'You learn how to manage players from losing'
Few sporting positions hold more responsibilities than that of the cricket captain. There have been many to try the job but not quite so many to succeed completely. In Champions, Mike Coward spoke to a selection of the game's most prominent leaders about the demands of captaincy and how they dealt with them. He started with an erudite England tactician and thinker.
Mike Brearley: When I started captaining Middlesex I found it much harder to captain people who were older and had better careers than mine. I readily made contact with the younger players but I found it a bit more difficult with the older players.
One of the difficulties I had was if people were critical or contemptuous of me I would react either coldly or hotly and not get the best out of them. You have to balance consultation and learning from people - finding out their ideas and knowing their feelings. You need the ability to say things straight from time to time. So the balance is the very key and depends on knowing people well. You have to be able to say things to people they don't want to hear. You have to be able to take on decisions that aren't in their personal interests; people are dropped or they don't get the new ball or they're demoted from a role in the team as they see it. Or you have to challenge them with the way they're behaving or the way they're not practising or not doing this or that or causing difficulties in the group.
So you have to have the capacity and the relationship from which you can stand back. But, on the other hand, it's no good if you're aloof or distant. People in a team will forgive you more if you're passionately involved. You may get too angry at times or too impatient or show your feelings in a way that's not particularly helpful. But if you can sort of say sorry and get on with it and you're basically on the side of the players and the team and you show passion, I think they'll forgive you much more than if you're cold.
Ray Illingworth: I always tried to get the players on-side. I always insisted we played under one rule. I used to have a meeting and say: Look, if you want to say anything now's the time to say it. You've an open market, have a go. But I don't want to hear anything outside this room that you haven't mentioned in it. So I always brought all the players into it and made them feel part and parcel of it. I think that's very important. It's also important that the players think that you know what you're doing. If they don't feel that you know what you are doing, you've got problems.
These days I do look at team photos and there is all this backroom staff. I didn't need psychiatrists and trick cyclists and all these people. Mine was all in my head. If I'd seen a batsman play once I knew where to put a field to him. That was very, very important. Knowing the game completely and knowing the players, I think, is very important. I knew every player I played against.
I learned from playing under a lot of different captains. Going back to my early days, Norman Yardley [captain of England against Don Bradman's Invincibles in 1948] was a lovely man and a technically good captain. But he wasn't strong enough on players and they did what they wanted to do.
I played under two or three captains that I always felt pushed people one way or the other. You can't have favourites. You've got to be honest and equal with everybody. So I learned from that, and so by the time I took over I think I had a pretty good knowledge of what captains were like and what they could and what they couldn't do.
Kumar Sangakkara: I think you have to enjoy the leadership, because there are a lot of things about it that you don't enjoy. The one thing that keeps you going and keeps you fresh and keeps you happy is your team performing well on the field. Then you know that whatever happens outside with the petty politics and erratic administration, we are doing our job properly. It becomes a nudge, a little push for us to get better at what we do because then we're stronger than anything else. The most important thing is to set an example for the younger players.
You have to depend on one thing and that is your ability to perform every single day out on the field. And the more you perform, the more respect you gain. People who don't like you will not like you and people who try to manipulate you will still try to manipulate you. But if you commit to the team and the team stays strong, no outside influence can touch you. You can't say this is the same everywhere; it's just unique to Sri Lanka.
Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi: Captaining India is not very easy. Captaining any team is not easy, but India is particularly difficult - different backgrounds, different languages, different food habits, all those different cultures. I think the best thing to do was to remain as fair as you could to ensure that people never felt that you were being in any way biased or unfair, or you were selecting on a personal basis or something of the like. And, of course, you had to be pretty strong on your strategy and tactics. I think you have to understand the game and they [the players] have to realise, and they did realise, that this chap understands.
India had just achieved independence and we were lacking a certain amount in confidence, especially against the white [teams]. I think my first job was to ensure that this lack of confidence, this kind of complex, was dissolved pretty quickly. You have to study, you have to read, and you have to look at your mistakes. You have to read about other situations, how people reacted, how the captains thought. Instinct to me is a mixture of experience and common sense.
Clive Lloyd: You have to work with all the ingredients - different islands, different backgrounds, different religions and all speaking differently, thinking differently. We had Hindus, we had Muslims, we had black, we had Portuguese, we had a combination of races. That's why I always had a Barbadian with a Trinidadian and a Jamaican with a Guyanese and the like. That's the way you get to understand one another. Michael Holding [Jamaica] and Andy Roberts [Antigua] roomed together during their careers because they got on so well you wouldn't want to break up that partnership.
