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The pressures on Sri Lanka captain

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Dinesh_Chandimal_Sri_Lanka_CricketBeing a captain of a national cricket team is one of the most demanding jobs in any sport. When you are the captain of a team from the subcontinent that is not doing well, and you are going through a lean patch as a player, it can give the player many sleepless nights and the pressure exerted on the captain by the media, fans and critics can be so relentless that it leads to the player resigning from the captaincy. 

As the Kohli-Kumble fiasco showed, the captain is the only person who can run a cricket team and he invariably gets his way on most issues. In the olden days, there used to be two different ideologies in selecting the captain. The Australian way was to select the best playing XI and then choose the best player from the XI as captain. The English way was to select a player solely on the basis of his leadership qualities and maybe even his tactical acumen, as they did in the case of Mike Brearley. Nowadays, with the intense media scrutiny, it is impossible to lead a team if you do not merit your place as a player.

One of Test cricket’s greatest captains and the doyen of cricket commentators, Richie Benaud, said that captaincy is 90% luck and 10% ability, with a caveat saying that you should not be entrusted with the captaincy if you do not have that 10% ability. A captain is not a magician and is only as good as is team. A person with great tactical nous and a mediocre team will lose to a poor captain in charge of a great team. There is even a school of thought which says that a great player should not be entrusted with the captaincy, that he should instead be free to contribute as a player and win matches for his team.

Recently, Angelo Mathews resigned from the Sri Lankan captaincy due to a string for poor results. While Sri Lanka have been a top team in ODIs in the past, they have flattered to deceive in Tests. The reason for that is a lack of penetration in their bowling, particularly in the fast bowling department. 

In the last 15 years, Sri Lanka have had 7 Test captains. However, for the purpose of a statistical analysis, Dilshan and Rangana Herath have not been considered as they have captained in just 11 and 4 Tests respectively. The other 5 players were picked primarily for their batting, even though Jayasuriya and Mathews can roll their arm over in Tests. 

The following table gives career stats of the 5 Sri Lankan captains who have led in at least 15 Tests in the last 15 years.

Captain

M

W

L

D

Win-Loss Ratio

Bat Ave as Captain

Bat Ave not as Captain

Sanath Jayasuriya

38

18

12

8

1.5

36.89

41.7

Marvan Atapattu

18

8

6

4

1.33

41.66

38.3

Mahela Jayawardene

38

18

12

8

1.5

59.11

46.56

Kumar Sangakkara

15

5

3

7

1.66

69.6

55.95

Angelo Mathews

34

13

15

6

0.87

50.94

39.71

 

Surprisingly, with the exception of Jayasuriya, all the other 4 captains have higher batting averages as captain, as opposed to without the captaincy. This may suggest that they play more responsibly when they are captain, as opposed to when they are just players in the team. In the case of Jayawardene and Sangakkara, they were fine players who were captains for just a small percentage of the Tests that they played in. Sangakkara even voluntarily gave up the responsibility of captaincy because he wanted to concentrate on his batting.

Traditionally, players from the sub-continent find the conditions in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and England to be the most challenging. So, let us look at the captaincy record of these 5 players in the above 4 countries in Tests

The following table gives the record of these 5 players in New Zealand, Australia, England and South Africa combined both as captain and not as captain.

Captain

Tests as captain

Tests not as captain

Batt Ave as capt

Batt ave not as Captain

Sanath Jayasuriya

7

18

15.15

30.62

Marvan Atapattu

5

13

37.77

32.83

Mahela Jayawardene

10

21

30.1

32.46

Kumar Sangakkara

1

29

60.5

45.37

Angelo Mathews

12

6

37.13

26.25

 

The stats show that while 3 out of the 5 have marginally better batting records as captain in these countries as opposed to just players, the sample size is not that high enough to conclude with certainty whether or not the players are weighed down or buoyed by the responsibility as captain. In the case of Sangakkara, he has played just 1 Test as captain in these 4 countries combined. 

So there isn’t sufficient evidence to say with certainty that a Sri Lankan captain is weighed down by the pressures of captaincy. Therefore, there is no harm in appointing Dinesh Chandimal as captain as he is the most experienced of the lot. Asking a young player like Kusal Mendis to captain in the cauldron of captaincy may dent his confidence if the results don’t go their way. 

The fact that Chandimal will be leading Sri Lanka in familiar home conditions may even work in his favour as he can ease into the job and gain the experience necessary before the Lankans tour abroad. It may even give Mathews a chance to regain his form and contribute more as a player.

 

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