January 24, 2016

The dangers of overstaying your time as captain

When a once-strong leader falls short of ideas, it tends to have a negative effect on the team. MS Dhoni is going through such a phase

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'Time to move on from Dhoni'

When Alastair Cook lost the 2013-14 Ashes series 5-0 in Australia, his future as England captain seemed about as limited as a T20 bowling spell.

Not only has Cook survived, however, he has prospered to the point where he regained the Ashes from those pesky Australians and also rubbed the South Africans' noses into their beloved Wanderers turf. It has been an amazing feat of resilience and perseverance, and it speaks of a strength of mind that was always evident in his batting. He has also shown that a captain who has his team behind him and all pulling in the same direction, has a great chance of achieving success.

A good captain can make sensible tactical decisions, but if the team isn't fully engaged they won't count for much. Conversely, an ordinary captain can invoke seemingly dubious strategies but if the team is 100% behind him, they'll often succeed. This doesn't mean captaincy is a popularity contest and the captain should go out of his way to please everyone, but it does show that a successful leader will have earned the respect of his team-mates.

Cook embodies this philosophy; he's not the greatest strategist and he's conservative in his methods, but by virtue of hard work and honesty he has earned the respect of a team that wants to play for him. Not surprisingly his confidence as a captain has grown with England's recent successes, and despite a poor showing with the bat, he's enjoying success as a leader.

This is not an uncommon trait in a captain. Greg Chappell's best period as Australia captain was his least productive as a batsman. Greg was a perfectionist as a batsman and at times it appeared he couldn't grasp that players were trying their hearts out but still failing. When he suffered a lean trot with the bat it seemed to help him better understand that failure wasn't necessarily a product of not giving 100% effort.

Alastair Cook is not the greatest strategist but over time he has earned the respect of his team by virtue of his honesty and hard work © Associated Press

Mark Taylor was a similar case. He went through a bad trot with the bat for a prolonged period but never once did it affect his captaincy. Both Chappell and Taylor were successful captains but when they weren't making runs they ensured it didn't adversely affect their leadership and that they still contributed to the team performance.

Cook is different in that for quite a while he struggled with captaincy and seemed to lack some qualities that a leader must possess to succeed. To his credit he has overcome some of those failings and improved in other areas and is now a successful international captain.

When they hand out gongs for perseverance and being strong-willed, Cook will be near the top of the class both as a batsman and captain.

One tendency a successful captain has to guard against is outstaying his welcome. Captains have a use-by-date, after which their influence over the team's performance either wanes to the point of being negligible or their presence actively hampers the side.

MS Dhoni reached the latter stage some time back. The current Indian side is badly in need of new ideas and different stimulation; when the opposition has racked up nearly 1300 runs in four ODI innings, it's not all down to flat pitches and wayward bowling.

Apart from a short period at Manuka Oval where he encouraged Ravindra Jadeja to taunt Mitchell Marsh, Dhoni has provided precious little inspiration to his bowlers. Sure, they have been inconsistent but the bowlers also aren't inspired by field placings that are primarily employed to contain, in the hope that the batsmen will self-destruct.

It's not as if India don't have an alternative. Virat Kohli has shown himself to be an aggressive leader and he is also in excellent batting form.

When Dhoni started out in the job he was a shrewd captain in all forms of the game and experienced widespread success. However, a captain overstaying his time can have the same debilitating effect on a team as appointing the wrong player for the job in the first place.

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