Tribulations of Aussie Test cricket captains

sheek Roar Guru

By sheek, sheek is a Roar Guru

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    It is often said that being Australian Test cricket captain is the second most important position anyone can hold, after the prime minister. Some might even argue that being Test cricket captain is more important.

    In my time at least, it has in some instances been a poisoned chalice. Even those who have given outstanding service, firstly as player then as captain, have sometimes come to an inglorious exit.

    When I first became aware of Test cricket in late 1967, Bobby Simpson was the Australian captain. After leading the team to two easy wins against India, Simpson announced he would not be touring England as a cricketer.

    He had been offered something like fives times his cricket salary (or some similar ridiculous amount) to report on the tour as a journalist. The ACB promptly sacked him from the third Test team.

    However, following a public backlash, he was recalled for the fourth Test, which at the time was assumed to be his last.

    10 years later in 1977/78, Simpson answered an SOS call to captain a young, inexperienced team, again against India. This was following the defection of 20-odd leading players to WSC.

    Simpson had a triumphant return, leading the Aussies to a 3-2 series win in an entertaining summer, and personally scoring two centuries.

    However, things quickly turned sour in the Caribbean when both the Aussies and Simpson struggled against the Windies, firstly with their WSC stars in the first two Tests, then without.

    When Simpson sought a guarantee to lead Australia for the entire 1978/79 season against England and was denied, he promptly retired a second time.

    Simpson’s 1967/68 replacement was his long-time opening partner Bill Lawry, who brought a dourness to the position that was at odds with his personal good humour and gregariousness.

    Lawry never felt comfortable in the position and was unceremoniously dumped from the final Test of the 1970/71 Ashes series, without even the courtesy of being advised beforehand. Don Bradman was chairman of selectors.

    Ian Chappell became the new captain, and often told his teammates and friends, “those bastards (the selectors) won’t get me like they did Bill (Lawry)”. He was true to his word, retiring after defending the Ashes in England in 1975.

    Almost everyone felt he had retired too soon. During Chappelli’s tenure, he took Australia to the top of the totem pole, the best team in the world.

    Chappelli’s replacement was his younger brother Greg, who had a dream start, scoring twin centuries on his captaincy debut against the Windies in 1975/76.

    Initially, the transfer of captaincy worked seamlessly, but cracks soon appeared in the 1976/77 summer, when whispers of WSC began to do the rounds. Greg Chappell was the default position Aussie skipper from 1975/76 right through to 1982/83.

    However, due to World Series Cricket and his own unavailability on occasions, two other players assumed the captaincy during this period.

    When Simpson failed to get a guarantee in late 1978 to continue as captain, the ACB plumped for the inexperienced Graeme Yallop. Although Yallop would successfully lead Victoria to back to back Sheffield Shield wins in 1978/79 and 1979/80, he was cruelly exposed at Test level.

    During the summer he struggled to keep Australia’s new pace express Rodney Hogg under control. Late in the season, Hogg threatened to knock Yallop’s head off in a fiery exchange.

    After six Ashes Tests, Australia played two Tests against Pakistan, who included their WSC stars. When Yallop pulled out of the final Test with injury, it appears the selectors couldn’t hand the captaincy quickly enough to someone else.

    That ‘someone else’ was Kim Hughes, a talented batsman but emotionally fraught. Hughes had a brief run as captain, before Greg Chappell returning from WSC, reassumed the leadership in 1979/80.

    Chappell was beginning to suffer the effects of the enormous pressure that went with the position. Consequently, he pulled out of two tours, to England in 1981 and again to Pakistan in 1982.

    Hughes willingly filled the breach on both occasions. Finally, Hughes assumed the position in his own right in 1983/84, but his tenure would be brief and dramatic.

    Hughes ran smack bang into the West Indies at their absolute peak. Given a team of variable quality and experience following the retirement of the ‘holy trinity’ – Greg Chappell, Dennis Lillee and Rod Marsh – both Hughes and Australia were overwhelmed, firstly in the Caribbean and then back in Australia in 1984/85.

    After the second Test in Brisbane, Hughes tearfully and dramatically resigned the captaincy. He lasted just two more Tests, scoring 0, 2, 0, 0. He was a broken man.

    Interestingly, Hughes went a long way to redeeming himself when he led the rebel Australians to South Africa in 1985/86 and 1986/87. The players generally respected his leadership and he batted quite well.

    By contrast, his vice-captain in 1985/86, Yallop, was stripped of the captaincy for the following summer when it became apparent he had lost interest in the tours and the respect of his team mates.

