January 3, 2009

Michael Jeh

The Ex men

Michael Jeh



As great a batsman as he is, Ricky Ponting has recently had to endure some conjecture about whether the blame for Australia’s current problems can be levelled at his captaincy. I don’t think for one moment that this will amount to anything but mere trivial speculation – Ponting’s tenure as captain is not under any serious threat and he will probably remain captain until the day he retires.

It does highlight the cultural differences that exist with the issue of captaincy from country to country. Australia (and perhaps NZ too) seem to embrace an old-fashioned view of the captain and his relationship within the team dynamic. It is almost taken for granted that the job is reserved for a relatively senior player, arguably the best player in the team. More revealing though is the unspoken assumption (tradition) that past captains are unlikely to keep playing under a new leader. It’s something that Australia and NZ are generally uncomfortable about – once your position as captain has been usurped, it’s normally the end of your career too.

I can only think of a couple of recent examples when Greg Chappell played briefly under Kim Hughes’ captaincy and then Hughes himself had a few horror games against the West Indies in 1984/85 under Allan Border. Neither situation was likely to last very long, adding to my theory that it is almost not the done thing to remain in the team once you are no longer the captain.

I’m not that good on my NZ history but the same rationale seems to apply there too. Stephen Fleming had a brief period as a player after he gave up the captaincy but it just didn’t seem right. His legacy as a great leader and elder statesman seemed to choke rather than liberate his successor. Nothing obvious but it just appeared that way from the outside.

Why is it that the other cricketing countries don’t seem to have a major problem with this? Is it a good thing for the skipper to be able to be re-absorbed back into the team or do the Antipodeans have a good reason for rarely embracing former leaders? I would be curious to hear your views from around the world.

Think about it – England have never had an issue with former captains continuing to play in the same team. Most famously, Ian Botham performed his heroics in 1981 immediately after being sacked as captain. Other recent examples include Gooch, Gatting, Stewart, Atherton, Hussain and Vaughan. What is it about the England set-up that allows this to happen with relatively little angst?

Pakistan has had a long history of this. I’d be curious to hear from our Pakistani friends whether this process creates any underlying tension or whether it all happens amicably. Pakistan cricket even goes one step further and sometimes gives a former captain another tilt at the crown. This would certainly never occur in Australian cricket but it never seemed to affect the performance of players like Miandad, Imran Khan, Wasim Akram and Inzy. Is it a cultural thing that allows this fluid leadership situation to flourish without any bad blood?

India and Sri Lanka are no strangers to this either. Jaysauriya and Atapattu seemed perfectly comfortable about being foot soldiers after an extended captaincy stint. The Indian team often has up to 4 former captains in the one team and it looks pretty harmonious. Is there more to it than meets the eye or can it be assumed that players like Tendulkar and Dravid, sanguine souls, are more than content to sit in the background?

At the height of the West Indian dynasty when they had incredibly strong captains like Lloyd and Richards in charge, one would never have imagined a situation when players like Lara, Hooper, Chanderpaul and Sarwan would all be playing under each other, having once been captains themselves. The South Africans are probably much more like the Australian model except for the period when Shaun Pollock played out his days under Smith’s orders.

Bangladesh and Zimbabwe too, despite not having enough history to call on, seem comfortable enough with the notion of ex-captains continuing to play in the team. The Zim team of the last ten years had a number of former captains in the same team and it all looked like happy families.

So, is it just coincidence or does the Australian system have a cultural predisposition towards this trend? Is it the former captain who feels uncomfortable about returning to the ranks of the infantry, does the new captain feel awkward in the presence of the old leader or does the team itself feel uncomfortable when a past captain is now one of the boys?

It’s a uniquely Down Under phenomenon but as the cricket calendar gets busier and player burn-out becomes an issue (including captains), I can see it happening more often in Australia but not just yet. Will Ponting ever give up the captaincy voluntarily (and keep playing) if the team keeps losing? I doubt it.

Michael Jeh is an Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, and a Playing Member of the MCC. He lives in Brisbane

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Posted by Muhammad Rehan Ghazi on (January 13, 2009, 13:27 GMT)

The captaincy has a lot to do with the culture and the cricket structure. Pakistan used to have atleast 5-6 skippers all the time not primarily to the fact that they were a struggling side but more due to their shambolic cricket structure. Successive cricket regimes always tend to support their favourites in the team. So its not a surprise in the case of Pakistan.

Posted by phanto on (January 8, 2009, 13:49 GMT)

Now Michael, do your research! Richie Benaud played under Bob Simpson; Simpson played under Bill Lawry; Ian Chappell under his brother Greg, who played under Hughes. Mark Taylor got the job when he wasn't the best (or most senior player) and many thought Shane Warne (the best player at the time) should've been captain instead of Steve Waugh. None of Simpson, Ian Johnson, Ian Craig or Lawry could be counted as the best playr in their respective teams. Australia places absolute authority in the skipper to run the team, which is where other countries miss the boat with the ridiculous hype about coaches. The situation with Pieterson shows just how out of control this nonsense about coaches running Test teams has got. Only one man is in charge, and that man should be (as much as possible) an automatic choice in the team so that he is not diverted by pressure over his own place. It's time cricket woke up to the fact that no amount of over-paid coaches can supplant the authority of the capt.

