April 22, 2012

Captains: follow Clarke's lead

In the long run, captains who aim to win and set fields that will get them wickets are the ones who will succeed and last

Michael Clarke is quickly establishing a well-deserved reputation for brave and aggressive captaincy. His entertaining approach is based on one premise: trying to win the match from the opening delivery. This should be the aim of all international captains, but sadly it isn't.

In every era there are Test captains who prefer to attain a position of safety before they go all out for victory. These captains are frightened stiff of the Michael Clarkes, who make it obvious they are not interested in a draw. At least 50% of international captains consider a draw to be a good result and when that option is removed they easily panic.

The first thing a captain like Clarke understands is that he will lose some matches in constantly striving for victory. Once that premise is accepted the captain has reached the stage where he hates to lose but doesn't fear it. There's a huge difference: the latter is a positive state where the captain will do everything in his power to win; the former a mindset where the captain sets out not to lose.

An important indicator of a captain's thinking is his field placings. A positive captain will always make the opposing batsmen feel their very existence is threatened. Through his field placings he allows his bowlers to turn at the top of their mark and see where a wicket (other than bowled, lbw or through the batsman's stupidity) can be claimed.

A bowler operating to a purely containing field is like Zorro without his sword; he's not very threatening. There has been plenty of discussion on whether the shorter forms of the game will adversely affect batting techniques and turn bowlers into cannon fodder. What the 50- and 20-over matches have actually had a marked influence on is field placings.

Whereas the No. 1 priority, by a wide margin, used to be taking wickets, followed by saving singles, and then, way off in the distance, stopping boundaries, in the mind of the modern captain the last one has assumed far too much importance.

The almost robotic use in Test matches of a deep cover point and a backward square leg on the boundary, regardless of whether the ball is being played in that direction, borders on mindless captaincy. When a fieldsman is unemployed for half an hour but the captain still retains him in that position, you have to wonder: who appointed this captain?

The change in attitude to field placings is perfectly summed up with some typical Caribbean humour and common sense.

Former West Indies fast bowler Herman Griffith was captaining a Barbados club side in the 1930s once, and called on his debutant offspinner to have a trundle. "Where do you want the field?" asked Griffith politely.

"I'd like a deep-backward square leg, a midwicket on the boundary and a long-on and long-off," replied the youngster.

"Give me the ball," growled Griffith.

Not unreasonably, the young man asked, "Why?"

"You intending to bowl shite," came the forthright answer.

Nowadays, most bowlers would be horrified if the captain didn't automatically give him a number of protective fielders in the deep. Clarke is not such a captain.

Sadly, his latest gambit - a challenging declaration at the Queen's Park Oval, which was answered with equal bravado by Darren Sammy, failed because of inclement weather. Nevertheless, it's to be hoped their positive endeavours have acted as a sharp reminder to the administrators.

In Test cricket the captain is allowed free rein. We've seen in the case of Clarke and Sammy what's possible when two captains use a bit of imagination and have a desire to produce a result. It's impossible to legislate for captaincy imagination. In the 50-over game, which is highly regulated through a variety of Powerplays, and bowling and field restrictions, there is less real captaincy involved.

Wherever possible, the captaincy should be left to the skippers, and those with imagination will prosper. Hopefully those who lack inspiration and the nerve to face a challenge will be quickly replaced by the selectors.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Akbar on April 25, 2012, 20:14 GMT

    I have never been a great fan of 'conservative captaincy' I would rather like to see my team lose a match while trying to win, then to lose it anyway while trying to 'save' it. Misbah always feel comfortable with the saving approach, and I think that it is pure luck that has enabled him to win that many matches with such negative approach. A captain who goes for a draw when he needs 250 runs on the last day of a test is by my standards a coward. From a spectator's point of view, teams captained by such individuals tend to get boring. This is why Australian are so revered in the cricketing world, they are always trying to win, even if the odds are stacked against them.

  • Dummy4 on April 24, 2012, 10:04 GMT

    @Dravid_Gravitas,Sriraj---Very valid comments and true to the core.Clarke was appointed skipper at th backdrop of Ashes loss to England(he himself had not scored in the series).Also there were a few other issues like Andrew Symonds ouster from the game etc for which clarke was held responsible at least to an extent.He has played and led well in the successive matches(in Sl,151 on a fiery pitch against SA..etc).BUT verdict is still out on his captaincy/career.The fact is if Aus loses against SA this summer knives will again be out.Although Aus are beating weaker sides recently (Ind.WI)the way they play and the development of a bowling 'attack' gives hope.Batting is a conncern and i am afraid will be a concern.Time will prove how long Aus success lasts.now to all those who compare Dhoni and Clarke..both were appointed under similar circumstances BUT clarke is a natural to test cricket while Dhoni is good(great)for shorter formats.the sooner he and the selectors accept this the better..

