Mike Holmans April 18, 2009

A case for multiple captains

The central question Buchanan raised is a valid one

Those who read my last piece will not be surprised that I thoroughly approve of the decision by Andrew Strauss and Geoff Miller that if Strauss plays any Twenty20 cricket this year, it will be for Middlesex - though whether the Twenty20 champions will want to pick someone rejected by a rotten side like England remains to be seen.

I admit to scepticism that he will be a success as a 50-over opener: his five Caribbean outings only produced one innings which was what the team required. On the other hand, once in five attempts is more than a fair number of other applicants have managed in their auditions, so I am very willing to be proved wrong about his batting because his leadership skills are an asset to a struggling ODI team.

So who should lead the Twenty20 side instead?

On looking at the preliminary squad, the question that immediately sprung out was what a 40-year-old was doing in the 30 for the Twenty20 unless he was there as a captaincy candidate. England could do a lot worse than appointing Shaun Udal: with Murali Kartik he formed the jaws of the vice Middlesex used to squeeze their opponents to death on the way to winning last year’s trophy, and he is now on his second county captaincy. The only thing against him is age, but he’s quite athletic enough to field competently in the one-saving ring.

But perhaps this is old-fashioned thinking.

The kneejerk reaction to the John Buchanan multi-captain theory was to rubbish it, but longer consideration suggests that there are a couple of worthwhile ideas contained in it.

The Kolkata IPL team has in the end reverted to the traditional appointment of a single captain in Brendon McCullum, who opens the batting. But when he succeeds, he is obviously going to be staying out in the middle while wickets fall at the other end. Twenty20 lends itself to tactical shuffling of batting orders, so I can definitely see the sense in giving the job of making those dugout calls to the batting coach (or head coach or whomever).

The Laws of Cricket require a single fielding captain for the umpires to warn or notify about things, and the IPL’s rules require one to blame for slow over rates, but nothing says that the same bloke has to do it every game. It is not surprising that an Australian coach should propose having no permanent captain because it was traditionally the Australian way to pick an XI and then appoint the captain from amongst their number. In a concentrated tournament like the IPL where you might well rest a designated captain for a game or two, it is not illogical to say in advance that you won’t know who is captain for any given game until after the XI has been selected.

How much of this was in Buchanan’s mind is unknowable. As a disciple of Sun Tzu, his proposal could just as easily have been designed to draw fire and divert attention from his real purpose, that of removing Sourav Ganguly from the captaincy. The last Australian coach who tried that ended up losing his job pretty quickly, and Buchanan is astute enough to realise that the same fate awaited if Kolkata’s coach attempted a frontal assault on the Prince of Kolkata.

But whatever his true intentions were, the central question he raised is a valid one. How important is continuity in captaincy? My initial reaction is that a campaign is best commanded by a single general, but I would be fascinated to read your views.