Really and truly it was so many things you had to get right. You had to say to the guys: we have to dress properly, have to behave in a certain manner and respect not only our teammates but the people that are backing us. You have to respect the crowds and you have to sign an autograph. We were in a privileged position. As a cricketer you get everything done for you - you travel club class and you had good salaries, your food is paid for, your laundry is paid for, so you have to put something back and not only into cricket but to those less fortunate.
West Indians everywhere were proud that this small "nation" for 20 years was the best team in the world and nobody could touch them. People were proud of us because we were not snobbish, we would sign autographs we would do anything to please people. We were happy, they were happy, the Caribbean was happy. Cricket is a very important part of our structure and we need to bring that back. We need to get people together and thinking as one. You know Guyana has got the right motto: "One people, one nation, one destiny." That's what the West Indies should be. If it's possible we should have one flag, one anthem and a motto for all. We are one although we are spread round and we play as one. I learnt from the mistakes we made in the past so it was important for me to pass that on. That is what we need to do with our young players. If you don't know where you come from you don't know where you're going. You must respect what other people have done.
MS Dhoni: I try to be honest - that's the one thing I'm very particular about. I try to be fair in whatever decision I take, and no human emotions should come and affect that feeling. I try to keep things simple and do things that are in the best interests of the team and get the players together in the right attitude. And it's tough at times. So I'm the captain who has to realise what are the problems in a particular game and generalise the solutions. I just generalise it for the best interests of the team, and I've been blessed with a very good side. All of them put in a lot of effort, you know. It's not always the result that's important. I think that way I'm very blessed. As captain, I think Test cricket is slightly tougher compared to the other two formats, the reason being the time span. I always felt Test cricket is something that's a bit tough to captain, especially outside India.
Steve Waugh: I had the luxury and freedom of developing my own game before I became captain, and that's a big positive for any captain. You know, I felt a little bit for people like Graeme Smith and Stephen Fleming, who got thrown the captaincy at a young age.
I think it's almost impossible to captain a cricket team at a young age because, one, you don't know yourself, two, you don't know your game, and three, it's hard to man-manage 15 people, because the captain's role was basically that in those days. It's changed a bit now but you really have to manage a whole lot of different personalities and egos and if you are not experienced in life situations it's a tough job. I think I was really well prepared to take it on.
I'm an observer of a lot of stuff. Although I don't study people intensely, I observe. I learned what does work and how to manage players and expectations. And I learnt most of this from losing. Actually, I don't think you learn a lot from winning. I learnt the tough facts about being an international cricketer and what it takes to be a good cricketer and a good team from losing. It's almost a checklist of what not to do. And then, when you are winning, you get the feel or vibe of what you are doing well and try and remember it.
Ultimately I had to captain my way and that's something that took a little bit of time. I think I was captaining by consensus and trying to please everyone because I'd been one of the boys for 14 or 15 years. It's a big change, you know, from mucking around and pulling pranks and being on the social committees to all of a sudden being captain. The role has changed a lot so it took me a little while to get used to the change.
I like to empower people, to give them opportunities. I think I listen and I like to observe. It's all about putting people in positions they're probably not accustomed to. I would like to think that by challenging them and putting them in different situations, I made people believe they could do things they didn't even think possible themselves - treating people equally but differently. You know there's non-negotiables, like being on time and wearing the right uniform, but then trying to push the buttons to make them the best cricketers and, I guess, the best people they can possibly be. Some people were very low maintenance and some people were high maintenance. Other people you had to give confidence to in the media. It was about pushing the right buttons. I think a leader is about listening and observing.
I was more the one-on-one stuff away from the game. I was never big on the big speeches before the game. I felt players were there because they were good players and didn't need too much talking to at that level. It might be just a couple of words here or there. So it was about backing people and always being positive and having that goal or the team vision. You had to give people with individual flair opportunities but at the end of the day we had to try and achieve something as a team.
Richie Benaud: When you go through all the captains, the successful ones have been lucky. I'm not saying luck outweighed it but once, when asked about prerequisites for an outstanding Test captain, I said: It's 90 per cent luck and 10 per cent skill. Just make sure you've got the 10 per cent or you might as well go home.
