Getting caught out as captain
|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