    December 1984, enter Allan Border.

    Australia’s debt to Border is incalculable. For a few years, he was the only player of stature and experience in the national team. If ever a man carried a team single-handedly, it was probably Border during the tumultuous 1984/85, 85/86 and 86/87 seasons.

    By 1987/88, with a surprise World Cup victory behind them, Australia now had a core of talented, experienced and confident players to assist Border.

    Yet, despite his great deeds as captain from 1984-94, when Border sought leave of absence from Pakistan in 1994, the selectors advised him they could not guarantee his future selection.

    Deeply hurt and offended, Border basically told the selectors to get stuffed and promptly retired. Although tellingly, he continued to play Shield cricket successfully for several more seasons.

    Mark Taylor was the new captain and he built on Border’s hard work, eventually leading Australia back to number one position in 1995, when Australia beat the Windies in the Caribbean.

    Taylor was considered an incredibly astute tactician, but his soft underbelly was leading Australia to some defeats in a ‘dead rubber’ match after series victory had been obtained. Taylor’s grip on the leadership loosened when he endured a prolonged batting slump during 1996-97.

    Sensing the shift in public sentiment, Taylor retired at the end of the 1998/99 season.

    Steve Waugh had replaced Ian Healy as Tubby Taylor’s deputy, and now he had the top job. Waugh adopted the same pragmatic, hard-nosed approach to the captaincy that he applied to his batting.

    Under his leadership, Australia entrenched their position as the best cricket nation on earth, in both the long form and short form.

    It seems towards the end of Waugh’s reign, a new kind of public characteristic was apparent. The ‘short attention span’ of the modern human being was saying to Waugh, “Look, we’ve been following you as Test cricket captain for six years (1999-2004) but now we’re sick of you. We want to see Punter in charge”.

    And so, despite his phenomenal success as captain, Waugh retired in 2004/05, handing over the reigns to Ricky Ponting. By now, the Australian team was so talented and successful, the proverbial drover’s dog could lead and they would still be winning in a canter.

    For a long time, Punter could do no wrong, as Australia’s success continued unabated, with only a blimp here or there. One blimp (2005) was excusable, but not two (2009) or three (2010/11).

    By now, fans were beginning to get sick of Ponting as they had got sick of Waugh. “Time for a change” was the clamour, “Give that young pup Michael Clarke a go”.

    Initially, Clarke was seen as a breath of fresh air, but back to back double debacle series defeats against India and England in 2012-13 saw the worm turn slowly against Clarke. Now it seems, the public are tiring of Clarke as they tired of Ponting and Waugh before him.

    However, Clarke faces other problems. Despite his imaginative on-field captaincy, questions regarding his man-management remain.

    It is suggested personal enmity between Clarke and former players Simon Katich and Michael Hussey hastened the retirement of these tow very fine cricketers.

    There are also suggestions that Clarke is at loggerheads with chairman of selectors Rod Marsh, while his relationship with coach Darren Lehmann runs hot and cold.

    Next man up is Steve Smith, who has already enjoyed a brief and successful stint as skipper. However, Smith must feel some trepidation in accepting the most coveted position in Australian sport.

    Being in the spotlight, everyone wants a piece of you. And as past experience shows, the public can tire of you very quickly, no matter what great deeds you performed in the past.

    A former rugby lock, cricket no.11 bat and no.10 bowler, and surfboat rower. A fan of the major team sports in Australia.

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    The Crowd Says (17)

    • August 9th 2015 @ 8:11am
      Pope Paul vii said | August 9th 2015 @ 8:11am | ! Report

      Good write up Sheeky.

      Pretty turbulent pozzie.

      You touched on it with Yallop but remember when the vice captain was the kiss of death?

      Speaking of Yallop he and his fellow establishment players 77 – 79 can comfort themselves that they were never as bad as the recent Trent Bridge effort. I think their worst was 90 against the full West Indian fury on a green wicket. And had the been lucky enough to bowl at green Brissie in 1978, they might have won that instead of going for 116 – nearly double Trent Bridge.

      We won’t know for a while but it will be interesting to see where Clarkey stands in the captain popularity stakes? Ian Johnson in the West Indies 1955 reputedly holds a good lead.

    • Roar Guru

      August 9th 2015 @ 8:38am
      sheek said | August 9th 2015 @ 8:38am | ! Report

      Thanks Popey,

      Yeah, Ian Johnson was preferred to the charismatic Keith Miller. I think a lot of fans never forgave Johnson for that, although it wasn’t his fault, but the ACB that chose him!

