April 21, 2013

Let captains do their job

And sack them if they don't. But don't saddle them with dozens of ill-qualified advisors in the form of coaches, trainers and managers

Good captaincy is like pornography; it's difficult to define but you know it when you see it.

When a captain signals from the opening delivery that he's trying to win the Test match, there's an urgency on the field and an expectation in the stands. Conversely, when a captain pushes fielders back, allowing the batsman a single to attack a tailender, there's no logic to the ploy. Once a captain basically stops trying to dismiss a batsman, the fans might as well adjourn to the bar, because the contest is then like Monty Python's dead parrot - it has ceased to be.

These are two extreme examples and most international captaincy falls somewhere between. Nevertheless captaincy, like the game, is constantly evolving and what was once deemed practical, is often declared out of date.

MS Dhoni made a reference to the changing nature of field placement following the recent whitewash against Australia. While his point is taken about requiring alternative field placings in an era of aggressive batsmen armed with meatier weapons and enjoying shorter boundaries, there's one axiom a captain should never ignore: try to do what the batsman would like the least. This adage applies equally to field placements and bowling changes.

The most difficult aspect of captaincy is when the opposition begin to assert their authority. The fielding captain then has to warily traverse the high wire and balance the saving of runs with letting the batsmen know their wicket is still under threat.

In these periods of play a match can quickly slip away or hopes may be revived, depending on the awareness and boldness of the fielding captain. A bold captain who holds his nerve in this situation can make believers out of his team-mates and then nothing appears impossible.

However, on field is only part of the job. The leadership aspect of captaincy is critical and this is where modern trends may be hampering captains and not allowing them to do the job properly.

When I was interviewed for the Argus report in 2011, I said in part: "I don't think the current system allows you to captain Australia properly." "Why not," was the harrumphed response. "Because there are too many people to tell to get stuffed," I replied.

As captain, I only needed to tell the team manager to keep his nose out of the cricket side of the business. Now, there's up to a dozen coaches, fitness and medical guys and even a high performance manager, who need to be reminded of their place.

All these people are looking to justify their existence. Michael Clarke, instead of mapping out the plan for each day's play along with a few of his trusted senior players, now receives more input than the US president, and generally from people who are not qualified to captain a primary school team.

It's a ridiculous burden to place on any captain and it inhibits good leadership. Apart from a bit of preparatory work in consultation with the players, the captaincy is best left to the skipper on the field. If the captain isn't doing the job properly the solution is not to provide him with more advisors but to sack him and find someone who is up to the task.

If there's a dearth of leadership candidates then the system is failing and improvements are needed, but replacing coaches will not solve the problem.

Captaincy by committee doesn't work. One of the craziest suggestions I ever heard was wiring up captain Hansie Cronje so he could listen to off-field coach Bob Woolmer. A captain has to be confident of his decisions and the last thing he needs is to be constantly second-guessed or bombarded with ideas. If a captain needs an earpiece then find him a job as a security guard.

The best way to improve as a captain is by doing the job. A junior captain can also learn from watching renowned skippers but he won't improve if he's surrounded by off-field advisors in the development stage. That system becomes self-fulfilling when he's later appointed at international level where he has to be supported by even more advisors.

Developing a few strong leaders is just as important as producing competitive young cricketers. That should be the aim of every international administration and their production lines need to reflect those aims.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is now a cricket commentator for Channel 9, and a columnist

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Jay on April 24, 2013, 12:15 GMT

    Ian - There are no simple solutions to complex situations. Modern cricket - with its 3 forms, tight 24x7 scheduling & diverse conditions worldwide - is far too complex & demanding for one man to handle alone. Look at super-coach Gary Kirsten. He's led 2 teams, India & SA, to the the top in Tests & an India WC2011 triumph to boot! Sure he's had the horses & a stable of solid mature players to build around. And smart captains. In India, Dhoni with Tendulkar, Dravid, VVS, Zaheer & Co. In SA, Smith with Kallis, Amla, AB, Steyn & Co. And a great motivational adventurer in Mike Horn to boost team spirit & reach the summit! Contrast with Greg Chappell's "my-way-or-highway" style: Fired! And Mickey Arthur's "secret dossier" & "do homework" approach: Failed! It's the coach's (& staff) job to get the team ready & develop strategy for each series & game. It's the captain's job to execute plan on field & let each one do his job. And adjust as situation warrants. Two minds are better than one, Ian!

  • Christopher on April 23, 2013, 14:34 GMT

    Intelligence is timeless. Ian Chappell appears to have grasped that fact. Cricket is still a bat, ball stumps and a pitch. The tenets of discipline, courage, fitness for purpose, attacking and defensive plans and courage are identical throughout the games history. The limits of what may be accomplished with these tools are identical. Leadership is by one man-not ten. There is no evidence to show that any facet of the game has advanced for the proliferation of coaches. There is no evidence to suggest a link showing 20/20 improves Test players. In fact all the evidence suggests quite the opposite. As Ricky Ponting recently observed,'When growing up, you aimed to bat until they got you out. That has all changed.' So have the standards. It is no coincidence that the batting malaise arrived with 20/20. There is also no proof to show that Test bowlers have improved with its arrival. In fact, we live in the age of injury, despite a medical and physio team. The modern method is a failure.

