April 5, 2012

The captain makes the team

Each side is shaped in the image of the man who leads it. To undervalue the captain is to misunderstand the nature of team
45

It was the dance that did it. Like Laurence Olivier's acclaimed Shylock in The Merchant of Venice, whose little jig of delight - "I thank God! Is it true? Is it true?" - supremely illustrated the depth of his pleasure, Darren Sammy could not contain himself when the second T20 was won in Barbados last week. His body, slim as a girl's, moved to the rhythm of victory and around him young West Indian cricketers were showered with unconditional joy - "It is true!"

It has been a long time since Australia came and saw but failed to conquer the Caribbean. The T20s were locked at one apiece - why are there not more best-of-three series? - and the 50-over matches at two each with a crazy, memorable tie in St Vincent, another perfect illustration of the game's ability to bare humanity. Sammy cool at one end, Kemar Roach anything but at the other. With two balls still remaining, Roach put his head down and ran, all the way to Sammy, who stood rooted to his crease in shock, having pushed the ball gently and straight to the cover fielder. Enough said. So much so that he managed a smile and refused to lay blame at the post-match interview. He gives a good interview - honest, thoughtful, rather charming.

Sammy is the unlikeliest international captain of the moment and will lead West Indies against Australia in the Test series that begins this weekend. The first St Lucian to represent his islands, he has played 21 Test matches with four five-wicket bags to sustain his selection but not the merest hint of a hundred to cement it. He averages 17 with the bat and 30 with the ball. Neither is he Mike Brearley.

By trade, Sammy knits young men together, and the selectors have backed this skill against all others. He cares not a jot for what pundits and past players think, nor for the claim of those left out, some of whom make for dangerous foes. He was appointed almost two years ago now, and against the odds, to do a job for West Indian cricket at a time when nobody else could make the damndest thing of it. Like Brazilian football the legacy is impossible, so he simply tells it as it is. Young cricketers make mistakes but they have energy and desire. These are attributes that make up for talent and experience. He has some bowlers, fast and slow, with exciting ability, who further compromise his own place in the team. He desperately needs some batsmen who stay in, something he too finds fiendishly difficult. Somehow the proud St Lucian stands above all this and, instead, concerns himself with shaking off the past. The team is smiling again, trademark toothy West Indian smiles. It is a start and Sammy deserves respect for making it.

Clarke is so perfect for the job it's not funny. After a decade of narrow eyes, bright eyes is at the helm and scoring as heavily as Bradman. Clarke rages against a game that drifts, and uses his sense of optimism to galvanise those around him

Contrast Andrew Strauss, who has played 93 Test matches with 19 hundreds at an average of 41. Strauss led England to be the best team in the world, and by the end of the last English summer added four consecutive wins over India to his portfolio (at the time such a performance wasn't considered a sinecure). Now, after a bad run in the Middle East and a silly batting effort in the first innings in Galle, he is under the cosh. Can the game really be this fickle? If Strauss was making more runs, would the knives be out? Would a right-minded selector hear the cries of the fourth estate and respond so irrationally?

Strauss may feel a little betrayed. His outward serenity makes it hard to be sure of anything but his equilibrium. Only cricket captains can know this forensic examination. Football managers don't have to play. There must have been days when Sammy has felt worthless - so often has his pedigree been slandered by those who have gone before him. Now Strauss is seeing the other side too, the side that puts a doubt in every step. It may have been a mistake to pull away from one-day cricket, which so often releases the mind. This doubt makes strokeplay unconvincing and tactics uncertain. England's team for the Galle Test lacked its usual clarity. Big Brother is watching and don't cricket captains know it. It explains the shelf life.

Mahela Jayawardene appears better second time round. Perhaps because of hindsight, a rare privilege. His natural batting has its freedom and beauty back. His leadership seems less intense and more experimental. In one-day cricket he has attacked at defining moments, while in Galle he defended when wise heads in media boxes thought he ought to have done otherwise. To what degree did England lose in Galle and/or Mahela win? He played a genuinely great innings and then plotted a few downfalls with a pretty ordinary attack. Rangana Herath is shaped a little like Bishan Bedi but it ends there. After 129 Test matches, 30 hundreds and an average of 50, the Sri Lankan captain has the job for as long as he can live with it.

