As Pat Cummins glories in the glow of a third series win (Australia vs Pakistan) to follow his two others earlier this year (Australia vs England, Australia current players vs former players with Twitter accounts), it made me reflect on the concept of fast bowling captains.
Few prejudices are more embedded in the cricket psyche than “fast bowlers shouldn’t captain”. The rationale seems to go like this: they’re too fast, too dumb, too busy, too hot tempered, too sexy.
They spend too much time at third man and deep fine leg. They kick over stumps and scowl at umpires. They lack the calm, cool thought processing and intellectual insight of, say, a Dave Warner, a Graham Yallop or a Kim Hughes.
So the theory goes anyway.
Personally I think it’s rubbish and hopefully Cummins’ success will encourage other fast bowlers to get a chance to captain (and be in charge of cricket boards and get commentary positions and all the other cushy jobs that seem to go to batters before bowlers).
It also made me think back at what other Australian fast bowlers might’ve made good test captains. I came up with a list of five. All of this, I know, is impossible to prove but I thought it had some value, if only to challenge preconceived notions and prejudices.
Because there’s an awful lot of them involved in cricket and I think it’s good to challenge assumptions. Especially as whenever I do up a list of my all time great “lousy captains”, none of them is a fast bowler.
Anyway, here’s my list:
1) Keith Miller
The one everyone will agree with. Yes, Miller was a top six bat, but he was good enough with the ball to open the bowling – and what’s more his bowling improved as he got older while his batting declined. Miller was a famously daring captain of New South Wales, and he regularly tops “best captain Australia never had” polls along with Shane Warne.
He was kept out of the job for Warne-like reasons, i.e. fear he would embarrass the country, which to be fair he (and Warne) probably would have done but still… one can’t help wish he’d been given a go. I don’t think anyone feels he could’ve done worse than Ian Johnson.
2) Geoff Lawson
When Kim Hughes resigned as captain in tears in 1984 most newspaper pundits mentioned Allan Border as his most likely replacement but no one was that enthusiastic about it, especially Border.
Other names bandied about included Kepler Wessels, Rodney Hogg, Jeff Thomson, Dirk Wellham, John Inverarity, Andrew Hilditch and David Hookes (most of whom weren’t even in the test team at the time). In hindsight, the best candidate was there right in front of them, rom com style: Geoff Lawson, the forever underrated fast bowler.
I stress the words “in hindsight” because Lawson hadn’t yet begun his stint as hugely successful captain of New South Wales, which involved a very attractive, aggressive brand of cricket and winning several titles. It took Border almost five years to get used to captaincy – Lawson took to it immediately.
It’s not unexpected Lawson was out of the conversation in 1984 but I do think the selectors/board missed a trick not appointing Lawson as vice to Border at least (Hogg got the gig at first and then Hilditch).
Part of the reason was Lawson was seen as a bit of a rabble rousing unionist because he (gasp) stood up for players rights… still I think he was the best captain out of all of them.
An interesting hypothetical for nerds such as myself: would Australia have won the 1985 Ashes under Lawson? A captain far more sympathetic to the needs of bowlers than Border?
3) Paul Reiffel
The quintessential “silent performer” Reiffel is forever one of those “oh yeah that’s right” cricketers you forget was even in the team but he had a marvellous record as a player.
I forget too he captained Victoria for nearly three years with the state making back-to-back appearances in the finals (not a big deal for Victoria now, but it was in Reiffel’s day).
Reiffel was never a serious or indeed even humorous contender for the national captaincy in the late 1990s but I like to think if he’d been picked he would’ve surprised everyone by what a good job he did at test level – just as Reiffel did with his bowling and batting.
4) Ray Lindwall
Maybe cheating to include him as Lindwall did captain Australia for a Test – but it was only one, against India. Lindwall had a decent domestic track record as leader – he was made captain of Queensland in 1955 and the state would be runners up for the Shield twice under his leadership, in 1956-57 and 1958-59, which was very good for Queensland at the time.
Benaud later wrote Lindwall “had a wonderful cricket brain” and after the retirements of Johnson and Miller, he might’ve been a chance for doing the national job over the 1957-58 tour of South Africa but the selectors went on a youth kick and Lindwall didn’t even make the touring squad.
Ian Craig got the gig and the pacemen selected comprised of Alan Davidson, Ian Meckiff, Ron Gaunt and John Drennan.
Oh, look, it’s doubtful the selectors would’ve given the job of national captain to a (a) fast bowler (b) from Queensland, and to be fair Craig did well.
But I think Lindwall could’ve done just as well – and what’s more he would’ve held down his spot in the side with more certainty than Craig. Lindwall managed to get back in the Test team, but the rise of Richie Benaud put an end to any chances he may have had of captaining Australia again.
5) Dennis Lillee
The images commonly associated with Lillee are not ones that scream “viable captaincy option”: kicking Javed Miandad, throwing aluminium bats, betting against Australian when the odds were 500-1, etc.
Yet Lillee fancied himself as a captain, especially after a stint captaining Melville in the early 70s when his back was injured – and Lillee had a decent amount of success captaining Western Australia at times, including leading them to victory over Queensland in the 1983-84 Sheffield Shield final.
His opposing captain in that game, incidentally was another fast bowler, Jeff Thomson.
The great lost Australian cricket captain of the early 1980s was of course Rod Marsh, but one can’t also help wonder – how would we have done with Lillee in charge in England in 1981? (Mind you, Lillee was suspended for a few games while captain so who knows?)
I’m sure readers of this will have their own opinions and thoughts so fire away…