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November 13, 2013

Warne, Watson, and the importance of emotional intelligence

Michael Jeh
Warne knows how to take a swing, we'll give him that  © Getty Images
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Sometimes it is the calm before the storm that produces the most turbulence. These last few weeks, in anticipation of the Ashes opener in my hometown of Brisbane next week, have been decidedly tumultuous in Australian cricket circles.

Hatchets previously buried have been unearthed, players have been turning on each other, autobiographies have been released at propitious times, former captains (and frustrated never-to-be captains) have been weighing in with strong opinions from outside the dressing room, and through it all, Michael Clarke has been the ultimate diplomat. Under extreme duress, his grace under fire has been admirable. Perhaps when he finishes his career, we'll find out what he really thinks. Thus far, despite his no-win situation, his opinions have been about as interesting as wet lettuce, because we all know that he is (sensibly) shouldering arms until he can later take a swing at his detractors. That book might be worth waiting for.

The ODI series in India was hard to fathom. Australia keep insisting that they treat every international series with the dignity it deserves, but when the rubber hits the road, it is clear that even India, despite the big cheque book, runs a poor second to an Ashes series. How else can you explain removing Mitchell Johnson from the deciding game of a series locked at three apiece? Surely, if you really cared about winning the ODI series, you cannot remove your best bowler for the crunch match. The series is up for grabs, you send your best bowler home to prepare for the Ashes, claim you still want to win the game, and then get belted for 380-plus.

What's even more confusing was that they risked their most fragile player, arguably one of the batsmen England fear most, and then saw him hobble off with another hamstring injury. If Johnson was important for the Ashes, was Shane Watson not equally valuable? What purpose was to be served by him belting another score on a pitch that had nothing in common with the Gabba or the WACA? It doesn't make sense in the context of sending Johnson home, with only one game to go, a crucial series decider at that. Well, maybe that ODI series wasn't that important after all.

Mike Hussey and Ricky Ponting's books were full of surprises, but in their own ways measured, dignified and insightful. Both men were entitled to air their opinions and it was done with grace and dignity, without being too vanilla.

It is a mark of modern sport that any interviews given by current players are simply not worth analysing to any great extent. Neither Hussey or Ponting was prepared to make these comments till after they retired, so it's clear now that all the facile, bland and scripted interviews they gave during their careers were merely that - utterly useless in terms of the real truth. One cannot blame them, of course, but it just goes to show that there's little point in listening to anything a player has to say whilst he is still playing. That's why Clarke's post-retirement book (or interview) will be more revealing than anything he says now with a straight bat and a straighter face, sardonic smile just twisting at the corners of his mouth.

Shane Warne, of course, is predictable. Genius cricketer, probably popular in the dressing room on match days, and always looking for attention. It's clear now why most of his contemporaries rate him so highly as a cricketer and less so as a reliable, long-term cricket luminary. It's also clear why he was never captain of Australia. Many people rave about his brilliant tactical acumen, but I'm in the camp of the unconvinced. Apart from one major T20 trophy with Rajasthan, his captaincy record has precious little silverware in the cabinet, though he had some serious talent at his disposal (for example: Melbourne Stars). He was a brilliant bowler and he brings that sharp cricketing brain to his work in the commentary box. However, intelligence and emotional intelligence are separate things.

Here's a captain whose so-called unimaginative captaincy has resulted in a more impressive captaincy record than anything Warne has conjured up and he is vilified for… winning?

Ever since he first announced himself on the world stage, Warne has constantly reminded us that captaincy is about more than just tactical genius. In the modern game, the on-field stuff is probably the easy part, armed as you are with printouts and video analysis prepared by the support staff. Captaincy is now a role akin to that of a chairman or CEO, as much about PR as it is about lbw.

Both Clarke and Alastair Cook have Warnie covered when it comes to the more statesman-like demands of being the captain of a country. Cook's dignified response to Warne's astonishing attack on his captaincy said as much about Cook as it did about Warne. Here's a captain whose so-called unimaginative captaincy has resulted in a more impressive captaincy record than anything Warne has conjured up, and he is vilified for… winning?

Apart from when he has ball in hand, Warne has mostly courted the sort of reputation that hints at style over substance. His life story is replete with scandal, and now the unprovoked comments about Ponting, Clarke and Cook just reinforce why he was never considered captaincy material by those who understand it is no longer simply about setting imaginative fields and making bold declarations.

You see leaders like MS Dhoni and George Bailey who are difficult to dislike, regardless of which team you support. They have found a balance between sportsmanship, competitiveness and leading by example. The Warne-Samuels incident last year goes to show that some people just don't "get" what true leadership really means. Young guys occasionally get hot under the collar and they seem to mature, but not Warnie.

The ugly incident between Shikhar Dhawan and Watson in that last ODI was one example of immaturity, although Watson is now too old to use that excuse. His rage at Dhawan's tasteless mocking was out of proportion to his reputation as a serial sledger throughout his career, including earlier that same day, when he clashed with Dhawan himself. If you dish it out, there's every chance you might get it back. You can't always choose when you get your comeuppance. I find the whole sledging thing distasteful, regardless of who's doing it, but I refuse to subscribe to the Watson Theory that it's "only funny when I'm doing it".

