Poisoned chalices

With a World Cup looming, national captains should be on guard

Wisden CricInfo staff
With a World Cup looming, national captains should be on guard. Anything less than taking home the trophy may leave their futures in jeopardy. After the last tournament in 1999, seven of the world's nine top teams experienced a change of leadership within the next year. Alec Stewart, Mohammad Azharuddin and Arjuna Ranatunga (whose team, Sri Lanka, badly failed in their defence) were gone in weeks and within months Alistair Campbell, Wasim Akram and Brian Lara had fallen on their swords, citing the pressures of the job. Then came Hansie Cronje's downfall, a contributory factor in which was South Africa's inability to walk off with the main prize.
The survivors were the two Stephens - Fleming of New Zealand and Waugh of Australia, who lifted the cup. Ironically, it is Fleming who is still in his job. Waugh lasted until early this year, when the Australian selectors decided, with customary ruthlessness, that it was time to move on. Even winning the damned thing is no guarantee of job security.
Here's a guide to the possible fates of the present leadership crop.
Stephen Fleming New Zealand, aged 29 when tournament opens:
Shane Warne recently indicated that Fleming was the best captain in the world, to Steve Waugh's chagrin. He'll have been in the job six years but is young enough to keep going.
Sourav Ganguly India, 30
In partnership with John Wright, Ganguly has helped India shake off the tag of chronic under-achievers. Hugely impressive leader, but his vast domestic audience will not tolerate a limp showing.
Carl Hooper West Indies, 36
Few in the Caribbean expect much of their team at the World Cup, but Hooper will need a respectable showing if he wants to continue. Given his age, he may not want to.
Nasser Hussain England, 34
Hussain knows the score and has already said that poor Ashes and World Cup campaigns will make it difficult to carry on beyond March. He has earmarked next September as his preferred departure date, but that could change if he's standing on the winner's podium on March 23.
Sanath Jayasuriya Sri Lanka, 33
The captaincy mantle has never sat easily on this gentle man's shoulders and tactically he's got shortcomings. Likely to go next year whatever happens so that a new leader (Mahela Jayawardene?) can be cultivated.
Shaun Pollock South Africa, 29
The South African public expect their team to win on home soil, regardless of their team's reputation as chokers and steady decline over the past year. With few rivals for his job, Pollock could be safe with a last-four finish. Success would see him secure for years.
Ricky Ponting Australia, 28
Australians do not tolerate failure. Nor, given their depth of talent, do they need to. Short of a narrow defeat in the final, Ponting may find it next to impossible to stay on if Australia do not retain the World Cup.
Heath Streak Zimbabwe, 28
Under fire for saying it would be safe to play World Cup matches in strife-torn Zimbabwe, Streak may not even be in charge come February. Given the team's results, Zimbabwe captains do not tend to stay long.
Waqar Younis Pakistan, 31
Pakistan captains aren't in the habit of planning beyond next week, and Waqar's future came into question after the side's anonymous appearance at the ICC Champions Trophy.
Simon Wilde is cricket correspondent of the Sunday Times.
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