World Cup 2007 March 12, 2007

Leadership: road to nowhere?

Inzamam needs to captain for his life from the first ball of the match to the last, not in flashes of desperation

When Inzamam-ul-Haq led out Pakistan in yesterday's opening ceremony he took me by surprise, smiling and waving enthusiastically at the crowd. Inzamam's mood is a vital influence on his team. When it is dark and brooding it can crush the enthusiasm of his charges. Only today, Imran Khan has accused Inzamam of leading from the rear.

Inzamam has a low-key style of leadership, undemonstrative to the point of invisibility. When the game is going Pakistan's way this doesn't matter too much, indeed a captain's real skill is revealed in adversity. Unfortunately, Inzamam too often tends to let the game drift when he should be trying to seize the initiative. Now, nobody wants Inzamam to become the team cheerleader - he's got Younis Khan for that - but he must stamp his desire and will on proceedings. If the captain is lethargic in his approach so will the rest of his team.

Inzamam, of course, is capable of passion and visible engagement but those responses too often arise in extremis. In one-day cricket there isn't much opportunity to pull your team back from the brink. Inzamam needs to captain for his life from the first ball of the match to the last, not in flashes of desperation.

He must also seek advice from his senior players and his coach. Leadership may be lonely but any leader is only as good as the people in his team. There is nothing to be gained from internalising the team's burden and responding in splendid isolation. The best captains are those who are willing to listen to trusted lieutenants and then make a decision that is in their opinion best for the team. Imran Khan may have made a name for himself for leading from the front but he constantly had Javed Miandad in his ear. Ricky Ponting is only half the captain he can be when he doesn't have Shane Warne's wisdom to fall back on.

Who will be Inzamam's wise lieutentant? Younis Khan is a great enthusiast. Mohammad Yousuf is reserved but thoughtful. Shahid Afridi is fire and brimstone. Shoaib Malik is a wise head on slender shoulders. None of them is a Javed or a Warne but in combination these senior players must support their captain and their captain must listen.

This mission is not Inzamam's alone. If it becomes that it will become a road to nowhere. This is a mission that must be owned by all of Pakistan's players and coaching staff. But in sport the only kind of leadership that works is leadership from the front, that unites players behind a clear vision. Inzamam is a great leader and a great thinker when he is at the crease. He has to quickly become a good enough leader the rest of the time as well.

If the warm up matches have proved anything it is that this is an open tournament and despite their crazy preparation Pakistan have a genuine chance of victory. Inzamam has done much to unite these players with his silent authority. But he must now shed any fear of failure, get his head in the game, and lead like a champion. Win or lose, nobody will criticise him for that.

Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He tweets here