The Insider

Overlords, seducers, associates

The importance of captaincy in Twenty20 cannot be overstated. A look at the most common methods

Aakash Chopra
Aakash Chopra
Kumble has been a marked improvement on Pietersen as Bangalore captain in the IPL  •  Indian Premier League

Kumble has been a marked improvement on Pietersen as Bangalore captain in the IPL  •  Indian Premier League

Was it really the captaincy of Shane Warne that drove the Rajasthan Royals to the title in the first edition of the IPL? If yes, going by that logic, Royal Challengers Bangalore's change in fortunes and run-up to the top spot last year probably had much to do with Kevin Pietersen making way for Anil Kumble. Chennai Super Kings' defeat against an out-of-sorts King's XI Punjab a few days ago made people blame MS Dhoni's absence for the beating. And ever since Kumar Sangakkara took charge, Punjab themselves don't have much to write back home about either.
People watch the IPL from different vantage points; among other things I look at the nuances in the leadership styles of the different captains.
Some think captaincy is the most overrated aspect in this format, while others believe it is what makes the difference in the end. For me, the captain is as good as his team, but I don't rule out the impact he can have on the final upshot. A captain may not be able to win with a very poor side, but he can always make a team punch above its weight.
Leadership by example
Some mistake this sort of captaincy with just performance on the field, but there's more to it. The captain's conduct is the easiest way to send a message across. If a captain is disciplined, like Rahul Dravid or Ricky Ponting, whose work ethics are immaculate, the team follows suit automatically. You'll see both Dravid and Ponting do fielding drills even after a long training session, when they can easily be avoided, and that's signal enough for others to go the extra yard. Perhaps the one-handed catch Dravid took against the Mumbai Indians last week wouldn't have been possible without those extra drills.
On the contrary, since Warne thinks that warming up before a match is not a very useful exercise, his team stayed away from it in the second edition of the IPL. While it worked for Warne, others found it difficult to do without, and perhaps the results reflected that.
One can also not discount the importance of an in-form captain. Once his game is taken care of, a captain can allow his focus to shift to other issues. Sangakkara must be feeling the heat at the moment.
Leadership by direction
Captains use this form of leadership to use on newcomers, who need to be given instructions, depending on the situation of the game and the player's role in the team. That's exactly what happened when I played for India: I was told about the role I was supposed to play in no uncertain terms and there was no room for negotiation. One may think this sort of thing may be a hindrance in the growth of a player but the exact opposite is true. It prepares a player to adapt to the different demands of the game and hence makes him a better player in the long run. You're taught right at the beginning to put the team ahead of yourself. If the need of the hour is to occupy the crease and build a partnership, you must put your head down and resist the temptation to be adventurous. Similarly, if you need to throw caution to the winds in the slog overs, you should not think twice about sacrificing your wicket.
Sachin Tendulkar is playing the mentor role to perfection with the Mumbai Indians. Saurabh Tiwary's hitting prowess was well known but Tendulkar has made him realise the importance of rotating strike; Tiwary is doing just that now and the results are for everyone to see. A few big shots may look impressive, but mixing caution with aggression and batting longer is what helps the team.
Leadership by seduction
This form of leadership works with players who've started to find their feet but still haven't made it. You dangle a carrot to get the best out of them. You set targets for them, and if they achieve them you reward them in return. For example, asking the Virat Kohlis and Robin Uthappas to be more consistent while batting at six or seven and rewarding them by promoting them up the batting order after a while. You do such things with people who you genuinely believe have talent and need some encouragement to fulfill their potential. It seems to be this method that Kumble is employing in the Royal Challengers side.
Leadership by association
Once a player is comfortable with his game and knows most of what needs to be done, the captain makes him a part of the decision-making process. They discuss strategies and make plans together. The captain asks the player for his opinion, and instead of giving orders makes suggestions. This is the sort of method Tendulkar is probably employing with Zaheer Khan at the moment: he has faith in Zaheer's ability and knows he doesn't need every last thing spelled out for him. So they form a partnership of sorts, where both give inputs and the captain gets things done.
As a player, if I know that my captain is going to stand by me, I'll happily stretch that extra bit. But if I'm not sure, like I personally wasn't with Brendon McCullum for Kolkata last year, I'd hold back. Why would a player do anything for a captain who doesn't even remember his name?
Leadership by delegation
There comes a time when a player is so experienced, he doesn't need to be told, at all, what to do. He knows what works best for him and no amount of persuasion will make him think otherwise. To get the best from such a cricketer, the captain must respect his experience and allow him to do whatever he's comfortable with. If he's at his best batting a certain way or bowling to a certain field, the captain should allow that to happen as far as possible, as long as it's not ruining the team's chances of winning. In turn, the player acknowledges that freedom and rarely lets the captain or team down. The art here is to get someone to do something you want done because he wants to do it. This is probably the sort of leadership Kumble must be employing with Jacques Kallis at the moment. This season Kallis has been given the freedom to bat at his own pace (though obviously not too slow), while others around him complement his efforts by going after the bowling.
A captain must understand that good communication is the key. It is imperative for him to be available to every single player and be able to talk to them in language they understand. It becomes even more important while leading an IPL team because the players are from different parts of the world, with different temperaments and backgrounds. A captain needs to go the extra yard to understand what makes them tick and how to handle each of them.
As a player, if I know that my captain is going to stand by me, I'll happily stretch that extra bit. But if I'm not sure, like I personally wasn't with Brendon McCullum for Kolkata in the second season of the IPL, I'd hold myself back. Why would a player do anything for a captain who doesn't even remember his name? Pietersen apparently forgot the names of his Royal Challengers team-mates. No wonder things changed when Kumble took over.
You have to be one of the players yet maintain an aura that commands respect. A captain must create an environment in which a player feels secure of his place in the side, and let him express himself both on the ground and off it. A player should also know that his captain will support him to the hilt.
Sounds a lot of work, right? And we haven't even touched upon the skills required to make bowling changes, make and execute plans, and all the rest of it. A captain certainly has a lot on his plate.
I'm reminded of a beautiful quote by John Quincy Adams: "If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader."
The next time you watch a captain walk away with the honours, spend a moment thinking of the ordeal he has gone through to get there.

Former India opener Aakash Chopra is the author of Beyond the Blues, an account of the 2007-08 Ranji Trophy season. His website is here