Posted by Samson Koletkar on (January 6, 2009, 0:58 GMT)

I think the Australians have got it right. They groom their captains and then have the captaincy transition when the current one retires. In India and Pakistan (& Sri Lanka after Ranatunga) captaincy seems more obligatory than meritocratic. Seniority begets captaincy. Cases in point - Dravid & Kumble - both struggled miserably as captains, I am not talking about results, I am talking about leadership. I loved Ganguly & I love Dhoni. They both have a flair that few others had. Tendulkar was shrewed and skilled but not inspiring, rather micro-managing. Captaincy is something that can be groomed, which is what Australia seems to do better than any other team. Someone also mentioned a very valid point. Wins & Losses are not attributed solely to the captain, which makes a big difference. I also loved Mark Taylor, not the best player in the team at the time, but the best tactician. The best/oldest player is the captain theory works for minnows, not for the top 8. Oh and dont forget Hansie!

Posted by Roscoe on (January 5, 2009, 22:50 GMT)

There's no particular pattern anywhere, it depends on both the captain's personal form & the team's overall performance. I'd suggest that captains appointed while young, say 26 or less, are more likely to have ex periods in the national side, unless they are so successful that they hold onto the captaincy long-term. It also depends on temperament & the way someone vacates the captaincy: Tendulkar & Dravid were happy without the burden; Fleming was unnecessarily dumped by the selectors. Ponting never learned the art in a situation where wins were having to be wrestled from unpromising situations with teams that had definite weaknesses. He could just attack & pressure until oppositions cracked. With the boot on the other foot, does he know how to manufacture wins? Has he adjusted to the reality of Australia's new position in world cricket?

Posted by Roger on (January 5, 2009, 21:37 GMT)

Pakistan under Imran Khan was a rare time when they played as a team, otherwise, Pakistan solely relies on individual brilliance to win matches. Their captains seem to be quite abusive & intimidating especially for the junior players. Pakistan, I believe have been quite unlucky in captaincy. They haven't found any good captain really since Imran Khan. According to me, only reason he was respected because he could on his day bat (on his day) & bowl better than anybody in the team. Its always man to man between the Pakistani players. Each plays their own cricket & if one of them plays exceptionally well, their team wins. Wasim, Waqar were exceptional bowlers but not captains. The interaction between them & a fielder who dropped a catch gives us quite an insight. These are my views.

Posted by Mike Holmans on (January 5, 2009, 20:18 GMT)

Flintoff and Collingwood captained England because Vaughan was either away or not selected for the ODI team. Obviously he played under Hussain, his predecessor, but since then he has not played for England except as captain.

Posted by saurabh on (January 5, 2009, 20:00 GMT)

wrote a complete article and no mention about the Indian team and the number of wonderful and successful Ex-Captains in the team? Azhar, Kapil, Sachin, Kumble, Dravid and Dada ( Ganguly )

Oh what a world we live in :)

I think that Australian approach may work with if a captain is removed from captaincy then his career is over, but with changing times this theory should change as well. Ex-Captains may have a lot to share to the team and individually as well. Use that experience.

Posted by Mustufa on (January 5, 2009, 19:57 GMT)

In Australia, just like you cannot attribute their success to their captain , you cannot attribute all the failures to the captain either and vice versa.

You cannot drop Ponting until he retires, that is it. You need more players who are good enough to represent at this level.

Posted by Umar on (January 5, 2009, 18:57 GMT)

(Continued)

As for former captains on the field at the same time, I can think of one instance where there were four regular ex-captains and one stand-in ex-captain playing under the captain at that time... during the tour to South Africa in 1998, Rashid Latif was captain, and Saeed Anwar, Aamer Sohail, Wasim Akram, Moin Khan (all full-time ex-skippers, with Moin playing as a specialist batsman) and Waqar Younis (stand-in captain, future full-time captain) were in the side. If you add Inzamam and Yousaf to the mix, you have eight players who were or would go on to captain the side...

Two players who weren't in the above list are Salim Malik (retired in 1999 but wasn't on the tour, captain from 1993 to 1995) and Ramiz Raja (captain in 1995 and 1997, retired in 1997)... there may well be other instances with a different set of players where the number of captains equals or exceeds the above...

But give me their unpredictable brilliance over our current predictable mediocrity any day!!

Posted by Umar on (January 5, 2009, 18:33 GMT)

As a Pakistani, I knew Pakistan would come up for discussion the moment I saw the topic... just as well, given how we are off the map for all intents and purposes these days!

Michael wrote about the likelihood of a "fluid leadership situation to flourish without any bad blood"... I wouldn't quite put it that way... there was plenty of bad blood, and numerous cliques within the dressing room... a few of them weren't on talking terms, and there were more than a few reported instances of the rancor getting physical... the captaincy didn't always change hands based on performance alone... there was at least one outright player revolt (against Wasim Akram in 1993, led by Waqar Younis) and Rashid Latif and Aamer Sohail, two upright and scrupulous men in a team tainted with the match fixing scandal, were also reportedly removed due to the so-called "player power"... new players coming into the side often had to throw in their lot with one clique or the other...

(running out of characters..)

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Jeh
Born in Colombo, educated at Oxford and now living in Brisbane, Michael Jeh (Fox) is a cricket lover with a global perspective on the game. An Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, he is a Playing Member of the MCC and still plays grade cricket. Michael now works closely with elite athletes, and is passionate about youth intervention programmes. He still chases his boyhood dream of running a wildlife safari operation called Barefoot in Africa.

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