    • August 9th 2015 @ 8:49am
      JohnB said | August 9th 2015 @ 8:49am | ! Report

      Have to quibble on one point Sheek – Australia was at least square with the WSC-less WI in 1978 – won 1, lost 1 and on the verge of winning the 3rd before a crowd riot stopped the game on the last afternoon with one wicket required. They had indeed been thumped by the full WI team in the first 2 tests. Notable that Ian Chappell kept playing test cricket after retiring as captain (as did Yallop after being replaced) contrary to the line you hear from time to time that it’s never been the Australian way for the captain to keep playing after ceasing to be captain.

      • Roar Guru

        August 9th 2015 @ 1:48pm
        sheek said | August 9th 2015 @ 1:48pm | ! Report


        Interestingly, Benaud, Simpson & both the Chappell brothers all continued on briefly (no more than one series) after relinquishing the captaincy. Chappelli the first time.

        Indeed, Ian Chappell was most pundits tip to re-inherit the test captaincy in 1979/80, but feelings with the ACB were still raw. Greg Chappell was basically the compromise between WSC’s Chappelli & ACB’s Kim Hughes.

        Yeah, the Aussies did okay against India & Windies non-WSC teams, but totally imploded against England in 1978/79. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but Yallop was a poor choice as captain. The Aussies needed experience in the position.

        If Simpson was no longer acceptable, they could have gone with John Inverarity, a similar type to Simmo as a batsman, spinner, slipper & outstanding tactician. He was 34 in 1978 & eight years younger than Simmo.

        Or Paul Sheahan, then 32, who had been out of cricket for several years. But the Aussies badly needed some experience in 1978/79.

    • August 9th 2015 @ 11:41am
      Dexter The Hamster said | August 9th 2015 @ 11:41am | ! Report

      Good write up here Sheek. Nice trip down memory lane.

      I hope the people who have been clamouring for Pup’s blood so Smithy can take over have a read of this. It’s not such an easy job, not as easy as we airchair experts think.

      • Roar Guru

        August 9th 2015 @ 1:48pm
        sheek said | August 9th 2015 @ 1:48pm | ! Report

        Thanks Dexter.

        We seem to have become a fickle lot.

        No sooner do we want the new guy to replace the old guy, then we want someone else again. Maybe we’re suffering overexposure of our stars. I hope Smith doesn’t suffer the same fate as Waugh, Ponting & Clarke in recent times.

      • August 10th 2015 @ 10:39am
        rock said | August 10th 2015 @ 10:39am | ! Report

        Everyone calling for Pup’s blood are one’s who look from the outside in & think they know the internal dynamics of the team ‘because that’s what the media says’.

        If you call yourself an objective sports fan you should be able to put aside your petulant view of a person whom you do not know nor do not know what team dynamics he leads, and see his career for what it was, a great batsman and a good tactical captain.

        • August 10th 2015 @ 5:59pm
          Armchair Expert said | August 10th 2015 @ 5:59pm | ! Report

          On the other hand Rock, you can’t ignore the comments of former team mates Hayden, Symonds, Ponting, Lee and co, they carry more weight than us outsiders but I agree he was a good tactical captain and batsman.

    • August 9th 2015 @ 2:06pm
      jamoz said | August 9th 2015 @ 2:06pm | ! Report

      The Kim Hughes saga has always fascinated me, and I’ve always wondered why (apart from being a money making venture) why the Australian board would have willingly scheduled an almost back-to-back series against the West Indies in the WI and then at home knowing that they’d get hammered. Even Hughes himself admitted that in his last 10 tests which were against the WI, who specifically targeted him, his average dropped from 42 to 37 under both the pressure of a losing captaincy and from members of the media. Me thinks both Hughes and Yallop, but more so Hughes got screwed over royally by the ACB. At least Clarke got it easy compared to those two and got to retire on his terms.

      Of all of the international teams, the WI team were in Australia the most, virtually every second summer after WSC ended playing either tests or ODIs or both (79-80, 81-82, 83-84, 84-85, 86-87, 88-89, 90-91, 92-93) add in a tour of the WI in 84 and 91, that was a hell of a lot of cricket to be playing against one team in those days. The board had apparently wised up by 1987 when they aborted a planned tour to the WI.

