Captain marvel

After Kevin Pietersen's success, we take a look at 11 other captains who made a mark early in their reign

Andrew McGlashan

September 4, 2008

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Kevin Pietersen has made all the right moves early in his captaincy career, winning his first Test in charge and claiming a 4-0 one-day series win against South Africa. Cricinfo takes a look at 11 other captains who made a mark early in their reign - for some of whom the good times didn't always last.


The doctor's in the house: WG Grace normally got his own way and won his early matches as captain © Cricinfo Ltd
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WG Grace, 1888
It shouldn't really be a surprise that The Doctor enjoyed immediate success as captain - he wouldn't have had it any other way. His first Test calling the shots (although he probably had a pretty important say, whether captain or not) finished in a crushing two-day innings win against Australia at The Oval. Grace scored just 1 in his only knock, but the wickets were comfortably shared around. Another innings victory followed at Old Trafford and England won the series 4-0. Grace's first defeat came in the opening Test of the next series, away from home, in 1892, when Australia secured a 54-run win in Melbourne.

Ray Illingworth, 1969
Being a true Yorkshireman, Illingworth always did things his own way, and his methods proved extremely successful when he took over as England captain for the 1969 series against West Indies. A comfortable win at Old Trafford and a tighter affair at Headingley gave England a 2-0 series win. New Zealand were then beaten by the same margin later in the summer. More success following in Australia with another 2-0 victory, and it wasn't until his 20th Test as captain, against India at The Oval in 1971, that Illingworth tasted a defeat. "Illingworth's greatest gift as captain lay in creating the illusion that he had 14 or 15 players on the field," wrote John Thicknesse. "So expertly did he block a batsman's favourable scoring strokes that when the opposition were in trouble it must frequently have seemed that there were no runs on offer anywhere."

Clive Lloyd, 1974
Being made captain can have one of two impacts on a player: they can either use the extra responsibility to drive their own form, or it becomes a burden and their contributions suffer. For Clive Lloyd it was the former when he was named captain for the 1974-75 tour of India. It came after a relatively poor run of form, but in his first Test in charge, in Bangalore, he made 30 and 163 as West Indies swept to a 267-run victory. The next Test was an innings victory, before India hit back to claim the next two and take the series to a decider. Lloyd took centre stage, hitting an unbeaten 242 to set up a 201-run victory in Mumbai. The start to his one-day reign was no less impressive as he led West Indies to the 1975 World Cup in England, hitting 102 in the final against Australia.


Graham Gooch writhes in agony after his hand was broken after he led England to an early win against West Indies © Getty Images
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Mike Brearley, 1977
Regarded as one of England's finest leaders, Brearley is best remembered for his part in the 1981 Ashes series. However, it was four years earlier that his captaincy began, in some style, against Australia. The tourists were already feeling the effects of World Series Cricket when they arrived and were mercilessly picked apart by England with Brearley at the helm. Australia hung on for a draw at Lord's, but England won the next three emphatically to claim the series. As was to be an issue throughout his career, runs didn't flow for Brearley - he had a top score of 81 in the series - but he was almost the perfect case of picking a man purely on his captaincy skills.

Graham Gooch, 1990
Much like Kevin Pietersen against New Zealand earlier this summer, when Gooch was handed the England captaincy in 1988 it was more a short-term fill-in, at the end of a debilitating series against West Indies. He lost his first Test in charge, but notched a victory against the gentler challenge of Sri Lanka. He was given the captaincy full-time ahead of the 1989-90 tour of West Indies and England secured a famous victory in Jamaica to take a series lead. "Gooch acceded to the captaincy in an unfortunate manner, for he was nobody's first choice. But he confounded all preconceived notions about his limitations and emerged as the most influential figure of the tour," said Wisden. They were on track for another win, in Trinidad, chasing 151, when Gooch had his hand broken by Ezra Moseley. Slowing tactics and rain eventually denied England and Gooch was out of the series. However, he returned the following summer to notch series wins against New Zealand and India.

Hansie Cronje, 1994
It was a career forever tarnished by how it finished, but Cronje took South Africa to a new level for much of his captaincy tenure. His first Test in charge was following injury to Kepler Wessels in Adelaide and he also lost against New Zealand after being handed the job on a permanent basis. However, he soon turned things around and South Africa came back to take the series against New Zealand 2-1 - just the second side claim a three-Test series after losing the first Test - and went on an impressive run. He won one-off matches against Pakistan (by the huge margin of 324 runs), New Zealand and Zimbabwe before securing a 1-0 series victory against England, in their first meeting in South Africa since re-admission. Cronje was still captain when England visited again, in 1999, but by the end of that series a different tale was about to unfold.