  • Anand on April 22, 2013, 14:07 GMT

    Sometimes the value of a captian is overrated. Results quite dictate the performance of a captain. You could be a shrewd thinker of the game and what not, you still need the players with abilities to execute the plan be it while you are bowling, or while you are batting. Today's captains probably hold more value in off-field activities, like handling the media, press scrutiny, and so and so forth. The theory that a captian makes a lot of diffrence can be questioned by a simple example, if Dhoni/ Michael Clark are great captains, then have them lead the Bangladesh or a Zim side, surely their influence can be felt when either of them are performing (i.e. Clark with the bat, and Dhoni with the bat to an extent), but i doubt they can change the outcome of the result. Either of those sides pitted aganst a better team will always loose.

  • Dummy4 on April 22, 2013, 12:38 GMT

    Cricket is a complex game that is best when played simply. A leadership group is fine. The problems come when you have so many people with fingers in the pie and from the outsiders viewpoint there's a wealth of people in the CA ranks but very little ultimate leadership. Case studies? The witless RFU over Brian Ashton, the wrangles within the WICB, the mess that was the TCCB, possibly even Roman at Chelsea. Chapelli might not right on the mark with all of his views but he is right about the need for clear leadership.

  • Phani on April 22, 2013, 12:07 GMT

    Cricket Australia is soo much drowned with the idea of " Back to No.1" were making all the fuss. Turbulent times brings leaders...however, in Cric Aus, the scenario is there is no settled team..many new faces, rotation policies, work load sharing.....i remeber Huss making a point while retiring " there are many faces coming & going, compared to ealier days, nice to share room with them". Does it in another way round clearly implies " There is too much of Experimentation?"

  • David on April 22, 2013, 11:53 GMT

    I don't agree entirely with Chapelli. If you get the balance right, the backroom staff can perform specific roles in giving physical and mental support to players. But there should be strict limits to their remit, and - most significantly - players should have some option to ignore them if they want. In the modern game, with so much emphasis placed upon fitness, fielding and video analysis, there needs to be a role for a head coach, someone to report to the captain (rather than the other way round). Duncan Fletcher always got this right as England coach - he'd brief the captain, but always stand back once the match started. He'd also never force his advice on a struggling player. The system works less well when coaches go beyond their remit and want to be captain as well as coach (think of Fletcher's immediate successor, Peter Moores, there have been others...)

  • Brady on April 22, 2013, 9:39 GMT

    Whenever there are players of immense natural ability, like Mitchell Johnson and Shane Watson, performing well below their potential the question will be asked: how may the situation be improved? Cricket Australia's answer seems to be to get more coaches. Not the right coach, more of them. Oh, and some "managers" too.

    The problem is that the onus and responsibility for success has been removed from the player to the coach. How many times have we heard about some new coaching strategy to help Johnson? All the while he stays in the team and performs in a sub-par fashion. Finally, he was dropped, and then and only then did he improve his game.

  • Kall on April 22, 2013, 6:31 GMT

    @skilebow and others: Have you heard of "analysis paralysis"? This is what happens when you have too many people feeding into the mind of the captain. What Chappell is saying is to keep things simple and I agree with him.

  • John on April 22, 2013, 6:08 GMT

    The game's changing. Too bad IC hasn't caught on. These days sports franchises have specialists in everything and the captain doesn't have to try to do a dozen jobs at once. I live in the US, where the money involved makes the IPL look like small change (the New York Yankees have a payroll for this season of $229 million; that's approximately three times the entire payroll of all the IPL teams put together) and they have specialist coaches and advisors for everything.

    Back in IC's day the guys turned up, did a bit of practice, went out and played mostly first-class or test matches, had a pint and came back the next day. Since video recording was rare, captains only knew about opposing players if they'd played against them and they had no-one to ask except other players. It's just not like that any more. Players watch video, work on specifics to improve their own play and there's a plan for everyone in all 3 formats. One man couldn't handle it all.

    Come in, IC, your time is up.

  • Simon on April 22, 2013, 5:13 GMT

    First time I've ever found myself agreeing with Chappell! It's well known that Chappell still lives in his own playing era, but in this instance his captaincy observations are spot on. Good Captaincy has more to do with an ability to think outside the square - including being prepared to lose (and wear the blame) - than it does about box ticking. Captains learn by captaining. It's high time all the ancillary off field staff have the gold lettered words; coach and manager taken off their clipboards and replaced with assistant. Everyone who does not take the field is there to assist the Captain and players to attain success.