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Ian Chappell

Who have been the best visiting captains in Australia?

Starting with Douglas Jardine, it is an impressive list

Ian Chappell
Ian Chappell
Mike Gatting's finest captaincy season was possibly 1986-87 in Australia size: 900  •  Ben Radford/Getty Images

Mike Gatting's finest captaincy season was possibly 1986-87 in Australia size: 900  •  Ben Radford/Getty Images

I wrote recently about overseas captains who struggled to come to grips with the tactical side of leading in Australia. However, there have been some very successful visiting skippers as well.
Leading the pack would be England's Douglas Jardine with his highly successful Bodyline strategy in 1932-33. It wasn't Jardine's fault that the laws of cricket allowed for an exploitation of field placement that he made use of. He invoked the first principle of good captaincy - reduce the effectiveness of the opposition's best player - and in doing so, exploited the laws perfectly.
Jardine made his dislike of Australians obvious and went out of his way to annoy the increasingly volatile crowds. However, he wasn't devoid of humour. In 1953 after the tumult and shouting had died down, Jardine attended a London gathering in honour of the touring Australians. Someone with an evil sense of humour sat him next to former Bodyline foe, Australia legspinner Bill "Tiger" O'Reilly. The guest speaker was Australian prime minister Robert Menzies. During his speech Menzies referred to being unpopular in his own country. "My nickname at home is Pig Iron Bob," he said. "In fact, I must be the most hated man in Australia."
O'Reilly received a light tap on the leg and turned to Jardine, who whispered: "Bill, I fear the man is misinformed. He can only be the second most hated man in Australia."
Jardine was clever in realising the importance of good pace bowling in Australia and two other English captains followed his example. In 1954-55, Yorkshireman Len Hutton brought a strong contingent of fast bowlers, of whom Frank "Typhoon" Tyson emulated Harold Larwood's 1932-33 success, becoming England's wrecking ball.
It took another canny Yorkshireman, Ray Illingworth, in 1970-71 to replicate the fast-bowling formula, and his spearhead was the feisty John Snow. I learned a lot from witnessing Illingworth's imaginative captaincy up close.
The other really good England captain in Australia was Mike Gatting. In 1986-87 he led his team to a trifecta; winning the Test series, the triangular ODI tournament, and a specially arranged Perth Challenge, which also featured Pakistan and West Indies. The Test triumph was based on an all-round team effort to support Gatting's tactical nous rather than any devastating fast bowling.
India's best captaincy in Australia was produced by their first and most recent captains I've seen tour this country. In 1967-68 the Nawab of Pataudi - who was also known to team-mates and opponents as "Tiger" - ensured an outmanned Indian side remained competitive in the three Tests in which he led. He inspired the team with his judicious use of the spinners (especially the teasing Erapalli Prasanna) and his aggressive strokeplay despite being hindered by blindness in one eye and a hamstring injury.
In 2018-19, Virat Kohli masterminded India's first ever series win in Australia. He achieved this difficult feat by coaxing the best out of his fast-bowling trio and providing some useful innings to complement the heavy scoring of Cheteshwar Pujara.
West Indies had a lot of success in Australia during the late seventies and eighties. Their convincing victories were more the result of a succession of fast-bowling greats and strong batting lines-up rather than any imaginative captaincy.
South Africa under first Graeme Smith and then Faf du Plessis enjoyed success in Australia but this was achieved through talent and a typically attritional style of leadership. England produced an upset in 2010-11, with Andrew Strauss utilising a similar formula.
And just to prove you don't necessarily have to win to impress as a captain, Arjuna Ranatunga's proactive leadership kept an outgunned Sri Lankan side competitive for longer than seemed possible in 1989-90. He later built on that foundation to engineer Sri Lanka's success over Australia in the 1996 World Cup final.
Good captaincy is hard to define but you know it when you witness it. The outstanding feature of good captains is the ability to coax the best out of their players.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is a a columnist