So too Michael Clarke, at least if Australia continue their standard of backing a captain till he drops. Clarke is so perfect for the job it's not funny. After a decade of narrow eyes, bright eyes is at the helm and scoring as heavily as Bradman. Clarke rages against a game that drifts, and uses his sense of optimism to galvanise those around him. After an insular couple of years them Aussies are up and at it again, cock of the walk. One or two can still lighten up, mind you. At times in the Caribbean that unattractive snarl reared its head but Clarke was back home in Sydney regenerating. Doubtless he took note and will make his point.

And finally to the Test team of the Northern Hemisphere winter and to Misbah-ul-Haq. Not since Imran Khan has a group of Pakistani cricketers looked so comfortable with one another. Probably it was the winning but there was something quite patrician about Misbah's leadership - aloof and yet complicit. He never looks much of a batsman but averages 45 in 34 tests. He knows how to get it done and has passed this instinct to the others. How he loved it when they swarmed upon England, gloaters all. It was at Lord's that the storm clouds of spot-fixing had gathered and on supposedly neutral ground that the score was settled. How England must have suffered from this glaring portrayal of redemption. Misbah may not last, at least not like Clarke surely will, but he will not forget 3-0 against the colonial father in the Middle East. That was the Pakistan dream.

To undervalue the captain is to misunderstand the nature of team. Each side is shaped in the image of those who lead it - if the fish is rotten, look at its head. There are some gems around at present - we have not touched upon the immense contributions of Graeme Smith or MS Dhoni here - all of whom appear to understand their responsibility to the past without missing a beat in their quest to shape the future. It is not by coincidence that international cricket in all its formats continues to hold our attention.

Former Hampshire batsman Mark Nicholas is the host of Channel 9's cricket coverage

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • sweetspot on April 8, 2012, 7:56 GMT

    Being captain of India, MS Dhoni will know one thing - many Indian fans are just fans of the latest success, not of the game or of the team. They have the shortest memories, the lowest tolerance, and the highest expectations of the cricket captain of India. In the face of all this, MSD has managed pretty well, in fact, increasing his batting average by a sumptuous 10 runs! There will always be detractors, many of who will never see the pinnacle in their respective fields of endeavour, and there will be talk, nothing but talk from them. It's a good thing he doesn't hog the limelight, bask in the glory of his victories, or slump in the defeats. He just moves on, and there is much to learn from that attitude.

  • maddy20 on April 6, 2012, 22:39 GMT

    @johnathonjosephs The same overrated captain has won 2 WCs(1T20 in SA and 1 ODI in India). Do you still think he is overrated?

  • pradeep_dealwis on April 6, 2012, 18:19 GMT

    Totally agree about the four top captains. Jayawardena and Clark are superior tacticains, but Strauss and Misbah bring confidence to two talented sides.

  • cheguramana on April 6, 2012, 9:01 GMT

    I thot the article some what pointless. Sure, its well known that a Captain influences the team's culture and performance. Where are Mark's special insights on the subject ? Its also true that a captain is only as good as his team. What does Mark have to say abt that ?

  • Paracha420 on April 6, 2012, 7:22 GMT

    I hope many ppl will understand that Misbah is a gr8 captain after reading this article and he had some gr8 contribution in his brief career.....

  • johnathonjosephs on April 6, 2012, 6:40 GMT

    Finally people realize Dhoni is overrated

  • agneepath007 on April 6, 2012, 4:42 GMT

    great observations...balanced article...(a Pakistani fan)..!!

  • on April 6, 2012, 3:42 GMT

    An excellent article.Welcome to Cricinfo,Mr.Mark.However I think you could have focused a bit on MS Dhoni,Graeme Smith,Brendan Taylor and Ross Taylor in the article.Among all the present captains,you have rightly put forward the case of Sammy.I myself had doubts about him but have started respecting him in recent months,particularly after the India-West Indies series few months back and the recent limited overs games vs Australia.Would have been great had that one odi not been tied.

