February 26, 2012

Where's Australia's next captain coming from?

The two closest candidates are Watson and Warner, but neither has a realistic chance of landing the job

One of the more amazing statistics regarding the Australian team is how few captains have led the country in the 135-year history of Test cricket.

Michael Clarke is No. 43, which means that, on average, an Australian captain's reign is just over three years. The problem comes when considering who might be No. 44.

Clarke is a good captain and early signs suggest he'll be one of the better ones, beating the average by a considerable margin. However, at some point he'll reach his use-by date. Generally, even this early in a captain's reign, a successor is lurking. That's not the case currently.

It's common to have at least three Sheffield Shield captains in the Test side, but there are currently none. Of the six Shield captains only one, George Bailey, might make the Australian Test side in the future but his chances are as remote as the back of Bourke. So far, he hasn't proved himself a good enough batsman to make the Test side, and he's roughly the same age as Clarke. It's fairly safe to scratch him from the Test captaincy stakes.

From the current Test players there are only two candidates, Shane Watson and David Warner. Watson has been vice-captain to Clarke in the past, so presumably he'd take over, provided he was fit, if anything happened to the skipper. And therein lies the major problem with Watson's candidacy. A captain has to stay on the field under all but the most dire circumstances. Like most candidates, Watson suffers from having had little experience of leadership at Shield level, but even so, any selection panel would be loath to appoint him full-time captain because of his injury history. He's also virtually the same age as Clarke. Watson could only be classed as a rank outsider.

Warner has good credentials. He bats aggressively and as a fielder he's always looking at ways to help win a game. He's also five years younger than Clarke, so age-wise he's ideal. However, he has to cement his place in the team, and second, there's the way he bats. His method is exciting to watch and it greatly enhances his team's chances of victory but it can look careless when it fails. This makes it difficult for Warner to admonish a team-mate for his sloppy play. Generally Warner's type makes for a terrific team-mate and even a good deputy but rarely are they appointed full-time captain.

Virender Sehwag is a good example of why, as the two are similar in style. Sehwag has occasionally led India on this tour and his problem arises when he has to tell one of the talented young batsmen in the side to stop throwing away his wicket. It is a strain on Sehwag's credibility when he has just holed out three times by mis-hitting full tosses on leg stump and has then toe-ended a wide delivery straight into third man's hands.

Warner is a good candidate for deputy but appointing him captain might mean he'd have to moderate his strokeplay a little, and that wouldn't be good for him or the team.

Historically batsmen have made the best captains, although according to Richie Benaud, "this is a theory put forward by batsmen." With all the good young fast bowlers coming through at the moment maybe it's time to start looking in that direction for the next captain - although their injury history is discouraging.

Not since the days of World Series Cricket and the rebel South African tours, when many experienced players were lost to Australian cricket, has there been such a leadership vacuum. This is further confirmation that Australia need good batsmen making the Test side at around age 20. That means they're mature cricketers on reaching 27 - the right time to assume the leadership.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is now a cricket commentator and columnist