A magical bowler and master tactician, but Shane Warne had limited chances to show the latter © Getty Images
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Brian Lara, 1997
Great players don't always make great captains, as Lara's final record shows, but the early days of his leadership offered hope. When Courtney Walsh pulled out injured for the fourth Test against India in Barbados, Lara was given the reins. It looked as though he was going to finish on the losing side as the visitors chased 120, but he conjured a remarkable victory as Curtly Ambrose, Ian Bishop and Franklyn Rose destroyed India for just 81. By the time England arrived in 1998 he was the full-time captain and he secured a 3-1 series victory. That was to prove his high point. A 0-5 whitewash against South Africa followed and West Indies' declined was confirmed.

Shane Warne, 1998
It's often said Warne was the greatest captain Australia never had. Well, they did have him - for a short time - and he won 10 out of 11 ODIs. During the 1997-98 Carlton and United Series he won his first match, against New Zealand, by 131 runs, but it was the following season that he really made a mark. He led Australia to the tournament - also involving England and Sri Lanka - and showed himself to be an innovative, aggressive captain. He inspired by his own performances too, especially in the first final in Sydney, when England were cruising before Warne drew Nasser Hussain into a wild heave and had him stumped. But a long-term run at job never came around - to a sigh of relief from Cricket Australia's PR department - and it left one of great unanswered questions: how would Warne have captained in Test cricket?

Ricky Ponting, 2002 (ODIs), 2004 (Tests)
Not many players are fortunate enough to take over the captaincy mantle with one of the finest sides of all time at their disposal. Ricky Ponting had been groomed from a young age as Australian captain, but a series of bust-ups in his early days raised question marks. However, his time came after had lifted Australia well clear at the top of the tree. Firstly it was in the one-day arena when he took the armband against South Africa in 2002 and secured a 5-1 series victory. Australia then didn't lose a game as they defended the World Cup in 2003. But it was in Tests that everyone was watching Ponting's progress. His first challenge came in Sri Lanka and, despite Having trailed in all three Tests, it ended in a whitewash for Ponting's team. He missed the majority of the following series, against India, with injury, but returned to lead a commanding home season against New Zealand and Pakistan.


A new generation: Mahendra Singh Dhoni celebrates India's Twenty20 victory © Cricinfo Ltd
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Michael Vaughan, 2003
One of the reasons for a note of caution over Pietersen's memorable start is the story of his predecessor, Vaughan. He was handed England's one-day captaincy in 2003 after Nasser Hussain stood down following another World Cup failure. Within a month he'd won two trophies after beating Pakistan in the Natwest Challenge and claiming the Natwest Series, which also involved South Africa and Zimbabwe. He had a young team under his charge - much like Pietersen now - and there was a buzz about England's one-day cricket. James Anderson took a hat-trick, Andrew Flintoff scored runs and claimed wickets, Chris Read caught everything as the keeper, and Marcus Trescothick blazed at the top of the order. A few of the other names included Vikram Solanki, Anthony McGrath, Rikki Clarke and Jim Troughton. The early one-day success was enough to force Hussain out of the Test job as well and Vaughan secured a drawn series against South Africa. His greatest success was still a few years away, although the one-day form didn't last.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni, 2007
It's hard to believe, but there was a time when India didn't think too highly of Twenty20 cricket. In fact, there was an outside chance they weren't going to send a team to the first World Twenty20 in South Africa. In the end they did, but it was shorn of leading lights such as Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and Anil Kumble. The captaincy was thrust onto Dhoni, the new poster boy of Indian cricket, and it proved an inspired choice. He marshalled a group of young players with a fresh and fearless approach as India - not without the odd scare - progressed to the final in Johannesburg. The semi-final clash against Australia, in Durban, was a classic and Dhoni was outstanding. He gambled leaving the final over to Joginder Sharma and it paid off. Then, in the final, a similar script was written as Pakistan chased 158. Misbah-ul-Haq took it to the final over, again bowled by Sharma, and eventually it was six off four balls. Misbah tried a paddle sweep - which probably still gives him nightmares - and the rest, as they say, is history.

Andrew McGlashan is a staff writer at Cricinfo

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Andrew McGlashan Assistant Editor Andrew arrived at ESPNcricinfo via Manchester and Cape Town, after finding the assistant editor at a weak moment as he watched England's batting collapse in the Newlands Test. Andrew began his cricket writing as a freelance covering Lancashire during 2004 when they were relegated in the County Championship. In fact, they were top of the table when he began reporting on them but things went dramatically downhill. He likes to let people know that he is a supporter of county cricket, a fact his colleagues will testify to and bemoan in equal quantities.

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