  • on April 5, 2012, 22:26 GMT

    Excellent article i am big fan of your commentary and now of your article.

  • Randy_Wilson on April 5, 2012, 20:51 GMT

    so agree about Sammy. Sammy as a captain change West Indies Team around, a Player who hardly can make it in the Team, Change a Very Weak West Indies without gayle and Co, and dont mine they dont win some game, they are giving a fight to the Opposition, even with Less experiance in the Team. The Team is playing as a Team. Sammy have to Mature more as a Player, he has the capability of Captaining a Side like bring them together, If Sammy eighter start performing with the Bat or Ball by taking Wicket in this Test, in the ODI he show a positive of his batting which have improve, but this is now Test lets see how he manage this one. If Sammy start performing regular I dont see why he cant play for the Team, today many people only see a TOP player as a Captain, but we had LAra and Gayle both Failed to carry West Indies forward as a captain.

  • sweetspot on April 8, 2012, 7:56 GMT

    Being captain of India, MS Dhoni will know one thing - many Indian fans are just fans of the latest success, not of the game or of the team. They have the shortest memories, the lowest tolerance, and the highest expectations of the cricket captain of India. In the face of all this, MSD has managed pretty well, in fact, increasing his batting average by a sumptuous 10 runs! There will always be detractors, many of who will never see the pinnacle in their respective fields of endeavour, and there will be talk, nothing but talk from them. It's a good thing he doesn't hog the limelight, bask in the glory of his victories, or slump in the defeats. He just moves on, and there is much to learn from that attitude.

  • maddy20 on April 6, 2012, 22:39 GMT

    @johnathonjosephs The same overrated captain has won 2 WCs(1T20 in SA and 1 ODI in India). Do you still think he is overrated?

  • pradeep_dealwis on April 6, 2012, 18:19 GMT

    Totally agree about the four top captains. Jayawardena and Clark are superior tacticains, but Strauss and Misbah bring confidence to two talented sides.

  • cheguramana on April 6, 2012, 9:01 GMT

    I thot the article some what pointless. Sure, its well known that a Captain influences the team's culture and performance. Where are Mark's special insights on the subject ? Its also true that a captain is only as good as his team. What does Mark have to say abt that ?

  • Paracha420 on April 6, 2012, 7:22 GMT

    I hope many ppl will understand that Misbah is a gr8 captain after reading this article and he had some gr8 contribution in his brief career.....

  • johnathonjosephs on April 6, 2012, 6:40 GMT

    Finally people realize Dhoni is overrated

  • agneepath007 on April 6, 2012, 4:42 GMT

    great observations...balanced article...(a Pakistani fan)..!!

  • on April 6, 2012, 3:42 GMT

    An excellent article.Welcome to Cricinfo,Mr.Mark.However I think you could have focused a bit on MS Dhoni,Graeme Smith,Brendan Taylor and Ross Taylor in the article.Among all the present captains,you have rightly put forward the case of Sammy.I myself had doubts about him but have started respecting him in recent months,particularly after the India-West Indies series few months back and the recent limited overs games vs Australia.Would have been great had that one odi not been tied.

  • on April 5, 2012, 22:26 GMT

    Excellent article i am big fan of your commentary and now of your article.

  • Randy_Wilson on April 5, 2012, 20:51 GMT

    so agree about Sammy. Sammy as a captain change West Indies Team around, a Player who hardly can make it in the Team, Change a Very Weak West Indies without gayle and Co, and dont mine they dont win some game, they are giving a fight to the Opposition, even with Less experiance in the Team. The Team is playing as a Team. Sammy have to Mature more as a Player, he has the capability of Captaining a Side like bring them together, If Sammy eighter start performing with the Bat or Ball by taking Wicket in this Test, in the ODI he show a positive of his batting which have improve, but this is now Test lets see how he manage this one. If Sammy start performing regular I dont see why he cant play for the Team, today many people only see a TOP player as a Captain, but we had LAra and Gayle both Failed to carry West Indies forward as a captain.