      “The tour was cancelled on 8 January 1987. The chief executive of the Australian Cricket Board, Mr David Richards, said the West Indian Board had called it off but undisclosed sources said that West Indian officials were most disappointed the tour would not go ahead. The sources suggested that, with the Windies scheduled to tour Australia in 1988-89, the Australian Cricket Board was reluctant to have Border’s young side exposed to the West Indies in ten Test matches in one calendar year. Australia had won only one of the past 10 Tests against the West Indies.” (

      Even before AB retired, when things weren’t so rosy in the early years, the selectors were looking to others as replacements if he walked. I’d read somewhere that AB was quite unhappy that Wellham was to be his vice captain (and possible successor) for the dead rubber in Sydney in 86-87, which then selector, Greg Chappell was pushing, but which was then knocked back by the board.

      • August 9th 2015 @ 10:49pm
        Pope Paul vii said | August 9th 2015 @ 10:49pm | ! Report

        I dreaded the West Indies during that period but loved those rare beings who took it up to them. Had to be brave to walk out the gate let alone play a brave innings. When they finally fell I was very happy. Now I miss them.

    • August 9th 2015 @ 3:55pm
      Arthur Pagonis said | August 9th 2015 @ 3:55pm | ! Report

      The interesting roles in cricket are being questioned. The Australian Captain, the Australian head of Selectors, the Australian Coach/es. Cricket Australia and James Sutherland have done a good job in making cricket a game of the people, and not just for men.

      Christina Matthews , CEO of the WACA, perhaps the most influential State Programme with NSW in the country, spoke on the ABC this morning of the excellent Australian Cricket Programme for men and women and the fact that Australian Cricket is in a very good place. She is right…but the International Men’s Programme at Test level needs a re-think.

      The Aussies won the ODI World Cup. They beat South Africa 2-1 in Tests in South Africa. In my mind that made them World Champions in those 2 forms of the game. The one thing that Darren Lehmann and Rod Marsh have not been able to do is match England in England. The Ashes is everything. And for 2 tours of England under Lehmann and Marshn now our record is 1-6. This would seem to indicate a weakness in the approach to being as aggressive and dominating in England as we are in Australia. Also tours in India and Pakistan have seen us lose 0-6 under Marsh and Lehmann. Wins in the West Indies and Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, and at home, in various forms against England and India have been predictable , and understandable, given the events of those tours and the calibre of teams those nations put up.

      The reasons for our failure overseas are really quite straightforward…

      1) Australia’s batting instructor and its top and middle order bats have been flawed mechanically defensively and mentally for 10 years now. They simply cannot defend good seam and swing and spin bowling…. and Marsh and Lehmann have presided over that.

      2) Australia’s fast bowlers also have failed to heed the skills of the top English quicks, Broad and Anderson. They cannot swing the ball both ways…only 1 way…and they have very little variety or tactical confidence or game awareness. The bowling instructor should go.

      3) Australia has been a defensive nation when it has had some extraordinarily good leg spin bowlers in Agar, Ahmed, Zampa and Boyce. It simply has not given time to Shane Warne to develop these 4 leg spinners into wicket-takers. It has made Nathan Lyon a defensive stopper and not put time into the 5 of them to become bowlers with variety and tactical aggression.

      4) Englands’ coaches Peter Moore and Andy Flower have outworked their counterparts and delivered Andrew Strauss a 3-1 Ashes win in a matter of months. It has little or nothing to do with Trevor Bayliss from a technical point of view and I am sure Trevor would agree. His strategical and personal guidance has helped. But it took years of training people such as Stokes, Root, Buttler, Ali, Wood, Finn, Balance, Fottit, Lyth and the veterans to get to this level. Australia under Lehmann and Marsh have not been able to change the negative culture in batting and bowling to where Australian players are willing to change their games to suit the environment. In other words they acquire skills to play everywhere around the world. Anyone can play on Australia’s flat and pacy tracks, but spin and swing/seam tracks defeat us.

      The time for Justin Langer as Head Coach and a new Head Selector is now…. as we have a brand new group of young, upwardly mobile people ready to come through!!!!

      Players such as the 2 Marshes, Bancroft, Marcus Harris, Coulter-Nile, Voges, Behrendorff, Agar and many others have come thru with JL at the WACA, and he has the ear of the young players from other States such as Lynn, Burns, Khawaja, Maddinson, Henriques, Hazelwood, Abbott, Nevill, Hanscombe, Zampa, Stoinis and co…and he speaks the same language as Lehmann, Rod Marsh and all the Australian ex-players including Greg Chappell, Gilly, Tubby, Ponters and co.

      The difference is he actually gets down with these guys and works them hard at grass roots level and knows the way to get most out of them on the field, without upsetting the Captain or anyone in the ranks.

      This skill alone makes him the best Manager of cricketers in Australia currently…and by some distance. We must have the best…and England actually picked him first to coach them in this current Ashes Series.

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