  • Andrew on April 24, 2012, 2:40 GMT

    @Dravid_Gravitas - bravo! @Sriraj G.S - no what you meant, but it wasn't the whole country. He certainly has converted a lot of people.

  • Srinivas on April 23, 2012, 20:49 GMT

    It's hard to note so much hatred against Clarke. I think his biggest fault is to have those boyish looks and tattoos. All of a sudden his commendable and honourable approach to the coveted post of an Australian Captain has become a bitter pill for his critics to swallow. Get over it haters. To be tough, you don't have to have that grumpy look on your face like a Waugh or a David Boon. Clarke surely earned respect of many Indians with the way he led his budding team while demolishing us. To be honest, for the first time I never felt bitter losing to Australia. A fair sportsperson can make his adversaries and fans of the opponent's camp to stand, take notice and bow. That's what Clarke has done to Australian Cricket from this Indian's perspective. Much RESPECTS and love to Michael 'RESPECT' Clarke. Hoping to see him in IPL and I hope he infuses some freshness into our Indian youngsters about approach to a team game. Indian young minds are spoiled by obsession to personal milestones.

  • Alex on April 23, 2012, 17:36 GMT

    Dhoni was golden boy too until 8-0 crushing defeat. Clarke is not bad not great either. He won some games in favourable condition. He will be tested when his bowlers don't deliver goods. Aussie bowling ok but batting revolves around clarke and ponting. if opposition has world class fast bowler aussie team will crumble. For me ponting was aggresive captain. Clarke , dhoni , smith all made of same cloth. They are Roosters in chinese astrology. Very lucky for sure. They have presence and deliver goods through results mostly. For me best captain always SNAKE ( 1965 , 1977 , 1989) , Steve Waugh , Sangakara , Jaywardene , Strauss now. Snakes are clever and outlast everyone. They win ugly.

  • Valavan on April 23, 2012, 17:16 GMT

    I think clarke is a successful captain, but his long run will justify his status, drawing at SA is a gem coming back from 1 - 0, ofcourse rahulcricket007, when did strauss chest thump, just it was all indian fans who were loathing about winning in england and australia. Strauss and clarke still miles ahead of MS Dhoni when it comes to test captaincy. Windies playing better cricket than India currently.cricinfo please publish.

  • Dummy4 on April 23, 2012, 17:11 GMT

    Clarke is wonderful captain and he ll show good results no matter where he plays but aussies batting is a weak link nowadays . They can crumble anytime any where . The other hilarious thing i have seen in the above mentioned comments is that most of our friends are saying they have to beat india in india and india is v strong at home in tests . Well no doubt in past they were very stiff to beat but watching closely last series against WI india was no where dominating against weak WI and WI had situations where any average batting outfit would have won . So Aussies can only feel the heat against Eng in Eng but then again they have great pace attacks so they will be competitive and i don rate SA as i was much disappointed by their last two test series against NZ and Australia .

  • B on April 23, 2012, 16:24 GMT

    I think Sriraj G.S. is right here. The naysayers from India and England who think it'll all change once Clarke & co arrive on your soil: I suggest a little temperance in your predictions because there's a fair chance you'll be eating your hats soon enough. He hasn't succeeded there yet because he hasn't yet tried, and in the meantime your own sides have issues aplenty and must surely envy Aus's win-loss record under Clarke.

  • Dummy4 on April 23, 2012, 13:59 GMT

    A captain can only be aggressive if his bowlers had the ability to take 20 wickets on any surface.. Hilfenhaus, which this short run up and amazing ability to swing the ball consistently bowling at speeds over 150, so is siddle, pattinson and cummins.. with this kind of talent a captain can be aggresive anywhere except india and sri lanka, where you need genuine world class spinners to win you matches which australia don't posses. One cannot blame a captain like dhoni, sangakarra or mishbah for their approach with the kind of bowlers they have at the moment.

  • Dummy4 on April 23, 2012, 13:56 GMT

    Sydney declaration was masterstroke

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