I'm not sure when I came up with the quote but I did say that once you're their captain you're their captain for all time. I've always felt that. If there is a cricketer in trouble, particularly one that I respect, I'll try and do something to help. And they don't have to have played under me. But, you know, it's a bit more so if you've captained them. All of those guys did something to enhance my record as a captain, so why am I just going to brush them [off] if they're in trouble? When I was captain of Australia there was no players' association, so there was no one there to fight the fight for the players. I always thought if they give me 100 per cent out on the field then I've got to return the compliment off the field.
Mark Taylor: Probably during the early '90s I was always thinking about who I'd bowl, where I would put a fieldsman. I think every player should think like that, to be totally honest, and not enough do. I don't think I ever aspired to be a leader and I was a little bit surprised when I got a phone call in 1992 before the Sri Lankan tour to take over from Geoff Marsh, who was vice-captain. I don't think I ever thought it was going to happen but I wasn't shocked either, because I thought I had something to offer as a leader, because a: I didn't bowl, b: I was an opening batsman, and c: I fielded at slip, which I think is a great place to watch the game.
As vice-captain to Allan Border on the 1993 Ashes tour I got to captain a few games and do things the way I thought was right. AB left me to do my own thing and that was, in hindsight, very generous of him because that's what should happen. I think if a guy takes over he should be left to his own devices. If he needs help a captain should be prepared to ask for help, but [he should] be left to captain the side the way he feels is right. The only real piece of advice I ever got from AB was to captain my way. So taking over from AB was not daunting because he had given me a side that was playing well. We weren't considered the best in the world but we were close. I was lucky to take over then but I was also very mindful not to captain as AB would do it. I wanted to have my own way of doing things and went about doing it the way I thought I wanted to captain the side. I think my philosophy of captaining certainly developed.
All of a sudden I was asked how I was going to take the team forward and what my philosophy was and I didn't really have anything planned. I remember saying that the team were not going to be pussycats under my captaincy and that was the headline the next day. So I learnt to captain the side by the old "school of hard knocks", and you said what you thought but with certain reservations. Obviously you worked out very quickly that if you said something that was slightly controversial you could bet it would end up in the news the next day.
There is a difference between being a captain and a leader. I think every person who plays in the Australian cricket side should be a leader because you've been picked from various states or provinces into a representative cricket team. So, really, you are a leader - you're a leader of your own country from that point of view. Captaincy is different because all of a sudden you become the leader of the leaders and I think that's an interesting way to look at it when you take over the captaincy.
You are not necessarily going to know everything about the game, because the other 11 guys around you also know a lot about cricket. So I think it's important that you tap into them, make sure you work with them, because they're going to be very helpful to you. But also be prepared to make a decision which doesn't always make them feel happy or make them all agree with you. That's what captaincy is all about - finding a way of working with those other leaders in your team for the good of the game. And that may not be in the best interests of all the players who are around you. And the more you keep the game simple the better you'll be.
Allan Border: Initially I was reluctant. I wasn't sure that I was the right bloke, whether I wanted to do it. I was quite happy being one of the boys, so that affected captaincy and leadership.
I think captaincy on the field is pretty routine. Marshalling the troops out on the field is one thing. It's more what goes on behind the scenes that's probably more important. And to be honest, initially I wasn't very good in that area.
When a philosophy starts to develop you realise you have to take this role a bit more front-on. You've got to be a bit more of a leader behind the scenes. Then I did start to think it was about creating an atmosphere - an atmosphere where people could play at their best. I tried to promote that environment where players were happy and enjoying themselves. Obviously disciplines are important, because you can't let certain little things develop that are not for the team. So philosophies did, I think, develop over time.
That was my situation. I got better as I evolved as a captain over a 10-year period. I don't think you've got those luxuries in the modern world. I think you've got to get into the job and, boom, develop your own style straight away. I think I was given a three- or four-year ride initially to work into becoming a better leader.
The Captain Grumpy tag? Oh, look, I think it was justified in the difficult times in the first three or four years as captain. I'm a very hard marker of myself, my own performance, and that sort of spills over into team performance. I just don't like failure, particularly if you feel you haven't given it your best. I just felt that was the situation at that period and I could have been doing better. I was probably aware that I wasn't being the captain and leader I should have been, and that our performances both personally and collectively weren't up to scratch. So that came out, I suppose, when you have to front the media and some of the questioning is difficult at times. I think I had a pretty good relationship with the cricketing media but sometimes the external media was more difficult. But generally I think I was pretty fairly treated.
This is an edited extract from Champions by Mike Coward, published by Allen & Unwin, A$29.99, available now
Mike Coward is a cricket writer in Australia