England September 1, 2012

The carcass-removing fate of captains

It's not a job filled with glory, now, is it?

I've never felt much affinity for the heroes of the Middle Ages. As far as I can tell, they were over-privileged loudmouths with a predilection for iron trousers, who spent their leisure hours galloping about the countryside causing mayhem, abducting princesses from towers and threatening entirely innocent endangered reptiles.

Take St George: bravely murders an unarmed lizard and spends the rest of his life dining out on the fact. My respect in that particular case goes not to the egregious knight but to the poor sap who had to dispose of the carcass. Ten tonnes of dragon doesn't just disappear overnight. But does the dragon renderer get any credit? No, he does not.

So Andrew Strauss - and indeed any international cricket captain - has my full sympathy. Whilst the show ponies trot up and down striking poses, the captain is left holding the unsanitary end of the stick; making sure that everyone gets to the ground on time, pandering to the whims of that motley collection of prima donnas, drunks and nervous wrecks out of which he has to somehow mould a team, and weathering yet another press conference at which he has to be polite in the teeth of a storm of the bleeding obvious.

If the team win, the players get the credit. If they lose, the captain gets the blame. If one of his bowlers coughs up a long hop, it's the captain's fault for not having his square leg squarer. If a player does something tabloidworthy outside a nightclub or takes his clothes off and dances the Macarena round the boundary during the tea interval of the Lord's Test, it's reported as a sad reflection on the captain's inability to impose a sense of discipline.

I'll be honest; I don't think I could be an international cricket captain. I know what you're thinking: he's too modest. Well, I'm afraid it's true. I just couldn't do it. Firstly, I am sadly deficient in certain technical areas. For example, the only bit of batting lore I could master was keeping my head still until the ball was delivered. I could do that all day long. Unfortunately, there's more to batting than keeping your head still. Sometimes you need to move your bat about a bit and that's where it tended to go wrong.

But I digress. The other reason why I could not be an international cricket captain is that their job description appears to revolve around being nice to people. This isn't a problem per se. But doing it to order would begin to grate a little. Even at his farewell press conference, Strauss had to tiptoe politely over the eggshells once more time. Having to speak at length without being able to say what you think must make your teeth itch. Had it been me, I would have thrown my glass of tepid water at the first journalist who mentioned "K" or "P", pulled my England shirt up over my head, tipped the microphone table over and run out screaming.

Incidentally, by my reckoning, this is the third England captain that Graeme Smith has removed. The arrival of Graeme Smith at Heathrow is as dangerous to English captains as the sight of Haley's Comet was to medieval kings. Is there something about Biff that causes Englishmen to want to throw it all in? I know he's a hefty cove, but is he that impressive when you're up close throwing the coin? Does he make a normal chap feel, well, less of a chap?

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England