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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Roo on February 29, 2012, 6:58 GMT

    @Tom Schulz :- "Mr Chappell is saying there are not many 22 year olds that come to mind"... Obviously Chappelli spends too much time in the commentary box... S Smith (BBL capt), M Marsh (U19 Oz capt), Wade all are young & have captaincy claims for the future... Lots more if you want to look through the profiles...

  • Peter on February 29, 2012, 2:10 GMT

    Why are you worrying about the next captain? Clarke has only just been appointed and you come out with this sort of rubbish. Watson and Warner may not even be playing when Clarke decides to call it quits.

  • Nick on February 28, 2012, 23:57 GMT

    To those Khawaja fans, I do think he should be in the team, but don't think he should be captain. He is not a great fielder and you need the captain to be a dependable (if not inspirational) fielder to set the standard for the team. Just like Chappell said Warner can't tell off batsman for playing a bad shot, Khawaja can't tell off fielders for sloppy fielders. Also - I haven't seen the leadership qualities in Khawaja that other people see. Would love to hear why people think Khawaja would be a good fielder.

  • Dummy4 on February 28, 2012, 15:42 GMT

    Over a decade ago, Clarke was the captain and standout player of Australia's U19 side, and was marked for the test role as early as then. Ponting's rise through his late teens was tracked similarly. That is the type of captaincy life-cycle question Mr Chappell has raised. The most insightful appointments involve spotting the "X" factor qualities that will make a great captain, and handing them the mantle with a long career left ahead of them. Think Allan Border, or Graeme Smith for a SA example. Mr Chappell is saying there are not many 22 year olds that come to mind.

  • Grant on February 28, 2012, 9:57 GMT

    Isn't this a wee bit premature? Clarke is in his prime and will be about for a while. One of the two candidates Chappell suggests (Warner) has only just made his test debut, which shows how quickly another candidate could appear. Granted (as Finncam says) Clarke was long groomed for the captaincy, as Cook has been for England, but these are exceptions. Many successful captains haven't been. Chappells point about "historically" there being 2 Shield captains in the team is also just that- history. In the modern game I suspect a State team would want a captain who is around a bit more than a senior test player would be. I do wonder about Chappell sometimes.

  • Roo on February 28, 2012, 4:21 GMT

    Lots of time to worry about future captains - 3 or 4 years... There are possibly 10 candidates playing at international & domestic level that could fill that role in the future... Australia is in a rebuilding phase within the team & many potential captains will come along with the new players... Ponting & Huss will be gone by then & who knows where our top team will be at in 2 years... See lots of changes in the future...

  • Fiona on February 28, 2012, 2:42 GMT

    What most comments here don't seem to remember, is that clarke was being groomed for captaincy about 5 years ago. CA and selectors think about he long-term. Chappell is an ex-captain, so he knows these things are not just based on current form. Personally, I thinks its too soon to tell with WArner, but then, I 'm not sure why he's being talked about anyway, as future captain. He hasn't been around long enough in the national team to even act as vice-captain. As for Watto - too young and indiscrete emotionally for a 30 hear old senior player, apart form the injury issue. THere are others, such as Paine, who have the more stable and classic form, as well as the mental maturity.

  • Darryl on February 28, 2012, 0:55 GMT

    Well I registered to comment on Philip Katon's view that Aus wouldn't accept Kawaja as captain. I feel that if he is the best person available for the job, he should be appointed. The race/religeon/colour of a person should not make the slightest difference to selection criteria for captain or any other position in any sporting team playing for Australia. Anyone feeling differently to this is obviously living in the wrong country and is welcome to leave and not return.

  • T on February 27, 2012, 21:59 GMT

    Using this article as another placeholder to make another note of my skepticism of Michael Clarke as captain (So that, in perhaps another 2-3 years time I can point here and say either "I Told you so" or a record of another silly comment at cricinfo). I say this despite the rollicking that India received from Australia recently. India in recent years is a weak team abroad. The real tests of a Clarke captaincy will like in the way he handles the Ashes and South Africa as well as how he leads Australia in the World Cup. I will retain my skepticism of Clarke till then

  • stuart on February 27, 2012, 19:52 GMT

    Jonesey 2 as ever showing a searing insight

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