April 18, 2009

Mike Holmans

A case for multiple captains

Mike Holmans

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.

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Posted by Youvi on (April 23, 2009, 23:29 GMT)

A camel is a horse designed by a committee, I recall reading somewhere. That's what may result with multiple captains. Of course, even in conventional cricket on the field the captain does consult with the bowler or with senior players, the decision-making responsibility is always the captain's - a single one at that. I don't see how you can even divide up the captain's job functions or continuously rotate captaincy.

Posted by Sanjeev Chandran on (April 21, 2009, 20:41 GMT)

I think it boils down to who runs a cricket team. I believe a captain does...with a coach providing support. In Star trek, Spock once said - " Starships also run on loyalty...to one man" And that is often true of cricket teams too...Imran Khan and Sourav Ganguly being good examples.

Though the coach and captain both are important, finally the captain is "first among equals". And that's a problem with Buchanan's plan. As he in fact said, when the multiple captain theory was raging- he would select a captain for each match in advance- clearly usurping the prime spot (knowingly or unknowingly we will never know). And that to me is unacceptable- the captain must remain the prime spot. And must remain in charge, ideally through a campaign.

Posted by Suman on (April 21, 2009, 20:33 GMT)

too many cooks always spoil the broth. imagine what will happen if an army has a team of generals instead of one supreme leader. The KKR is going to end up like that. Where no one knows who to turn to for a particular decission or piece of advice and confusion, if anything, will captain their game.

Posted by scott on (April 20, 2009, 23:17 GMT)

next thing to try is multiple coaches.

Posted by Balaji on (April 19, 2009, 10:56 GMT)

Hi, nice article. Well its seems that T20 has indeed revolutionised cricket to an extent never seen before. I think the multiple captaincy idea has always been in place. Practically, it is almost impossible for just one person to be taking note of fielding changes, bowling changes, run rate, over rate etc. It would require an almost impossible amount of skill, not to mention the sort of effect it might have on the player's performance.

Furthermore, it makes sense to split the job, at least with the fielding and bowling changes. The team management can set the job for 2 or 3 players to decide on the changes that should be made on the field, and this would greatly reduce the pressure on one man to take note of everything.

For all purposes of the Law, one player can be deemed the "official" captain, to be in touch with the officials. There is nothing against having 2 or more thinkers on the field. In fact, it should be encouraged, for the betterment of the team.

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