A captain on a soccer team is normally the most consistent and reliable player. Whether he’s the star striker, the ever-reliable goalkeeper or the midfielder who has the most caps for their club or country. The captain has to ‘lead by example’. He has to perform at a level that the rest of the team inspires to play at, i.e. Messi, Ronaldo, Kane etc. This is the case in all sports bar one.
Unlike most other sports where the players' performance is reactive to the circumstances, cricket has a reactionary and proactionary element to it. You don’t only react to the flow of play but also influence the flow with your decision making. The only other sport with these elements that I can think of is American Football, but the QB and Middle Linebacker wear a helmet with a speaker in it, and the offensive and defensive coordinator bark instructions through it and they are passed on to the rest of the team.
In cricket though, all this falls on the captain. You can make all the plans you want but there is a good chance, sooner or later they will go out the window, and unlike Football, there is no one who can look through the playbook and come up with a better alternative that is shouted into the Masuri helmet of the wicketkeeper (maybe that’s the future? )
A cricket captain runs a solo show. Once the game starts he not only has to lead by example with his performance but he also needs to be the offensive coordinator, the defensive coordinator, sports psychologist, the hype man and above everything else he needs to filter the advice that will be given to him by his teammates.
The biggest criticism captains normally get is, ‘he isn’t proactive’. That isn’t entirely correct, the issue normally, is poor reading of the game. A key to being a good captain is reading the game well, knowing in what periods of the game to be proactive and when to let things be. In some cases playing the waiting game is the better option in the long run, in others you got to pull the plug ASAP.
I remember when I was leading the OCA First Division side seven years ago, I had a young 13 year old fast bowling all-rounder in my squad who was going to make his senior debut. I gave him the new ball and he went for 20 in the first 2 overs and naturally he was disappointed. I could look at his face and knew what he was thinking, ‘my spell is over’. He was surprised and pumped when I told him don’t stress, you are going to continue. The third and fourth over were much better. I could easily have pulled him, but that could have shattered his confidence for rest of the game and maybe even the season. We didn’t only win the game but the championship too, the kid took 24 wickets that year. That player is Abraash Khan.
Was I ‘proactive’, for the power play? NO. The game in the long run? YES. The power play wasn’t my main concern, I didn’t wanna jeopardize a brilliant young player and have him think I don’t trust him for rest of the season. Had it been a mature seasoned bowler I would have probably yanked him. Had it been a resilient bowler with some experience, I would have probably shouted at him, in an attempt to draw a positive reaction, but a 13 year old playing with adults is very different.
In the first 6 overs, I made strategic decisions, had to clear the head of a young player, had to push away advice from other seniors who wanted me to make a bowling change and also still be prepared to pull him and be ready for damage control in case things got uglier.
We won the game and Abraash went on to play for Canada and at the GT20, but on the flip side what if the third over went for 36? Would we have still won the game? Probably not. Would he have still become a brilliant player's with all the success? Definitely. Would we have still won the season? Most likely. But hindsight is 20/20 and as that brilliant line from that brilliant TV series goes... “Leadership means that the person in charge gets second-guessed by every smartass with a mouth, but if he starts second guessing himself, that’s the end, for him, the smartasses, for everyone.”