Monday, 20 January 2014

The Art of Captaincy

Alastair Cook is getting a hard time out in Australia at present. About as decisive as your missus on a shopping trip trying on various different outfits, watching Bressie bowl the final over to James Faulkner can be about as much fun. A slow painful death, or watching Bresnan bowl at the death I am sure most of our male readership are nodding your heads right now reading this, aren't you? Cook in Australia has been pilloried for being about as much use as Anne Frank's drum kit, an ashtray on a motorbike or Manchester United's midfield, but he isn't the only poor skipper. In fact in the last thirty years there haven't been many in the England camp. Captaincy can be a fine art and here we look at how the luckiest skippers often make the best ones.
Captain Cook? Not for much longer

It is a funny art. Politician, mother, counsellor, public relations officer, tactician, agony aunt, selector, cricketer and about a hundred other professions are all rolled into one to make a good leader. Yet the modern day skipper doesn't have to do half of the duties of his predecessors. All Cook has to do is what Flower tells him surely? How much does the modern day skipper think on his feet and how much is pre-planned? In 1988 we used four of them in one series. Remember Chris Cowdrey anyone? Now we were taking the piss surely?

The best skipper I have ever seen is Mike Brearley. His book, The Art of Captaincy is worth a read by any cricket aficionado. Brearley had a 'degree in people', according to the Australian quick Rodney Hogg and used every trick in the book. Brearley took over from Ian Botham in the middle of the 1981 Ashes and turned the series around. Botham was the finest post war English cricketer up until getting the leadership gig, and was a hero with willow and ball. Suddenly he was a failure. Granted the majority of his Tests were a home and away series against the Windies, but having scored a pair against the Aussies at Lord's the selectors had had enough, much like myself when the afore mentioned Home and Away used to come on our screens in the early evening, later in the decade. Beefy, like my television set, got the chop for something far more cerebral.

Simply the Best

Imran Khan was also a fine skipper. Very different in his outlook, he used the 'cornered tiger' routine to his advantage, and his 'them and us' warfare was music to the street fighter, Javed Miandad's ears. It was on these foundations that the 1992 World Cup was won by Pakistan. Another fine skipper was our mate Warnie and like Imran, he had a penchant for the English lady. With both of their girlfriend's having shown an interest in a certain English actor, maybe we should have made Hugh Grant captain of England in the nineties? Warnie would have been a great captain of Australia even if his tactics would have been Bollinger opening, Johnson out and Hussey bowled over. Ricky Ponting was the safer pair of hands, although my cat could have skippered that Australian side.

Talking of cats, the 'Big Cat' Clive Lloyd may have led the brilliant West Indies of the 1970's and 80's, but pounding the shit out of the opposition with a battery of four quicks didn't exactly make him a tactical genius. His win record was far better than most though, and what Lloyd excelled in was holding together a delicate side full of inter island politics. Bajans and Jamaicans can tend to have the odd scuffle, yet under Lloyd's leadership, Malcolm Marshall and Mikey Holding would take their island rivalry out on the opposition and not let hostilities turn inwards on their own team. Clever stuff by Georgetown's answer to Henry Kissinger.

Of the current mob MS Dhoni is a very good captain and New Zealand's Brendon McCullum is an adventurous skipper with limited resources. A previous skipper of New Zealand was one of the best ever in Stephen Fleming and Graeme Smith has done a fine job with South Africa. Michael Clarke is decent although I personally think he is setting a poor example to kids threatening to break people's arms amongst other acts. Do it as a player but when you are skipper, the goalposts change and you are a role model to go along with the eight million other aspects of the job. Arjuna Rantaunga anyone? I remember Alec Stewart telling him that he had "behaved disgracefully for an international captain" after a one dayer in Australia once.

Big Cat...Georgetown's Henry Kissinger

Often a great skipper isn't recognised until he is gone, and in Andrew Strauss England had the second best of my generation after Brearley. Strauss could handle the strong characters in a dressing room, scored runs opening and was a fine leader, without being the loudest. A look at some of the characters above, and the fiasco that was Kevin Pietersen rucking with his coach Peter Moores, is proof that you don't have to be a loudmouth. Michael Vaughan was another fine leader of England and to beat the 2005 Australians was a fine achievement. Not many skippers won in Sri Lanka too.

So while Cook may have won in India last year, it doesn't take long to go from hero to zero as Beefy Botham will testify, and he will be in a lonely place right now. The Essex man will find out who his friends are in the game at present, although how much control he has of this side and how much of the failings of England are down to him, is a moot point. With strong characters and negative tactics that are leaving his side cast adrift on the rocks, this only calls for one man should Cook get his P45 or resign. A man with experience of pissing off at the first sign of trouble and has experience of the shallow; if you swap the Mediterranean for some of our molly coddled stars that is. With England having run aground having lost 5-0 in the Tests and a similar score in the one day series imminent, who better to call up for the England job?

The Captain of the Costa Concordia...where are you?


  1. Atherton, Nasser, Vaughan, Strauss were very different and had varying success but they were decent Captains. Botham and Flintoff were hopeless. Cook's lack of charisma and lack of freedom puts him in the "Non proven" category. I doubt that he can now establish himself credibly.

  2. It's interesting to consider the worst England captains rather than the best, and where Cooks stands in that much more umprepossessing list. Botham is surely there, and of course Flintoff on the basis of 06/7 in Australia. though he won in India. Losing skippers tend to get on the bad list. Mike Denness, anyone? But he was up against Lillee & Thomson. Was Bob Willis up to much? For that matter, David Gower presided over some disastrous series as well as some great victories. For me, Cook is quite possibly not even as good a captain as any of these.

  3. Mike Denness. Best captain ever. So he tells me.

  4. Can't believe that the captains of arguably the two greatests teams Windies of the 80's and Australia late 90's/early 00's haven't even been mentioned.
    Sir Vivian never lost a test series only lost 8 matches
    Steve Waugh 16 test matches in a row and a win rate of 71.92 lost only 9

    Sorry but these 2 are head and shoulders above anyone else for best captains