  • AndyZaltzmannsHair on April 5, 2012, 20:04 GMT

    I want to disagree somewhat about Misbah. Pakistans rise this past 18 months is as much to do with the fact that the players themselves took the responsibility on their own shoulders. Misbah has said this many times that the players got together and sorted the mess out themselves. They've been just as good under Afridi. Its not the captain but the mentality. This is a typical Pakistani trademark i.e. taking matters into your own hands, for better or for worse. When the going gets tough thats when Pakistanis rise up. A nation without a government breeds a people who fend for themselves. History bears testament to this fact. Misbah gets the credit as captain but its a collective effort.

  • swingstowin on April 5, 2012, 19:40 GMT

    Lols....I could imagine Mark reading the whole article !!

  • on April 5, 2012, 19:31 GMT

    What an irony in "The captain makes the team" In the case of Sammy, if he were not captain he would not have made the team with such woeful statistics.

  • on April 5, 2012, 18:44 GMT

    Well Misbah is MBA......has to have some man management skills...or else quality of his MBA would be questionable

  • on April 5, 2012, 18:09 GMT

    I read this in Mark's voice :)

  • on April 5, 2012, 17:40 GMT

    Well said,as captaining the West Indies and Pakistan are two of the toughest assignments any criketer can look forward to. Just look at some of the more so called naturally gifted indivisual players that took the almost poisoned challace,were good players but Ordinary captains.To all of your detracters,well done so far Sammy,keep on working hard and see this nucleus of under 30 years young continue to gell together alot more.

  • AndyZaltzmannsHair on April 5, 2012, 16:46 GMT

    I think Mark Nicholas needs to go back to school and study sub-continental history. There was nothing "fatherly" about the British Empire. Especially to the forebears of modern Pakistan.

  • Mahesh4811 on April 5, 2012, 16:06 GMT

    Mark's commentary (and this article too) is very nice to hear :-)

  • Deepu_MSD007 on April 5, 2012, 15:38 GMT

    Luck always favours the brave "Majr"... So u need not judge Dhoni by luck... it is too difficult for any international player to be maintain the level of patience as he does...

  • tennis on April 5, 2012, 15:30 GMT

    Captaincy is way overrated. Give me the Windies bowling attack of the '80s...Marshall, Garner, Holding, Roberts..any venue in the world and the success rate of the captain will be great..same with Pakistan in early 90s with Wasim, Waqar, and Imran....australia with warne and mcgrath..i mean clarke has done nothing yet...just beat up an old indian team...let's see in 5 years time.

  • ProdigyA on April 5, 2012, 15:26 GMT

    This is sweeeet. Welcome to Cricinfo Mark. You are one of my fav commentators. Loved ur commentary on the Ind Pak Worldcup semifinal. I havent had time to read your article but im sure it will be as dynamic as ur commentary. Hope ESPN STAR sign you for India matches.

  • DustBowl on April 5, 2012, 15:04 GMT

    Apart from Sammy, is there anything really interesting in there - considering he was a good captain, and he works with five of the best? MN has done very well joining the excellent Ch9 team of ex captains and wicket-keeper. However in order to establish a different 'view' he tends to gild the lily a little. 'Bright eyes', 'colonial father' ? etc. When in Oz the plummy Nicholas often calls the Brits Poms?

  • Percy_Fender on April 5, 2012, 13:25 GMT

    While the talent and cricket intelligence of a player are the two ingredients for a secure captain, I believe his luck is more important than anything else. The luck of such captains makes for winning and losing tosses, favourable weather conditions, great players springing up under their tenure of captaincy and the gaining or losing of form of key players.It may seem unfashionable to talk about luck but it is the most important factor for a Captain being a winning one or a losing duck Two great players who were failures as captains to the surprise of many were Sachin Tendulkar and Ian Botham.I think the likes of Mike Brearley and Frank Worrell made great captains because of their communication skills not because they played to the gallery Michael Clarke seems to have gone up a few notches in his playing skills after he became captain. That is another factor. Misbah ul Haq is the same.Dhoni was very lucky but has probably lost it completely from July 2011 He is losing in the IPL also.

