It is no sinecure, 1979


Tony Lewis

Anthony Robert Lewis, journalist and broadcaster, was born at Swansea; educated at Neath Grammar School and Christ's College, Cambridge. A double Blue, he captained the University cricket XI in 1962; appeared in one rugby match against Oxford in 1959. Scored 20,495 runs in first-class cricket, including 30 hundreds. Captained Glamorgan 1967-72; England 1972-73 in India and Pakistan. - Norman Preston.

It is as impossible to compose the definitive treatise on captaincy as it is to point to one man and say, there is the leader who was everything. Cricket lovers know by now that their captain is father-confessor, nurse, teacher, preacher, and beer kitty to his players if they are amateurs, but if they are professionals on the County Championship circuit, he is all those things as well as a fighter for professional rights and wages, and a hard dealer on their behalf with commercial businesses. If a captain handles those extraneous chores well, he may be bought the odd beer himself - but only if the team is winning!

Success matters. The 1978 season threw up one of the most public debates on captaincy in the history of county cricket (and I will restrict myself to the professional game from here on). After eight seasons of captaincy Geoffrey Boycott was relieved of the post by his Yorkshire county committee. The affair would not have achieved such prolonged publicity if Boycott himself had thought his performance justified the axe.

The committee, bombarded from outside with poison darts, was itself defended by an illustrious cohort of former Yorkshire Test cricketers, and eventually the truth emerged that Yorkshire's current players had done much to force the issue by threatened mutiny. Boycott, they said, had not understood their aspirations as young professionals. They found a senior champion in John Hampshire. It was all very public and personal, but most crucial of all to Boycott's fate was his record. In the eight seasons of his reign Yorkshire had won nothing. He blamed the committee.

It is a personal conviction, but I believe some men are winners and some losers. I understood why Derbyshire, whose morale was low in the mid-seventies, offered a most profitable contract to Eddie Barlow, the South African all-rounder. One look at Barlow, whether batting, bowling or fielding, could tell you he was a man who believed that effort and endurance, perseverance and craft could tip the delicate needle from defeat to victory. In two seasons Barlow took Derbyshire to the top half of the County Championship table and also to a Benson and Hedges Cup final. More than that, he imbued the young players with his own approach. Those Derbyshire lads are likely to be competitors and optimists to the end of their days.

Think for a moment of Kent in 1978, winners of the Benson and Hedges Cup and also of the County Championship. The county itself was in the throes of political confusion. First it was resolved to do without the World Series Cricketers on their staff; Asif Iqbal, Bob Woolmer, Derek Underwood, and Alan Knott. Immediately, Kent's young stars were able to look forward to an unexpected opportunity. Then came the volte-face. The Packer players would be allowed to continue. The committee, the membership, and the team were torn down the middle. Asif Iqbal ceased to be captain and the man chosen to sail the boat through the stormy sea was Alan Ealham. Ealham batted well himself, and unselfishly too; he fielded with his usual dash. Most of all, however, he spread a pleasant humour over those troubled waters.

The angry smiled away their annoyance and by the end of the season nearly everyone rejoiced in new honours won. Humour, to my mind, is high on the list of captaincy requirements. To take the game too seriously, to have a dressing-room weighed down with post-mortem, and not to laugh at oneself is to drop a lead anchor on the team's hopes. Alan Ealham was eventually presented with the Lord's Taverners' Schweppes award for the Cricketer of the Year 1978. In a different manner from Barlow, he proved himself a winner.

Before the collective results of inspired captaincy - effort, team-spirit, good humour and so on - can be enjoyed there must be success on the field. Yes, we come back to winning. In fact, success on the field relies first and foremost on the perception of the captain in the middle. The game's strategies and tactics can be as subtle as any chess match, and it states the obvious to list weather conditions, field placings, the timing of declarations, knowledge of Laws and playing conditions, and so many insights into the personalities of one's own and the opposition's players.

Good captaincy is not simply defined, but I quote K. S. Ranjitsinhji, writing in Cricket of Today (1901). Unconsciously, the side as a whole assumes the captain's attitude towards cricket and towards a particular match. So his duties in the field involve a good deal besides the actual management of bowling and arrangement of fieldsmen. If his side is to play the game in the right spirit and in the spirit that wins matches, he must be kind, cheerful, and enthusiastic, and must always try his very best. It is impossible to give advice on such points. The only thing is for a captain to realise what it is that is required, and to see the importance of fulfilling this to the utmost of his ability.

It comes back to that qualify of perception. If ever there was a captain who saw something and then immediately did something about it, it was Richie Benaud. His decision to bowl leg-spin around the wicket to England's batsmen in the Old Trafford Test match in 1961 was as brilliantly conceived as it was spectacular to watch: positive, decisive leadership. In retrospect it looks the obvious gambit, but remember that he could have lost the Test quickly had it misfired or had he decided to do it a few overs later.

I can remember playing under Benaud's leadership for a Commonwealth side against Pakistan in 1968. The third and deciding unofficial Test was being waged in front of a massive crowd at Karachi. Our opening bowlers, Ken Shuttleworth and Keith Boyce, took the new ball against the openers, Aftab Gul and Mohammad Ilyas, not the easiest couple to dislodge on their own wickets. Suddenly Richie Benaud stopped the play in mid-over and with a strong sense of ceremony shifted every fielder to the on-side for Aftab Gul. All Aftab's runs had come that way, but now, instead of attacking him, Benaud formed a ring of men each saving the single from mid-on to fine leg with one back deep at long-leg. Aftab Gul probably did not realise himself how obsessively he played every ball to leg. He was suddenly, pathetically, enmeshed. He failed to score through the vacant off-side, got himself thoroughly bogged down and barracked, and eventually succumbed to his own bad temper and departed.

