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November 13, 2005
If captaincy is a wretched thing, then commenting on it can be even more so. Sir Garry Sobers, who might have known a thing or two about it, once said that a captain requires the poise of a gambler, the nerve of a financier, the human understanding of a psychologist and ten years worth of cricketing knowledge in advance. Richie Benaud said it was 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration.
But captaincy encapsulates so many other imponderables and intangibles, so many factors outside a single man's ambit of influence - not least the presence of 23 other men - that to judge, as well as stereotype, them should not be done as readily as it is. Mark Taylor was a supreme strategist and visionary, Brearley a canny man manager, Clive Lloyd and Steve Waugh ruthless enforcers both and closer to home, Imran, a magnificent natural leader of men. But what of all the parts other players, circumstances, conditions and opponents play in making a captain what he is?
Still, despite all the perils inherent in scrutinising it, captaincy makes for fascinating comment. And on a second successive flat day for Pakistan, Inzamam-ul-Haq's leadership above all else called out for observation, although not a definitive verdict. Primarily, it happens because on such days your attention is naturally drawn to the captain to do something, to combat the ennui and status quo. On what could have been a similar day yesterday, Trescothick did.
One of the reasons England did well then when wickets weren't forthcoming was the planning that went into preventing easy runs to Salman Butt and Younis Khan. Generally, throughout the day field placings were meticulous in planning. They weren't conventional but functional, designed to combat both the opponents' strengths and often, as in the case of an unusually large gap between Geraint Jones and first slip, their own weaknesses (to ensure no repeat of Jones diving across first slip and spilling catches). Admittedly, Trescothick had men such as Matthew Hoggard to execute his plans diligently for him.
Mostly Inzamam's field placings today veered between the conventional and the defensive. For large swathes of the day, for his faster men, he stuck lazily with a 6-3 field, alternating between 5-4 and 4-5 for his two spinners. Then, early on into Danish Kaneria's spell, silly point was removed and only a little later, mid-off became long-off.
When Paul Collingwood came in to face Shoaib Akhtar in one of his fierier moods, he was briefly greeted by just the solitary slip. Marcus Trescothick scored his runs at a strike rate of nearly 65 and apart from a probing spell from Shabbir Ahmed just before lunch, he did so throughout the day. Shabbir's spell, in fact, possibly ended too early, with Trescothick still shackled; he was replaced by Shoaib who bowled only three overs himself. Nothing new came and even less experimentation was hazarded.
Of course, you can argue that the failure of Inzamam's batsmen yesterday rendered his role largely insignificant. And to an extent - they can at least point to a still placid pitch - his bowlers only fleetingly displayed the bite and perseverance that England's bowlers did yesterday. It isn't as if he ignored the requests of his bowlers; slips were moved to square leg for Shabbir Ahmed and Shoaib, bowlers and fielders were regularly consulted yet still nothing different emerged. Just to prove how dicey judging captaincy can be, the introduction of Shoaib Malik - thought to be too negative at the time - initially induced some uncertainty in the batsmen and eventually, provided a breakthrough. Further, it was hardly Inzamam's fault that Bell was bowled off a no-ball and that Trescothick was given not out on 62 off Kaneria when replays suggested otherwise.
But Inzamam's most glaring fault today - and it is hardly a fresh or surprising development - was his inability to rouse his men. For too long, Pakistan looked desperately resigned in the field and Inzamam at the centre of the gloom. When England's shoulders threatened to hunch yesterday, led by Trescothick's effervescence and imagination, they managed to stir.
In contrast, Inzamam stood, hands on hips, pensive but inert for large tracts of the day. When Shoaib bowled Bell with his no-ball slower ball, rather than offer a temperamental spearhead a little encouragement, Inzamam stood motionless, seemingly acquiesced to his fate. Towards the end of the day, he found himself standing at deepish cover while Kaneria bowled, isolated, physically and mentally distanced from the game and crucially, unimportant.
The situation was exacerbated by the strangely subdued presence of Younis Khan. So often and with no little effectiveness in the last year has he played the team cheerleader that it has sparked restrained debate within Pakistan on whether he should be handed the leadership now. His lack of prompting and involvement on the field trickled through to the other nine men.
One thing you can conclude with some certainty about the best captains - including the aforementioned - is that they all looked like they were captains. Whatever they brought to the field, you sensed they were in charge. Over the last two years, Inzamam the captain has grown gradually as a patriarchal leader of a young team. He has been judged too readily as lacking tactical nous, relying too much on setting batting example instead. All that can, and should be, debated but today, unarguably, he didn't seem a captain and for that his team suffered.
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