  • bravesoul on April 5, 2012, 13:11 GMT

    Patronizing in his comments

  • on April 5, 2012, 12:45 GMT

    this was a fantastic article if one lookes at it objectively,Misbah has proven over a period of time how fantastic he is as a leader of human resourses he is especially being Pakistan whose history is being immensly talented and can beat anyone on their day,but on their bad days just as horrible or worst than the West Indies of recent past,he has this bunch playing like world beaters,together,and less of the clash of Mega -egos of the past.Darren Sammy,spot on,he has taken wickets for the team although only being medium paced,however,it is his batting at the highest level especially which has question marks,but anyone over the period of time watching him,especially in the just concluded series against Australia has seen a more aggressive approach to his captaincy,the man has a cricket heart,passion,commitement and the team has been gelling,nucleus of which are under 30 years except one.Once can hope for West Indies and world cricket,this trend continues.

  • smalishah84 on April 5, 2012, 12:39 GMT

    Made for some nice reading on some of the leading characters in the game today. Loved the part about Misbah :)

  • landl47 on April 5, 2012, 12:15 GMT

    Captaincy is vastly underrated. All the best captains have turned their sides, if not into world-beaters, at least into competitive teams. The best test captains I've seen were Richie Benaud, Frank Worrell, Mike Brearley and Imran Khan. The list of bad captains is much longer, due to the fact that selection committees have consistently made the mistake of believing that the best players would make the best captains. We happen to have a set of good captains now and it's interesting to note that all those listed by Mark Nicholas have succeeded bad captains. WI, England, Sri Lanka, Australia and Pakistan were all in a mess before the current captain took over and all are playing much better now. Choose a good captain and you're halfway to having a good side.

  • Stark62 on April 5, 2012, 12:09 GMT

    Sammy is a wonderful captain but just the players around him are not committed to international duty and are greedy for $$$!

    WICB have been in dispute with Gayle but you have to remember, he turned down the central contract in order to be a freelancer and play T20 leagues but I guess the WICB should have sanctioned others is well like Pollard and Bravo.

  • on April 5, 2012, 11:16 GMT

    Mark, your voice is next only to Bill Lawry's (but Mark Taylor and Richie are the other toppers). Captains also seem to decide on who should be paid 2-million for joining his IPL team, while much more talented players seem to rot in the domestic competitions.

  • elsmallo on April 5, 2012, 10:53 GMT

    "After an insular couple of years them Aussies are up and at it again, cock of the walk. One or two can still lighten up, mind you." With phrases like this, my deep love for Mark Nicholas blooms anew. Thank you, cricinfo, for this unexpected gift.

  • on April 5, 2012, 10:29 GMT

    darrensammy..... a right man leading a wrong team of individuals the players who r labelled as match winners often look 2 strengthen their bank accounts by thrashing their national team 2 a corner and sammy is left vth bits n pieces of individuals.... and yet he does well..... hail sammy.....

  • Romenevans on April 5, 2012, 9:09 GMT

    Awesome writing. Mark is my fav commentator.

  • Vilander on April 5, 2012, 8:57 GMT

    apart from obvious Dhoni and Smith, i like Clarke in the recent lot.

  • Vilander on April 5, 2012, 8:52 GMT

    somehow if i could hear him read this article i am sure it would have been much much better.

  • FreddyForPrimeMinister on April 5, 2012, 8:22 GMT

    Excellent article from a brilliant journalist and commentator - and the best captain England never had! I think the very fact that Mark Nicholas never played for Test cricket is what makes him such a fine cricketer - he never openly criticizes a player, perhaps recognizing the retort "How dare you criticize me when you were never even good enough to play for your country" and instead makes gentle comments like "Bell might be a little disappointed when he sees a replay of that shot". So much better than the blunt arrogance of a Bob Willis or even, dare I say it, Sir Geoffrey Boycott. Although slightly disappointed here in the lack of detailed comment about Dhoni or Smith, the single line, we have not touched upon the immense contributions of Graeme Smith or MS Dhoni here" actually says all we know about two masters of the art of captaincy of whom so much has already been written. Lovely piece Mark - I hope this is the first of many!