Normal cricket was then resumed. I quote this outrageous and unlikely example of field placing only to emphasise the need for perception and conviction leading to positive, swift action. It is too easy to sit back and think about change as an over or two pass by.

More likely it is a case of moving one fielder to a key position, often in defence. Another of my personal convictions is that you can only judge an outstanding captain in the field when he has been thrown back on defence. How to save runs while getting the opposition out is a thesis in itself.

I can think of bowlers who would not appreciate a Benaud playing about with their field placings. Derek Underwood, like all great bowlers, hates giving away runs. It was my pleasure to captain him in a few of his Tests and, impatient like all Glamorgan captains to make the attacking move with spin - and also knowing how feared he was by batsmen whose play was based on front-foot defence - I used to call up close fielders even on unresponsive wickets. Derek would huff and puff his disapproval, and curse if the ball slipped away through the gaps which then existed in the mid-field.

For example, Derek especially values the fielder who stands at short fine-leg. That man saves the single and very occasionally catches a top-edged sweep. It is an unorthodox position for an unorthodox bowler. He expected his wickets to come according to his own rhythm and tempo, and he was often right. Occasionally the captain was, but I always felt I was tampering with a very delicate and personal mechanism.

Getting the best out of players is obviously essential. Ray Illingworth was always contending, when it was observed how he restricted his own bowling efforts, that the captain was worth his place if he just chipped in, as long as he got a hundred per cent out of everyone else.

I can remember having much fun with Majid Khan in our summer of 1969 when Glamorgan won the Championship. Majid was strictly tee-total, and so I could not offer him the usual pint of beer for an extra effort. However, he had a passion for ice-cream. For a large ice cone he would play a fine innings. For two cones he would play a great knock against the odds. For three he would even bowl and promise "One more large cone and I will get you a wicket."

Such humour is difficult to muster at Test level, and if there is a classic case of getting the best out of a bowler it must be of Ray Illingworth's nursing and cajoling of John Snow to help win the Ashes in Australia in 1971. Snow was notoriously a player of half-effort; often bored with the game but a magnificent fast bowler when in the mood. Illingworth impressed Snow off the field because the captain fought hard for players' rights and privileges; for example, restricting the number of public relations appearances the players had to make. Snow was expected to bowl fast when he bowled and his captain was prepared to protect him and others from all other nuisances. Snow did not let down his captain.

It is possible that Ian Chappell was a superb captain. I always admired his thirst for attacking field placings, and the effect the leadership had on the character of his batting; fidgeting maybe, but always fighting and fleetingly handsome in his driving when he thought the enemy were on their backsides, but not before. Chappell had the luxury of two really fast bowlers, Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson, backed by the excellent Max Walker, with the result that his tactical game was pretty well set before he got on the pitch. Very rarely was he forced to scheme his way out of tight positions, but that is not to say he could not.

Bobby Simpson certainly returned to Australia's captaincy in 1977 with all the advantages of hindsight. Behaviour on the field had become questionable all over the world. Manners off the field had fallen short of the game's best traditions. Simpson, at the age of 41, was mature and experienced enough to influence a young side, to coax it to victory over India and to scramble back into contention in a West Indies series which began treacherously for them. The players played hard for him and allowed him to take their game apart. One comment of his illustrates the detail into which a captain has to go. Because of the inexperience of Australian batting, the stolen single became even more priceless. Simpson got them racing their runs; the scoreboard began to flip around; the innings edged forwards and, with the strike being shared, there were precious moments of relaxation for young batsmen at the non-striking end.

Cricket captaincy is highly charged with such responsibilities, and with confusions too. A captain can be standing at mid-wicket on a Sunday afternoon, wondering whether he can chance a bowler for yet another over, trying to calculate how many overs he will then have to bowl a makeshift bowler, and from which end, in order to fit in the 40 overs without calling on a fifth-rate seamer to fill in.

He may have been approached by a player before the match who thought he was not getting a fair run as a batsman up the order. He may have so many flashes of the whole job racing through his mind, and then suddenly the ball is hit at 100 mph past his nose.

He represents the players to the committee and the committee to the players, and when the team is not winning the feeling is of being crunched in a vice rather than providing the essence of a tasty sandwich. For these duties, and all the responsibilities of hotel life, selection, and public relations, he earns a mere few hundred pounds more. Captaincy is one of the easiest jobs if you are not actually doing it, or if you just step in for the odd game.

There are two facts that most senior players I have talked to are agreed on. Captaincy is two people. It is the captain and the trusted senior player. For example, it looked as if Geoffrey Boycott was doing it on his own by the end. Remember Roy Marshall behind Colin Ingleby-Mackenzie and Peter Sainsbury with Richard Gilliat at Hampshire, Ray Illingworth behind Brian Close at Yorkshire, Don Shepherd with both Ossie Wheatley and myself at Glamorgan, Keith Fletcher behind Brian Taylor at Essex, and so on. That is how it looks best, otherwise your house is in flames and you are the last to know it.

Yet there comes a day, a golden day, when all the nuts and bolts hold together and the engine fires. It surges on, success leads to success, every bowling change brings wickets and every field adjustment scoops a catch. The enemy are defeated or, in the County Championship, the supreme test for the counties, it is yet another enemy from whom you have wrested the points. Summer days, magic days when the lads demand a beer for their efforts and you buy them all you can afford. In such delirium I even bought a half of bitter for a committee man once!

© John Wisden & Co