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Captaincy conundrum

Poor Graeme Smith was the latest victim of the Imposition Syndrome. It's a term, just invented, to describe the indecent haste to impose newly gained authority.

Wisden CricInfo staff
Poor Graeme Smith was the latest victim of the Imposition Syndrome. It's a term, just invented, to describe the indecent haste to impose newly gained authority. It's one of many pitfalls for young captains, and Smith - South Africa's youngest ever captain - couldn't avoid it in his rookie assignment.
Smith transforming Shaun Pollock into a fifth bowler had precedents in kind, but not degree. Others have shown up the old boss in their first outings as captain. Brian Lara, for instance, initially took the new ball away from Courtney Walsh when he took charge of the West Indies team. Kapil Dev made his point by banishing Sunil Gavaskar from the slips - his chosen preserve - to the boundary ropes.
A record thrashing at Indian hands led a chastened Smith to admit that his game plan, whatever it was, had failed. But in the process, he exposed both his immaturity and the difficulties of leading an international side when so young. It's not easy to develop insights into the game, understand people, manage egos, grow a thick skin, be unselfish, learn diplomacy, point out mistakes, and lead by example, while trying to establish oneself in the side. It needs character, and Smith has yet to pass that test.
More than in any other sport, cricket starkly reveals the captain's personality. The length of playing time and the cerebral nature of the game ensures exposure. Cricket's many strong leaders - from WG Grace, Douglas Jardine, Don Bradman and Frank Worrell to Ian Chappell, Mike Brearley, Imran Khan and Steve Waugh - were diverse personalities, but their ability to command respect or loyalty was one common trait. Unless Smith learns, and quickly, the process which makes that happen, Mark Boucher, the man groomed to take over from Pollock, should get the job.
Obviously, schools for captaincy cannot exist, unlike their batting, bowling and wicketkeeping counterparts. But an increasingly hectic schedule, higher stakes, intense media scrutiny, public expectations, demands and the complexities of the modern game (for example, Nasser Hussain and the Zimbabwe crisis) makes cricket captaincy one of the toughest jobs in sport. Giving it to an inexperienced player is like asking a driver with a beginner's license to race in Formula One. Smith could quickly crash out like Murray Bisset did, after leading South Africa to three losses as a 22-year old in 1898-99.
Smith's first real test will not come on April 25 against a Bangladesh team that are the butt of all Test cricket jokes. Only tussles against genuine world-class opposition will provide an indicator as to whether Omar Henry and his colleagues - who appointed Smith - deserve to retain their jobs.
The odds are heavily stacked against their chosen one. With the exception of Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, other successful captains who got the job before the age of 24 had established themselves in the side, or served an apprenticeship as vice-captain. Or else, like Stephen Fleming, they had a mentor (Martin Crowe).
Captaincy is never easy, even for hard-boiled eggs. Ian Chappell, as hard boiled as any egg can be, once told Alan McGilvray about one of his biggest difficulties as captain. "I'm great mates with some of these guys, but it's difficult knowing just when you have to stay away, " Chappell had said. "I can't afford to be too close. I've got to keep that fine line. It's a problem."
But Chappell solved that problem with a straightforward approach that helped maintain friendships with fellow seniors, Doug Walters, Rod Marsh and Dennis Lillee, while never forming a coterie.
Earning the loyalty and respect of all his team-mates ought to be Smith's first priority. He could do well to remember Richie Benaud's advice to overly demonstrative captains. Keep it simple, he advised, disapproving of any flamboyance on the field and the waving of arms like traffic policemen. "Above all," he said, "keep two overs ahead of the game and then you will find that you make your own luck. The unsuccessful captains are those who are only up with the game, or even just behind play. But that, I guess, applies to life as well."
Raja M is a contributing writer to Wisden.com in India.