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January 21, 2010

Samir Chopra

Getting caught out as captain

Samir Chopra

Captaincy, while being an honour and a privilege, is also a rum business © Getty Images

A couple of weeks ago, on my return to play a game with my old Sydney team, I was generously invited to captain the team in the absence of our regular captain, who had been called away on family duty. And I learnt once again, that captaincy, while being an honour and a privilege, is also a rum business.

Many years ago, in my final undergraduate year, I had captained the Mathematics Department in the Interdepartmental competition. We lost narrowly to Chemistry by three runs as I failed in both tactical and performance dimensions as captain: I glibly assumed the one attacking plan I had would work, and later, I failed to stick around long enough to let our star batsman finish the job he had started. In the former, I assumed our star opening bowlers, both left-handed quicks, would simply run through the opposing line-up. The bowlers instead, lost their line and length and I was left floundering. When we chased, I came together with our best batsman and simply had to hold up one end while he blasted away. But I got too cute, and in trying to play a clever tickle, got myself bowled. The collapse of the tail was inevitable, and we were out of the competition.

My recent experience in the Northern Sydney Suburbs competition was similarly educative on another aspect of captaincy: how is the captain to assert authority? I was captaining a team many of whose players I barely knew: the personnel turnover had been high in my absence. I had gone in at No. 10, and scored one not out; they had no idea whether I was a decent bat or not. And I couldn't bowl, because I had a bad back. All I could do, really, was ring in the changes, set the fields and say the right things out on the ground.

Easier said than done. Our opening bowlers were set upon by the opposition batsmen who began blasting boundaries on a smallish ground. It's hard to make fielding changes when boundaries are being scored at a high rate. Where does one make the necessary changes? Several of them seemed to suggest themselves all at once. But could I really send a man or two out of the park? For ball-retrieval, sure. But for fielding?

And then things got worse. Our leftie seemed to be struggling a bit with form. It would help if he got a wicket. Sure enough, he induced an edge. And I dropped the catch at second slip.

At that moment, the balloon of authority was well and truly punctured. Our team is a good-spirited one, and my catch wasn't the first to be dropped. But I was the captain, and I had placed myself at slips.

Did I say things got worse? More gloom awaited. We dropped more catches, and continued to get carted all over the park. Time was running out. We had taken two wickets (both bowled, thankfully) but needed more. I decided to call back our quickest bowler for one over. He already had two catches dropped off him. He came on, induced the edge. And I dropped it.

Mercifully, the match ended soon thereafter. While I hadn't made too many tactical blunders, I had failed in a very simple way: I hadn't performed. Whatever chance I had of stamping my authority on the game and the players rested on my being able to take those chances when they had come my way.

After the game, we drank our cold beers, and cracked a few jokes at our collective fielding incompetence. It was just as well I hadn't been the only one with butter-fingers out there. And it was just as well it hadn't been a close game.

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here

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Posted by Joilson on (June 30, 2012, 3:26 GMT)

Wafa, Tendulkar hardly caiatpned, did he? What was it for about 6 months? He was just seat-warming. Punter has been skipper for far longer than is healthy for any one player and he still can't quite let go.

Posted by Seydina on (June 27, 2012, 21:41 GMT)

CA can retire half the team and it won't make much dienerffce.It's the management, especially Hilditch, who need to step down first. Hope Pakistan win tonight then lose in the finals to Sri Lanka, who are the only team (apart from Ireland) who deserve it.

Posted by Haris on (January 26, 2010, 20:50 GMT)

So many of us "captains" can relate you this article. Well written. I was captain of my club, although I am a lefty fast bowler I do however drop catches here and there. It is not a good feeling, trust me. You feel as if you dropped a match. But for my bowling performances, I tend you perform better when I am captain or have responsibilities. I am no longer captain and playing as a player. The season I captained my team, I took 30 wickets in 18 games. Compared to now 12 wickets in 16 games.

The only thing that I can suggest to you if you want to get your authority back is to bat higher in the order. As you can not bowl you will have at least your batting to back you up. You dont have to be a best batsmen, but you can just be there to support the best batsmen.

Good Luck!!!

Posted by rajeev on (January 23, 2010, 15:08 GMT)

the most obvious thing is -- stay away from the slips the next time. And I hope you stood your team at least one round of beer.

Posted by CLIFTON LOBO on (January 23, 2010, 12:36 GMT)

well captaicy is not only all that you have to lead the side or a honour,but infact theres a ;ot that goes along with it,pressure,scoring runs or taking wickets,handling the boys,field placing,plan and mind games etc etc,but thats true being captain it does effect the performance but then i must say dhoni is a superb captain,hes positive,planning and very active on the field ans always with the boys and whats the current status that the tactics to be used.

Posted by karam on (January 23, 2010, 1:35 GMT)

well my friend....the teaching point here...you are only as good as the team you have at your disposal (yourself included)...a good captain (leader??) inspires his men to give their best....and that is all they can do

Posted by Shariz of Malaysia on (January 22, 2010, 3:10 GMT)

bro... sorry to hear your sad story but if mohammad yousoff of pakistan write's his maximum failed story of captaincy, you might be in tears, mate! at least you are not a pro like yousuff. that poor fella has let his whole country down. u gotta feel for him and the able guy younis is killed by politics. another very sad u-turn which possibly can only happen in pakistan. good thing malaysia has no cricket team. better not to have than have such a killingly lousy one! hahaha...

Posted by Brendan Layton on (January 22, 2010, 1:38 GMT)

Captaincy has its perks and its problems. I was captian last year of my cricket team and we only managed to win one match, in which one of our players hit a club record 183 to win the match.

I find I'm actually enjoying the game better when I'm just a player. Or maybe I just took the game a bit too seriously as captain.

Posted by Kunal on (January 21, 2010, 9:43 GMT)

You should have just quoted Brearley to your men, "Do as I say, not what I do." LOL Just kiddin'. But it's nice how u put your experience to make your point, before an good ol' Boycott comes along to say that only experienced cricketers are qualified to comment on cricket subjects like captaincy. Also, makes me envious that you can play the game at leisure in Australia, while leather-ball cricket is a dream in vain for most working people in India. Cheers, man!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Samir Chopra
Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He runs the blogs at samirchopra.com and Eye on Cricket. His book on the changing face of modern cricket, Brave New Pitch: The Evolution of Modern Cricket has been published by HarperCollins. Before The Cordon, he blogged on The Pitch and Different Strokes on ESPNcricinfo. @EyeonthePitch

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