August 11, 2013

Clarke doesn't fear defeat

Australia's captain sets aggressive fields and isn't afraid to take a gamble, unlike Alastair Cook, who is typically conservative

There are a lot of myths surrounding the art of captaining a cricket side. Often the position is given way too much kudos, and at the other end of the scale its value is drastically discounted.

In Australia, the captain is said to be more important than the prime minister. That's codswallop. Many an Australian captain has led his team into battle but none has ever had to make the agonising decision to go to war.

Former Australian legspinner Bill "Tiger" O'Reilly used to regularly write: "My collie dog could captain a cricket team." Whilst I'm an avowed dog lover, I'm also well aware that they have masters, and generally it is cats who lead their servants a merry dance.

However, it's indisputable that Australia's apparent turnaround in the current series is in large part due to Michael Clarke's captaincy. It was not just his substantial innings at Old Trafford but also his thoughtful field placements. By placing challenging fields, Clarke, helped by the accuracy of his bowlers, harried the England batsmen either into error or into finding themselves becalmed. This pattern has continued in the fourth Test.

The crowded on-side catching cordon Clarke has placed for both Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen reminded me of a similar ploy that evolved under Allan Border's captaincy in 1989. This cunning plan eventually eroded Graham Gooch's confidence. Ironically he's now charged with the task of assisting the current England batsmen to find a way out of this maze of fieldsmen.

There's no doubt Clarke is the most aggressive of the current crop of international captains. He has a good feel for the job and he's tactically astute. He's also brave and this allows him to seek victory from the first ball, while understanding that occasionally this will lead to defeat. He hates losing but he doesn't fear it, and there's a huge difference between those two emotions.

The captain who fears losing will not always seek a win unconditionally, while the man who hates the thought of coming second will do all in his power to conjure up a victory.

Clarke's counterpart, Alastair Cook, is more typical of the English breed and tends to err on the conservative side. He was very quick to push the field back at Old Trafford when Australia finally got on top, and this suggested he was happy with a draw to retain the urn. Strangely, for a player who has been a run-making machine since taking over the captaincy, Cook has been tentative in this Ashes series. At times he has searched for the ball like a near-sighted man fumbling for his glasses.

When it comes to placing fields, Cook is stock standard with very little imagination, while Clarke is much more likely to set an opposing batsman a stiff examination. On the score of gambling to claim a wicket, Clarke has the advantage with two wristspinners in Steve Smith and David Warner, who are more likely to produce a "magic ball". On the other hand, Cook was strangely reluctant to use Joe Root much at Old Trafford despite his reputation for being a bit of a golden arm.

Of the current captains, Clarke is the one least likely to resort to the modern fad of pushing fielders back to the boundary even though a batsman is new at the crease. This ploy defies logic because it gives a good player easy runs. It's even more difficult to comprehend when most captains are batsmen and surely must understand how much easier this makes building an innings.

Clarke's weakness as a captain appears to be his understanding of the importance of the batting order. Part of this is due to his preference for batting at No. 5, but it's also his misguided approach, which appears to be based on a typical pub raffle draw.

Australia have a good stock of fast bowlers and this affords any captain a headstart in the search for victory. Clarke, having led the way back from the brink at Old Trafford, will be hoping he has inspired a corresponding response from his fellow batsmen so Australia can confirm that that performance was indeed a resurgence rather than just another mirage.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • stuart on August 14, 2013, 21:05 GMT

    Reading this and listening to Shane Warne I had to check to make sure whether I had been watching the same series.It seems that England have actually won the Ashes.Of course we will lose in Australia5-0 but it appears for now England have luckily managed to win 3-0. i just hope Cooks captaincy is not so poor in Australia.As for his batting there he was so defensive last time that he only managed to score a few runs.

    I think the mystique of the Baggy Green has somewhat changed and this must pain certain sections in Australia who spent years telling us the Aussie way was the only way. Funnily enough losing Warne and McGrath would damage most teams.Following 2005 the fearsome foursome never played together againb and England suffered.

