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Captain's Call


This article is an ode to the greatest captains that cricket has seen. A Captain is a tricky position to be in. If in football it’s the manager who is in charge of the team, in cricket it’s the captain. A lot of teams resemble their captain's attitude. The position involves several skills like man management, attitude , never say die spirit and backing the right persons.
Vitally, there are two kinds of captains. First category belong to men, who are not captains, but leaders (similar to the political mould). They are naturally charismatic, can command respect of their team mates and can push them to greater heights. And needless to say they may not be the best player in the team. The second category is slightly dangerous, the team's best player being made the captain. If cricket's history is dug deep, we find that not many fit into this category. Some may succeed, which is seen as leading from the front. If the captain can save a match on his own, there is no bigger morale booster to the team than it.
It is said that the captain is half as good as his team. When Clive Lloyd was first made captain, he was a reluctant one. And they went to tour Australia in 1975-1976 with a decent fast bowling pair and depending on spinners. They were welcomed with green top wickets. And Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thompson wrecked havoc on their batsmen. They were slaughtered. That kick started the transformation. Lloyd decided to remodel his team. He brought in a battery of fast bowlers, all of whom were more intimidating than Lillee or Thommo. And they say the rest is history. They remained unconquered for a period of 15 years. He imparted professionalism and determination to win consistently even when the conditions suited the opposition. He united the disparate threads of the separate nations that make up the West Indies, and was the force that gelled them as a team rather than a bunch of talented individuals. But according to me his leadership quality was not tested big time when there was such a team at his disposal.
If there ever was a man who resurrected his country's cricketing fortunes none bettered Allan Border. He took over the team when the team was its ebb following the retirement of the Chapells, Lillee, and Marsh. He had at his disposal some young turks (who went on to become future greats) like Taylor, Waugh, and Mcdermott. Everything was not rosy at the beginning. They began losing everywhere. But the man stood firm. He literally carried the batting of his team on his shoulders for this period. Then when the turks started maturing, the phenomenon Cricket Australia was reborn. A superb example of moulding a team and forming a formidable outfit by a captain. 
One man who closely followed this pattern was Saurav Ganguly. Again an example of how a team benefitted from the captain's aggression and confidence. A superb case study of how much captaincy affects individual performances. His form dipped whereas his team’s rose. There are some contrasting captains, whose performances increased post captaincy. They seemed to relish the position. Stephen Fleming was one such bloke. He didn’t put himself under too much pressure and went on to lead his nation almost throughout his career without much fuss. He was not the team's best player at times. But his management skills were exemplary. Good enough to benefit a country short of cricketing resources.
The position also demands a charismatic personality. Imran Khan ticked most of the boxes in the attributes of a cricketer and a captain. But his foremost quality was his leadership. Captaining a team like Pakistan demands a lot physically and mentally. They were a very talented yet egoistic outfit. Players need to relish playing under the captain, which exactly happened during Imrans's regime. How Pakistan cricket has missed Imran is evident from the team's graph from 1992 onwards. Similar to him was Arjuna Ranatunga. He was the boon for a nation that was taking its first steps in the international arena. These are two captains who literally handpicked players, nurtured them and backed them throughout. The likes of Wasim, Waqar, Murali, and Jayasuriya are classic examples.
These are some captains who were meant to captain or lead their teams. But many countries try appointing their best player as the captain in a hope that they can match the success they had as a player, which hardly succeeds. Either the player's form dips or he is not able to cope with the pressure that comes with captaincy. Only the Don was different. But he was in a totally different league. What captains need to know is that however good they are, only if the team responds to their call is success assured. Winning or losing is not in their hands. MS Dhoni knows what he is doing. And is not bothered about winning or losing, but he urges his team to give their 100%. That’s the reason why he is a successful captain. Ability to put aside failures and concentrate on winning is the trait of a good leader. Before his doomsday, Hansie Cronje was a widely respected captain. His knowledge of the game was superb and had a sharp tactical acumen as well. No wonder the team tasted more success under him. 
Captains need to bring a change in their attitude after being appointed. This is important for gaining the respect of the team mates. Who would respect a captain like Shahid Afridi if he mindlessly slogs when the team is in trouble? That’s where Dhoni is different. A naturally aggressive player, he reinvented himself for the betterment of the team. And naturally performances do matter. Kapil Dev will never be accounted as a great captain. But he was the one who brought us the world cup. He backed himself to perform and the team followed him. His 175* versus Zimbabwe was a good example of lifting the team from the grave. His knock that day would have definitely inspired his team mates to believe that they can win the World Cup. 
Ability to win the team mates' support is very important. This was evident in Saurav’s case when Yuvraj, Bhajji and others protested against his sacking. When the captain supports his players, they naturally support him. Out of the box thinking and courage precede tactical acumen or sharp knowledge of the game. Else Sachin Tendulkar would have been the best captain. Who knows cricket better than the GOD himself?
The success of the captain depends on the board management and the support staff, who work behind the scenes, too. If a cricket board is as volatile as Pakistan’s then whoever the captain is the team will struggle to win. The team and the players should be given the space to perform which never happened in the former's case. The recent retirement of Sangakkara also justifies the same. The captain should definitely have a say in the players’ selection because it's he who leads the team and not the selectors. The combination of all these factors make a good captain and in turn form a good team. Countries like Australia identify their leaders early and correctly and more importantly persist with them. That’s why their success ratio is different. If Mark Taylor apprenticed under Border, Steve Waugh learnt his skills under the former, and similarly for Ricky Ponting. They were vice captains for their teams for a long time before they took over the reins. Such a hierarchy needs to be set up in every country to produce good leaders. 
Finally, the captain's rapport with the coach and the support team and his ability to accept their views is also important. The coach needs to operate in the background and should never overshadow the captain. When it happens the team breaks. That happened with Pieterson and Afridi. As Imran rightly said "Give me my team and space. I will conquer the world". And rightly he did. Leaders are born, they are not made. As observed so many technicalities pop up when leading a national team. Overpowering all these and turning the team into a successful outfit is the captain's role.

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