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More responsibility than power

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Cricket_captain_coachNot taught in schools

At Harvard, you are taught how to manage a company’s affairs, but nowhere does anybody get groomed to lead, and lead well. Leaders, by and large, are products of circumstance. They are thrown up by adversities; people who inspire and do not command, people who guide and do not instruct, people who are friends and not bosses. They are people who put others’ interests above themselves.

Leaders are ordinary mortals who admit their own foibles, while trying to help their teammates develop their strengths. They may not be among the top five of their group, but they mould and encourage the existing talent in the group and help youngsters hone their skills, as much for their individual good as for the benefit of the team.

Leaders are present in every walk of life. One person takes the initiative and like-minded individuals team up with him and then begins a focused endeavour towards achieving something. More often than not, such initiatives are nipped in the bud, when the leader assumes total control and makes the volunteers believe that he is the boss and they his henchmen. Herein, he commits the biggest blunder.

Leadership is not about exploiting the abilities and the interests of people. It calls for developing the skills and keeping the flame of passion for the cause burning alive, even in the wake of debilitating obstacles and numbing teething troubles. By leaders, we refer to those who win the respect and admiration of people and not whip-in-the-hand disciplinarians who instil fear.

When we talk of leaders in cricket, we are talking of captains. As the wise Mike Brearley (who led England in the late 1970s) feels, cricket captaincy has been very much under-rated. He regretted that measurables had become the instruments of valuation of a captain. He gave the example of the badly out-of-form Nasser Hussain, whose place in the English side was at stake. However, as captain from 1999, Nasser Hussain was responsible for lifting the sagging morale of the team. This gives the boot to the belief that the captain has to have an impressive batting or bowling record to be able to lead well.

Comprehending strengths

Correcting weaknesses is an arduous task, as time-consuming as it is demanding. So when time is a factor and quick results matter, working on your strengths is a wiser option. Ideally, of course, this should be done in the long-term interest of the player, rather than for immediate benefits associated with a game / tournament.

While nosey captains are disliked, players will always welcome suggestions from the skipper. Note: ‘suggestions’ and not ‘advice’. The tone of the skipper should not be condescending. He is talking to a teammate, an equal, and doing his duty – nothing more, nothing less.

You are the captain because the selectors found certain leadership qualities in you, not because you are a better player than the other ten in the side. A captain is not necessarily the best batsman or the best bowler in the side. But he definitely knows who is, and how to get the best out of each player, while helping him improve with time.

Roy Gilchrist’s potential was realised by Frank Worrell (captain of the West Indies team in the 1960s), who would dissuade him from being aggressive with his bouncers and beamers. Gilchrist heeded his advice, as Worrell was kind and spoke from the heart – with earnestness.

When Gerry Alexander, who succeeded Worrell as captain, was abrasive with Gilchrist, the fast bowler would vent his anger by hurling beamers at the batsmen. Consequently, his career was aborted prematurely. In retrospect, if Worrell had not retired in 1960, Gilchrist might have had a longer career and his potential could have been properly explored.

Putting team before self

Mark Taylor earned the respect of the entire cricketing fraternity as a captain when he sacrificed a personal milestone for the Aussie team’s victory. While on the verge of surpassing Don Bradman’s record for the highest individual score by an Australian in an innings in Test Cricket (334), he declared the innings. Taylor equalled the score, undefeated (it has since been surpassed). He later said this was largely as a mark of respect to the Don, though one could suppose that he was more keen on giving his bowlers enough time to bowl out the opposition – a ‘mark’ of a true captain.

Captains have run themselves out when a sacrifice was unavoidable, on realising that the wicket of the better-set batsman at the other end was more precious for the team. They have played sheet anchor to younger players who found their rhythm and got into the leather-hunt. They have brought themselves on to bowl in challenging situations, taken a bit of stick, while allowing the better bowlers to rest and return refreshed after some time. They have also kept themselves out of the attack after a short spell, in order to enable upcoming young bowlers to get more exposure to big-match conditions, while also ensuring that the match never went out of their grasp.

If you are representing your college, club or country, count yourself among the lucky few. If you are the leader of these representatives, it is a great honour indeed.

Building morale

This is much more important than you think. When the heat of the moment has everyone concentrating hard and anxious about the outcome, it is the captain’s words that make all the difference. Tension is infectious; it breeds negative thoughts. When the upshot turns out to be better than what was visualised, you are left feeling that you could have done even better if you had set out with a positive outlook.

Egging the players on during the team get-togethers at lunch or dinner is much more than mere management ‘pep-talk.’ In fact, there should be more heart and soul behind this ‘pep.’ Defending your teammates at press interviews and volunteering to be the scapegoat can get you not just respect, but more success in the matches to follow.

The great Muttiah Muralitharan, for one, will be grateful to his former captain Arjuna Ranatunga for so many things. Ranatunga is history now, but his keen perception enabled him to envision a great future for Murali (who retired recently as the highest wicket-taker in Test Cricket) and thereby for the Lankan side. His diatribe against Darryl Hair’s umpiring in Australia in defence of Murali is still clear in every cricket-lover’s memory.

Rivalry within the team

This sometimes clouds a captain’s vision. It is a general human failing – a spanner in the works. A captain should also be able to groom a successor, just as a manager trains his deputy to take over the reins, sooner or later. Leadership involves handling your anxieties as well as those of your teammates. This is easier said than done, as the captain can come in for a lot of flak when his own performance deteriorates, and oftentimes, there could be a tendency to ‘feather your own nest’ before helping your teammates.

On the field

Anger is man’s worst enemy. This is especially true for a leader. On the field, it is quite human to vent your spleen on people when things are going badly. Your maturity and adeptness at handling pressure-cooker situations are put to test here. A harsh word may spoil the wonderful momentum fashioned by all the hard work that preceded it, like a friendship of several years being broken in a moment.

A never-say-die, iceberg-cool, positive-minded leader can inspire his teammates till the very end. Steve Waugh, battling it out at Number 6 when the chips were down, infused in a Damien Fleming or a Glenn McGrath the vigour to stick at the wicket and help him steer the team clear of trouble.

Planning

While preliminary planning is essential, as you might have observed Douglas Jardine do in the televised serial “Bodyline”, the captain should have an open mind and be quick at “IF-THEN analysis” type of decision making. While experimenting, however, the captain should not lose sight of the bigger picture. Premeditated planning is good, but it is the extemporaneous decisions which are more effective. Remember Kapil Dev bringing on Azharuddin for a brief spell of gentle medium pace against the Aussies at the 1987 World Cup. That move turned the match in India’s favour, earning Azhar the Man-of-the-Match award.

Ideal leader

An ideal leader, to quote the Greek philosopher Xenophon, should be a combination of passion and detachment, vision and common sense, energetic, full of stamina, ingenious, careful, straightforward and crafty, loving and tough, generous and greedy, trusting and suspicious, wishing for all and ready to sacrifice everything.

Confusing? Well, different circumstances demand different approaches. It’s actually as simple as that.

 


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G Venkatesh (born 1972) is a senior lecturer in Energy and Environment, at Karlstad University in S...

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