

Cricketers played too much cricket in the late 1960’s when they were not paid enough. Today they play more and are handsomely rewarded.

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But the cricket suffers and the spectators can tell when the actors are working off cue cards Trust is an integral part of a Captain’s C.V. Lindsay Hassett, recognized by his peers as a great captain, declared Australia’s second innings at 7 down for 32 in Brisbane in 1950-51. This was a rain affected wicket and Australia eventually prevailed by 70 runs.

Hassett had trusted his own instincts and his team repaid this trust.

Mark Taylor opted to bat first on a seaming Old Trafford green top in 1997 and Richie Benaud called it one of “the bravest decisions” he had seen in his years of playing and watching. Benaud remarked “He trusted his players and they trusted him” So Captains in many ways are more givers than takers. It is in the giving that they are distinct.

Men of substance will usually repay trust and respect with even more trust and even more respect.

This is the constant running through the great sides. The trust, the courage, the inclusiveness and empowerment of individuals to challenge themselves and develop as leaders.

Clive Lloyd called it togetherness. Leaders are also followers. They listen to teammates and act on maximizing the individual’s set of skills for the greater good.Ponting has done that with Watson and it is hoped with Johnson and Hilfenhaus.

Cricketers coming together in the great teams are in a defacto relationship. This relationship is one based on implicit trust. It works outside conventional rules and regulations. It is personal and constantly reaffirmed in principle and practice. The not so great sides work more like a marriage.

Their trust is explicit and codified by vows taken in reverential tones and often, sadly, broken with routine impunity.

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Ponting deserves some of this trust to be reciprocated.

This first appeared in Seriously Cricket Chronicles