  • Jay on August 14, 2013, 1:58 GMT

    Ian - Shock & Awe? Yes, Clarke does not fear defeat. But shockingly he does not know how to win either! Yes, Clarke may be the "most aggressive" of captains, but what good is it to "seek victory from the first ball" if his team struggles to cross the finish line? Result: It's Cook who owns the Ashes 3-0!!! Shock & Awe: In just one session, Cook & Co snatched victory from the jaws of defeat by affecting a wimpish OZ collapse of 9 for 104! Gamblers, however brave, can't "conjure up a victory". These "occasional" defeats are becoming a bad habit. Test cricket is so relentlessly cruel to teams and their flaws. Yes, the skipper's in the hottest seat away from Canberra: Captain Clarke is presiding over the grand fall of the once mighty OZ juggernaut. Captain Cook, like the original explorer, has successfully mapped & circumnavigated the "aggressive fields" (& troubled waters) of OZ with calm precision & direction. Cook's unremarkable trait: Discretion is the better part of valour, Ian!!

  • Dummy4 on August 13, 2013, 12:33 GMT

    People seem to be confusing good vs great with aggressive vs conservative. Chappell didn't say Clarke was a great captain and Cook isn't - he said Clarke is more aggressive in his field settings and Cook is conservative.

    Being agressive with your field doesn't help if the bowlers aren't sticking to the plan and keeping them on then is not a sign of good captaincy, let alone great. Both Clarke & Cook can be accused of doing this for periods of each of the 4 Tests, so their different approaches have not contrasted so much that one's performances have been so much better than the others.

    As others have pointed out, it's easier to bold when the stakes are low (ref pre-Ashes predictions) so that could explain why Clarke & Cook have their respective approaches - having said that, I doubt anyone in the Aus team would feel inferior to their Eng counterpart as then they've already lost the match before it's started! There's a BIG difference between that and respecting your opponent.

  • Andrew on August 13, 2013, 1:31 GMT

    Leave it to Ian Chappell to show how Australia is the best team in the world, regardless of the state of how the team is faring.Of course, Cook would be happy with a draw to secure the ashes, its the greatest prize in test cricket.

  • Rohit on August 13, 2013, 0:10 GMT

    @ Parth Sharma - thanks for your thoughts on my comments. If you see the scoreline its 3-0 now. Australia had an out of the box glorious start to the chase but ended up losing to un-imaginative captaincy of Cook. But ofcourse Clark is a more imaginative and out of the box thinking captain. Maybe we should call it 2-1 because of that.

  • Dummy4 on August 12, 2013, 21:31 GMT

    Cook may be conservative, but it is hard to argue against 3-0 unless this really is the worst Australian side to tour England in the last 120 years.

  • Dummy4 on August 12, 2013, 21:31 GMT

    Well the "Article headline" and "Ashes scoreline" have so many things in common. :) Australia are lacking quality batsmen and the dream year (2012) of Clarke as a batsman is over in the blink of an eye. That is the bottom line. As of England they are a self proclaimed BEST SIDE OF THE WORLD! A mismatch really.

  • Cricket on August 12, 2013, 21:23 GMT

    Is that why he is losing so many matches ?

  • Dummy4 on August 12, 2013, 18:11 GMT

    Maybe Clarke is a great player, but Cook is a lucky captain. Would never dispute an ex-Aussie Captain about cricket: he, fortunately, was blessed with a magnificent side to back him up. Cook maybe does it by numbers - perhaps Flower and Gooch are slightly control freaks, Strauss was similar: Vaughan wasn't - he brought a tad of panache especially after the Hussain / Fletcher era. It's a combination thing. Add Cook's luck to Clarke's inventiveness - the ideal Captain. However (as yet) England are not about to penalise an Ashes winning / retaining captain.