So as Brisbane gears up for a week of afternoon storms leading up to the Test next week, the calm before the storm is almost past. Despite Ian Botham's stirring of the pot and Clarke's predictable bullishness, it will soon come down to actions speaking louder than words. And despite being a writer, trading in words, it is time for me now to forget autobiographies, petty grudges and conspiracy theories. I think this series will ultimately be a war of attrition, decided as much by who's in the sick bay as who's at the wicket. It should be sponsored by Medicare!

Michael Jeh is an Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, and is a Playing Member of the MCC. He lives in Brisbane

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Keywords: Captaincy, Mindgames, Spats

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Posted by   on (November 14, 2013, 12:27 GMT)

@nj, incorrect, he had one lucky series, average is only like 47.. and only gonna go down... average player. Thats like saying ian botham is a true great of cricket cause he had 1 or 2 good series, and the rest average.

Posted by   on (November 13, 2013, 22:49 GMT)

Michael. You eagerly dismiss Warne's captaincy record but fail to mention one of his greatest triumphs: leading Australia to victory in the 1998-99 ODI series against England and Sri Lanka. His team won 10 out of 11 matches and he was universally lauded for his innovation and strategy. If he had no "emotional intelligence" whatever that is, he would not have been able to gel the team.

Posted by njr1330 on (November 13, 2013, 21:35 GMT)

'...Cook is an average player...' Please list all the average players who have got 700 runs in an 'away' Ashes series! Oh....there aren't any! End of story, I think!

Posted by   on (November 13, 2013, 19:06 GMT)

@rhidwilliams, no because by saying 'but cook is winning' to prove hes a good captain doesnt take into the account that his team is better than ours. Cook is an average player, average captain, clarke is a good player, and slightly better than average captain if u take all aspects of captaincy into account. The justification for cooks so called 'good' captaincy is that england beat aus, and never reflects the fact that he actually did nothing himself.

Posted by RhidWilliams on (November 13, 2013, 15:23 GMT)

@FrazerHockley, I think your example is flawed. If you captained England against Cook leading a country club B team, the relative merits of the teams would be taken into consideration, no?

Taking your views at face value, aren't you saying that without Clarke's captaincy, Australia would have lost by a heavier margin? And that without Cook dragging them down, England would also have done better?

A bad captain loses, makes bad decisions, has no clear strategy and doesn't have the team onside. Clarke is (maybe) an innovative and exciting captain. Cook is - by those standards - a good one.

Posted by sk123 on (November 13, 2013, 14:47 GMT)

As the author says, it's the emotional intelligence talking. Warnie feels then need to support his "friend" Clarke and I've a feeling that somewhere Clarke listens to Warnie's ideas and hence he's a good captain. Had Clarke captained Warnie and not listened to him, Clarke would have been just as unimaginative as Cook and just as bad as Ponting ;) In defence of Cook, he doesn't NEED to do anything different, he's winning without doing anything spectacular. Just like Waugh and Ponting did for most of their careers. We can only judge Cook when he plays without the Andersons and Pietersons and NEEDS to bring that imagination to the ground. As of now, he is doing what he needs to do with minimal fuss - winning the games. That may not make him a great captain, but it sure doesn't make him a bad captain - He right now is good enough.

Posted by   on (November 13, 2013, 11:56 GMT)

Sri Lanka 99. Warne rallied a dying team. but you talk about some ridiculous T20 franchise convention. not happy.

Posted by   on (November 13, 2013, 8:51 GMT)

Great article! As you know, captaincy has three plus two facets - a) Tactical ability and knowledge, b) man-management, the ability to get the best out of each player, and c) the ability to lead from the front. The main problems faced by any captain, mostly out of his control, are d) the abilities of his own players in comparison to those of the opposition, and e) the personalities and egos of the players at his disposal. At present, Alastair Cook ticks all these five boxes whereas there are question marks over Michael Clarke when it comes to b), d) and e). Even if Clarke is superior when it comes to a), the deficiencies in b, d and e ensure that Clarke is a losing captain whereas Cook is a winning one.

Posted by   on (November 13, 2013, 8:29 GMT)

One thing i laugh about is how some people seem to defend cooks captaincy by saying hes won this and that etc etc, whilst clarkes captaincy has achieved nothing etc etc, so what you are trying to say, is if cook captained my B grade Country club cricket team, and i captained england against it, id be known as a better captain because I was winning? Its laughable. End of the day Cook is a bad captain on the field but just standard off. I mean as seen from the last ashes series, in the few times aus put the heat on england, it was KP who was leading that team talking to bowlers and even changing the odd field or 2, cause lets face it, cook is as boring and unimaginative as his batting. Clarke although off field not being perfect is so much better on field than cook that hes a better captain full stop, and when aus gets a few more decent bats, we will dominate world cricket again.

Posted by Nmiduna on (November 13, 2013, 7:01 GMT)

anyone who's been remotely following warne's twitter feed will know that Michael is exactly right about him. no disgrace for his unqualified talent and cricketing achievements and never mind his personal life scandals, but what annoys me most is he often takes his much respected status for granted and make comments for shock value or attention, may be he does it honestly, but still it isn't right and certainly is irresponsible!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Jeh
Born in Colombo, educated at Oxford and now living in Brisbane, Michael Jeh (Fox) is a cricket lover with a global perspective on the game. An Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, he is a Playing Member of the MCC and still plays grade cricket. Michael now works closely with elite athletes, and is passionate about youth intervention programmes. He still chases his boyhood dream of running a wildlife safari operation called Barefoot in Africa.

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