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Calling the shots


Often, I have seen fans and cricket loving people point a finger at a bad move
that cost their team the game. Similarly, a smart move which helps the team win is applauded by the team's supporters. This is why captaincy is a very crucial part of cricket. The right call at the right time makes the skipper a hero, while even a single mistake makes him the culprit.

Taking a look at various present captains in international cricket, I feel most of them are too defensive. Obviously, being skipper of an international side one has a lot of responsibilities like making crucial decisions right from team selection to field changes and more. In this advanced era of technology, working out strategies and weaknesses of opponents is essential. But each captain has to be quick on his feet, especially in crunch situations. Many times, tactics are based on reputation of opponents rather than match situation. So he must find the right balance between planned moves and gut instincts. 

Let’s look at some statistics about some of the current captains:

Player Matches
Won Loss W/L ratio
A Strauss (ENG) 26 12 4 3
K Sangakkara (SL) 11 5 3 1.67
MS Dhoni (IND) 16 10 2 5
G Smith (AUS) 77 37 22 1.68
R Ponting (AUS) 71 47 12 3.91

MS Dhoni's win/loss ratio is the best of the lot though he has captained in very few test matches compared with Ponting and Smith. Looking deeper into Dhoni's statistics, I find that out of the 16 test matches he has led in, 10 have been in India, 1 in Bangladesh, 3 in Sri Lanka and 2 in New Zealand. This really tells me that he needs to be tested outside the subcontinent before we can pass a judgment on him. Personally though, I am not a fan of Dhoni's captaincy as I find many of Dhoni's decisions illogical and even absurd at times. However so far with the rub of the green going his way, Dhoni has been surprisingly effective as India has been number 1 under him for a while now.

The Lankan southpaw Kumar Sangakkara has been doing the job for just 11 test matches and yet his win/loss ratio isn't that great. For more than half of these 11 games, Sangakkara had the services of legendary spinner Muttiah Muralidharan. But now with his retirement it will be even tougher for him particularly at home, where Murali was many times singlehandedly responsible for winning matches. Sri Lanka sure have a number of upcoming spinners but filling in shoes of Murali will be quite a task. Sangakkara is too defensive a captain for most people's liking, including myself. Many believe his predecessor Mahela Jayawardena was a much better skipper than him.

Andrew Strauss has lead England to Ashes glory in '09 and also has a win loss ratio of 3 in the 26 matches he has been in charge. As a batsman, he has been good in this period as well and has led from front on many occasions like in the Ashes where he was their highest run-getter. Yet, when it comes to captaincy he fails to impress me. Having said that, the opener hasn't done too badly either. Strauss, according to me, has plans for situations and works according to them without too many alterations. His partnership with Andy Flower has been fruitful for the English, though he didn't have such a rosy start with controversies regarding Peter Moores and Kevin Pietersen spoiling his first campaign in the Caribbean. Ian Chappell writes that Strauss lacks imagination and I totally agree with him on this count because he lacks the occasional habit of gambling. I would rate him higher than Sangakkara, but still feel that he is capable of doing much better.

Graeme Smith took over the charge of the Saffers from Shaun Pollock back in 2003, at the young age of 22. Even though his appointment was a surprise to most, he has hardly put a foot wrong since. The highest point of his captaincy tenure has to be beating the Aussies in test series in Australia. With 37 test wins, he is most definitely among the best captains to have led South Africa. His win/loss ratio does not do justice to how well he has led the team. The confident lefty has a good aggressive nature both in terms of captaincy and batting and has impressed almost everyone. A couple of disappointments though were South Africa not doing too well in World Cup 2007 and T20 World Cup 2007 which was held in South Africa itself. With a strong team with good experience and lots of talented players, South Africa should do much better in upcoming 2011 World Cup in the Indian subcontinent and break the Saffer's world cup jinx.

Ricky Ponting took forward Steve Waugh's legacy of aggressive leadership and with some great talents in the side he was spoiled for choices during the first 3-4 years as a leader. With the retirement of biggies like Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne, Matthew Hayden, Adam Gilchrist and Justin Langer everyone felt Aussie dominance was over. In fact, Ponting's team started losing a bit more regularly after 2008, but the way he handled the team is amazing. The team from the land down under has been famous for their mind games since the 90's and Ponting certainly carried this tradition forward. A win-loss ratio of close to 4 is something most captains could only dream of and justifies how well he has led his side. In ODIs as well, Australia has done really well under him winning 2 consecutive world cups in '03 and '07. Even with a depleted side, thanks to injuries to key players like Brett Lee, Mitchell Johnson and Brad Haddin, he led them to a 4-2 ODI series win in India. The way he has managed his resources and brought out the most from them is probably his captaincy's best aspect. He is a fighter and I expect him to win back the Ashes urn this summer.

As such captaincy does not only involve deciding tactics and policies, but also motivating youngsters and supporting players in rough patches. These aspects obviously can't be judged by a spectator sitting at home and can only be assessed by people in and around the team. If a World Test XI among current players is picked, Ponting would be my pick as a captain provided, of course, that he is in good batting form. Smith is most definitely my second choice; however, he needs to keep himself fit as he has been injury prone in recent times.

Signing off with a paragraph from Steve Waugh's autobiography, 'Out of my comfort zone'. Waugh, who is probably the best captain cricket has seen in the last decade writes:"Captaincy is about empowerment, about making your players responsible for their actions and, in turn accountable .It's about treating everyone equally but differently by recognising there are varied characters and personalities who need to express their individual flair and instincts inside the ultimate team vision. It's about setting an example and not expecting anything of your players that you aren't willing to do yourself .It's about mentoring and at times protecting individuals, and taking on their problems so that the team will benefit. You must recognize mistakes and not be above criticism, and be prepared to swallow your pride in order to move on. Crucially it's about seeing the good in people and focusing on the positives and the things you can control. It's making sure your time management is spot on and that you continue to earn your place in the side. At times for me it was about being an advisor, psychologist, mate, mentor, mediator, selector, mouthpiece and politician."


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