There is an age old adage in cricket that ‘catches win matches’, and they certainly do. But in order to take the catch there needs to be the right bowler supported by a fieldsman in the right position.
And the man charged with getting those combinations right is the captain. In this Ashes series that role is held by Michael Clarke and Alastair Cook.
Between them they will call the shots for their respective sides in the field. Each will receive valuable support from their senior players but in the end the final decision always rests with the man who has the ‘c’ alongside his name in the scorebook.
And with that in mind, Australia holds a distinct advantage.
As skippers, Clarke and Cook are very different in their approach. Clarke is a man who makes things happen while Cook is a far more formulaic captain. While Clarke always appears to be on the attack, Cook gives off a far more defensive air.
From the moment Clarke entered the Australian dressing room he was taken under the wing of Shane Warne, a man renowned for his attacking nous. Clarke is cut from the same cloth and is perpetually proactive.
The first hour of the opening Test at Sophia Gardens was a case in point.
Mitchell Starc opened the bowling and produced two maiden overs which on face value looked good on the scorecard but in reality were horribly wasteful. With a brand new ball there were too many ill-directed deliveries.
For Clarke, he had seen enough, and Starc was ripped from the attack and replaced by Mitchell Johnson. There was no period of grace for Starc to find his range and rhythm despite the fact that Josh Hazlewood had removed Adam Lyth in the second over of the innings.
Come the end of the eighth over, Clarke decided to change things up, throwing the ball to Nathan Lyon who shortly after struck a vital blow when he had Cook caught behind for 20.
It was typical Clarke – make changes in order to arrest the advantage.
Cook has had plenty of detractors in recent times with Ian Botham at the forefront of them. Less than two months ago the champion all-rounder said Cook’s time had come as skipper and he should be replaced by his deputy Joe Root.
Botham did not hold back, saying: “I want to know what Alastair Cook is doing with 100-plus caps of Test match experience, because I am not seeing it.”
Throughout his captaincy career Cook has erred on the side of caution when a match is in the balance. Taking calculated risks is not really in his make-up whether it be with respect to declarations or field placements.
He has stated in the lead-in to this series that we will see a more attacking England side.
“At certain times I have to be able to get on that front foot. As a leader of a group of players you do have to change your leadership to the style of players you have in the changing room,” he said.
He has some attacking players currently at his disposal, with bat and ball. Time will be the judge of whether we see a different leadership style from Cook this series.
Coming off the 5-0 drubbing of the last Ashes campaign he can ill afford another meek performance from his team. He needs to be the man who takes the fight up to Australia by dint of aggressive leadership, assured body language and bold captaincy.
A failure to do so may see Botham’s wish come true at series’ end.