July 29, 2012

Strauss needs to get aggressive

He cannot wait for South Africa to make mistakes; which is why he should pick the attacking Steven Finn for the next Test

If ever confirmation was needed that captaincy can make a difference - both positively and negatively - the first Test between South Africa and England provided all the evidence required.

With the No. 1 ranking at stake, South Africa recovered spectacularly from a lethargic first day to take 17 for 358 over the remaining four. Meanwhile, England managed to get just two for 637 runs. Two attacks of similar standing and skill - so how could the results be so different on the same pitch?

There were a number of reasons, including the calibre of batting and the changing conditions, but the mindset of the two captains also played a part.

Andrew Strauss is most comfortable when he's strangling the opposition's scoring with accurate bowling and strategically spread fields. He could never be accused of over-attacking. Ironically, South Africa have used the same ploy for much of their existence, and it regularly works against lesser teams. Problems arise when the opposition is just as strong as, or stronger than, the team employing those tactics. Against top-class sides, captains have to provoke a mistake rather than expect they'll occur purely as a result of patience.

Captains who employ conservative tactics generally prefer to get into a position from where they can't lose before they aggressively seek victory. Judging by Strauss' approach, this was the plan against South Africa. The ploy backfired worse than a Ford Model T.

Bowlers react according to the fields placed. If the fields are designed to take wickets, most good bowlers will generally perform better attacking rather than concentrating mainly on containment. Batsmen also heed the field placings. The better players - if offered easy runs, particularly early in their innings - will mutter a quiet thank you and accept them gratefully. Players like Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis have the skill, patience and batting acumen to take what they are offered and give nothing in return.

Smith's leadership style used to be similar to Strauss', but following the selection of legspinner Imran Tahir, he has been forced to use his imagination. Since then, his captaincy has been more proactive.

This leads to the question: is Steven Finn missing from the England attack purely because Tim Bresnan better suits Strauss' captaincy style? Finn is an attacking bowler and his presence could be just the boost England need to revive their battered morale. However, his inclusion would be a stern test of Strauss' flexibility as a captain.

Richie Benaud has a saying: "Captaincy is 90% luck and 10% skill, but don't try doing it without that little 10%." I'm not convinced about those percentages but a certain amount of luck is required in captaincy. For instance, Michael Clarke enjoyed a slice when he took over a burgeoning pace attack, but his imaginative tactics have skillfully utilised those bowlers' talents to the fullest. Clarke carries his gambling instincts onto the field and creates an air of anticipation by going for victory from the first ball. There's an air of expectation about his leadership, as there was whenever Shane Warne led a team.

However, the ultimate gambling captain on a cricket field had to be former Australia allrounder Keith Miller. Described by Benaud as the best captain never to lead Australia, Miller was once leading New South Wales in a Sheffield Shield game against a hapless South Australia side. SA were in dire straits following a withering burst from the NSW pace attack when Miller tossed the ball to debutant batsman Norm O'Neill. Taken by surprise O'Neill could only manage, "But I'm making my debut." Pointing to the SA batsman on strike, Miller responded, "So is he. It should be a good contest."

When there's a decision to be made, a captain is usually best served, especially when he has a decent attack at his disposal, if he takes the aggressive option. No one expects Strauss to suddenly emulate Miller, but he should at least borrow from Clarke's playbook and desperately seek victory from ball one.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Andrew on August 1, 2012, 22:13 GMT

    @JG2704 - being behind in the series, 5 bowlers is more of a must, however, against the bowling line up the Saffas have, I think 5 batsmen is a batting resourse too little (understand the concept of 5 batsmen MAYBE valuing their wicket more).

  • John on August 1, 2012, 8:44 GMT

    @zenboomerang on (August 01 2012, 05:57 AM GMT) - Not sure. Sunshine and showers is the forecast. Would definitely have 5 bowlers in there. Not sure if the pitch takes spin etc and how hampered Swann is.

  • pradipto on August 1, 2012, 6:12 GMT

    Modern captaincy is about winning through Back Door rather than taking the opposition head on. Teams are willing to play aggressive with the bat but not with the ball even in helpful conditions. Clarke and Jayawardena are definitely better than others, while others seem to be robots on the field with very little difference between them. In one day cricket, it seems captains are willing to lose the match in the 47th over by playing defensive rather than attack and if at all lose in the 40th over, that way atleast giving yourself a chance when you don't score 300 runs. Strauss can't be blamed alone, however, Ian is bang on when he says Smith's captaincy is much improved with Tahir around.

  • Roo on August 1, 2012, 5:57 GMT

    @JG2704... Just wondering, what with the weather looking poor if you would drop the spinner from this match - with Thur/Fri looking good for 2 sessions each & Sat, Sun, Mon looking wet... Should be cloudy with good swing in these conditions & would suit the Saffa's with their 4 pace bowlers (Kallis) - I feel both teams need to be aggressive in their approach to this match with delays very likely & time lost...

  • khalid on July 31, 2012, 17:26 GMT


  • John on July 31, 2012, 8:02 GMT

    @landl47 on (July 30 2012, 18:09 PM GMT) If Eng must drop a bowler to make way for Finn I wonder if it should be Broad rather than Bres. It pains me to say this as Broad is probably my favourite Eng player.I feel 6/1/4 probably signals Eng's defensive mindset which would not be so bad if it actually worked but every time we've needed our number 6 to make runs he has failed.5/1/5 is a no brainer for me - not even a gamble - as we're not in reality taking anything away from the batting depth and there's always a chance that it might make our top 5 value their wickets more. I think we can win this 2nd test but only with 5/1/5 and there's no point in having a defensive mindset for matches we MUST win

  • John on July 31, 2012, 7:53 GMT

    @MattyP1979 on (July 30 2012, 18:44 PM GMT) re 5/1/5 - I'm not sure we have as solid a tail as that , but I 6/1/4 has not made our batting line up any more solid over the past 18 months or so

  • Randolph on July 31, 2012, 4:52 GMT

    @ jimmy2s - forgive him, he is only just getting back into the swing of things are going awol for the entire Pakistan and SL series. Don't worry after Tahir defies him again and cleans up in the second test he will be gone again!

  • I on July 31, 2012, 2:36 GMT

    @ landl47 Seriously, how arrogant do you have to be to believe you're the inspiration for this article? And after all your predictions were so entirely wrong?

  • I on July 31, 2012, 2:34 GMT

    @ landl47 But of course, your comments must have been the inspiration for this article, where else does cricketing wisdom come from? What about the grand "promises" we heard about SA and Tahir from you at the start of this series? And the "stars" you name are over half the team. You forgot Philander from the list as well. Think we've seen far more of England's soft over-belly in the last 12 months than anything else.

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