  • AJ_Tiger86 on April 5, 2012, 6:26 GMT

    Oh, please, Mark have mercy on us! Please tell us you won't be writing a weekly column here, will you?

  • HyderabadiFlick on April 5, 2012, 6:15 GMT

    My name is Mark Nicholas and I'm the Voice of Cricket after the great Richie retires. Nice article, refreshing. Keep writing gems.

  • SouthPaw on April 5, 2012, 5:35 GMT

    Mark, you dare not write about India, huh? Hahaha!!!

  • Hamzaad on April 5, 2012, 5:15 GMT

    Mark Nicholas

    The Best commentator around, and now he comes with a nice article. Looking forward for more :)

  • Ignatiuscric on April 5, 2012, 5:14 GMT

    As soon i saw Mark Nicholas column i clicked on the link immediately to read it.. it was alwaz a pleasure listening to your commentary, this column is just awesome as u talk. "It is not by coincidence that international cricket in all its formats continues to hold our attention" says it all why we ppl are so much of cricket fanatics.. esp with the bottom half teams who have started to play really well. Looking forward to more columns from u sir.

  • chad_reid on April 5, 2012, 4:32 GMT

    Welcome to CRICINFO Mr Mark Nicholas

  • on April 5, 2012, 4:20 GMT

    "It is not by coincidence that international cricket in all its formats continues to hold our attention", This line is invaluable.

  • Vikas_USIT on April 5, 2012, 4:13 GMT

    Would've loved to see Brendan Taylor in there as well. Nevertheless, one of the best articles that I've come across of late on cricinfo.

  • paul_21353 on April 5, 2012, 3:22 GMT

    Well said Mr Nicholas. I would also like to see Darren Sammy do more with the bat, he has the potential to be a better batsman. Only he can prove that to be so.

  • jonesy2 on April 5, 2012, 3:19 GMT

    hmm interesting nico. so basically youre saying australia are so good its not funny? i agree

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  • jonesy2 on April 5, 2012, 3:19 GMT

    hmm interesting nico. so basically youre saying australia are so good its not funny? i agree

  • paul_21353 on April 5, 2012, 3:22 GMT

    Well said Mr Nicholas. I would also like to see Darren Sammy do more with the bat, he has the potential to be a better batsman. Only he can prove that to be so.

  • Vikas_USIT on April 5, 2012, 4:13 GMT

    Would've loved to see Brendan Taylor in there as well. Nevertheless, one of the best articles that I've come across of late on cricinfo.

  • on April 5, 2012, 4:20 GMT

    "It is not by coincidence that international cricket in all its formats continues to hold our attention", This line is invaluable.

  • chad_reid on April 5, 2012, 4:32 GMT

    Welcome to CRICINFO Mr Mark Nicholas

  • Ignatiuscric on April 5, 2012, 5:14 GMT

    As soon i saw Mark Nicholas column i clicked on the link immediately to read it.. it was alwaz a pleasure listening to your commentary, this column is just awesome as u talk. "It is not by coincidence that international cricket in all its formats continues to hold our attention" says it all why we ppl are so much of cricket fanatics.. esp with the bottom half teams who have started to play really well. Looking forward to more columns from u sir.

  • Hamzaad on April 5, 2012, 5:15 GMT

    Mark Nicholas

    The Best commentator around, and now he comes with a nice article. Looking forward for more :)

  • SouthPaw on April 5, 2012, 5:35 GMT

    Mark, you dare not write about India, huh? Hahaha!!!

  • HyderabadiFlick on April 5, 2012, 6:15 GMT

    My name is Mark Nicholas and I'm the Voice of Cricket after the great Richie retires. Nice article, refreshing. Keep writing gems.

  • AJ_Tiger86 on April 5, 2012, 6:26 GMT

    Oh, please, Mark have mercy on us! Please tell us you won't be writing a weekly column here, will you?