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April 6, 2012

The trials of captaincy: a rookie learns the hard way

Samir Chopra
MS Dhoni at the presentation ceremony after the Perth Test, Australia v India, 3rd Test, Perth, 3rd day, January 15, 2012
Part of cricket's central charms is the seemingly endless opportunity to second-guess and blame captains with the benefit of hindsight  © Getty Images
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Like any good fan, I dish out plenty of advice to captains. Indeed, part of the game's central charms is the seemingly endless opportunity to second-guess and blame captains the world over with the benefit of hindsight.

Some modesty and perspective in these matters, of course, can be induced by having actually served as captain in a game of cricket. I've captained a side in a game twice: the first time was back in my college days, when I captained (ahem) Mathematics against Chemistry. We lost. The second, was when I guest-captained my Sydney Northern Suburbs team, the Centrals, in a league game. We lost. Clearly, there is a pattern in there somewhere. I've written on the Sydney game before, so we won't get into that depressing business again. But I want to provide some details of that epic Abstract Symbol Manipulators versus Test-tube Tinkerers encounter to point out a classical failing of captains: the failure to have a genuine Plan B.

As we prepared for our encounter against Chemistry (by that, I mean 'waited'), I thought about how I would go about taking apart Chemistry's batting order when I was in the field. I had a simple plan: I would turn loose our opening bowlers on them and all would be well. We did, in fact, have a pretty decent pair of opening bowlers: two rather awkward, quickish, left-arm bowlers. As far as I knew, Chemistry was chock-a-block full of right-handers, and that seemed like a good sign for us. So, I had it all figured out - cry havoc, and let loose the two lefties. Once the breach in Chemistry's defences had been made, the rest of my forces would pour through, laying waste to the middle-order, and rapidly mowing down the tail. Pure genius, really.

We won the toss, and eager to test my theory of Two Lefties Will Win You Everything, I promptly asked Chemistry to bat, and tossed the ball to my aces. I parked myself at mid-on - aspiring captains please note, not first slip - so that I would have a shorter distance to run when congratulating my bowlers once the inevitable collapse had commenced.

Except, of course, it didn't get started at all. For my opening bowlers quickly demonstrated the wisdom of that old cricketing adage professed by players everywhere - make all the plans you want, captain, we're going to do our own thing. In their case, my wards decided they would bowl at an imaginary set of stumps placed at silly mid-on and forward shortleg, and for good measure, they wouldn't bother negotiating landing rights with the pitch either. As my fielders tired of running to the boundary and picking up the ball (in most cases, thrown back to them by the crowds, that is, the two members of the canteen staff who were watching this epic encounter), I felt my Inner Ian Chappell collapse. Now, what was I to do? A bowling change was required, of course, but these guys didn't look they would ever regain their bowling form - certainly not in this game. And honestly, the rest of our bowling resources, even if they included me, looked pretty thin.

A series of emergency manoeuvres followed. I rang in bowling changes, pressed part-timers and no-hopers into service (I took two wickets), and even tried bringing back the openers (they were still crap, and I had to take them off almost immediately). In the end, we conceded some 30 runs or so more than I had wanted to, or bargained for, and we lost a heartbreakingly close game by three runs. I didn't help; when a match-winning partnership was developing between our best batsman and myself, and I was supporting him reasonably well, I decided to be a little too clever and got out. My opening bowlers tried to redeem themselves by putting on a gallant last-wicket stand, but we came up short.

My captaincy debut hadn't been a distinguished one. I'm not sure I maintained adequate control on the field, I didn't stay calm enough, I placed excessive confidence on an incomplete plan for the opposition and finally, I ditched a partnership that could have taken us over the finish-line. Enough lessons for a lifetime, you'd think.

But not enough to stop me criticising Test captains.

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

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Posted by Kunal Talgeri on (April 7, 2012, 6:38 GMT)

Nice post, Samir. Took me back to similar memories. :-D I became the first (under-16) captain of a 'regional coaching camp' in Bangalore to lose to YMCA's u-16 cricket team. (Legend was that YMCA had never beaten us before.) Felt awful then, and I had a bruised chin to show for it when I decided to open the batting. To the point you make, I think the ICC can stop us retired-critics by minimising the number of post-match interrogations. That way, journalists, TV anchors, viewers, and former cricketers won't get opportunities to 'counsel' the current captains. Of course, the sponsors will cry foul.

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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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