Michael Clarke is quickly establishing a well-deserved reputation for brave and aggressive captaincy. His entertaining approach is based on one premise; try to win the match from the opening delivery. This should be the aim of all international captains but sadly that isn’t the case. In every era, there are Test captains who prefer to attain a position of safety before they go all out for victory.
These captains are frightened stiff of the Michael Clarkes of the cricket world for the simple reason they make it obvious they’re not interested in a draw. At least, 50% of international captains consider a draw to be a good result and when that option is removed, they are easily panicked. The first thing a captain like Clarke understands is he will lose some matches in constantly striving for victory.
Once that premise is accepted, the captain has reached the stage where he hates to lose but doesn’t fear a reversal. There’s a huge difference, as the former is a positive state where the skipper will do everything in his power to win. The latter is a mind-set where the captain sets out not to lose.
An important indicator of a captain’s thinking can be seen in his field placings. A positive captain will always make the opposing batsmen feel their very existence is threatened. At the same time, the aggressive captain, through his field placings, allows his bowlers to turn at the top of their mark and see where a wicket (other than bowled, lbw or batsman stupidity) can be claimed.
Zorro but no sword
A bowler who is operating to a purely containing field is like Zorro without his sword; he’s not very threatening. There’s been plenty of discussion on whether the shorter forms of the game will adversely affect batting techniques and turn bowlers into cannon fodder. What the 50 and 20-over matches have actually had a marked influence on is field placings.
Whereas the number one priority by a wide margin used to be taking wickets, followed by saving singles and then, way off in the distance, stopping boundaries, in the mind of the modern captain, the latter has assumed far too much importance.
The almost robotic use in Test matches of a deep cover point and a backward square-leg on the boundary, regardless of whether the ball is being played in that direction, borders on mindless captaincy. When a fieldsman is unemployed for half an hour but the captain still retains him in that position, you have to wonder: “Who appointed this captain?”
The change in attitude to field placings is perfectly summed up with some typical Caribbean humour and commonsense. Former Windies fast bowler Herman Griffith was captaining a Barbados club side in the 1930s when he called on his debutant off-spinner to have a trundle. “Where do you want the field?” asked Griffith politely.
“I’d like a deep backward square-leg, a mid-wicket on the boundary and a long on and long off,” replied the youngster confidently.
“Give me the ball,” growled Griffith.
Not unreasonably the young man asked; “Why?”
“You intending to bowl shite,” came the forthright answer.
Nowadays, most bowlers would be horrified if the captain didn’t automatically give him a number of protective fielders in the deep. Clarke is not such a captain. Sadly, Clarke’s latest gambit — a challenging declaration at Queen’s Park Oval — which was answered with equal bravado by Darren Sammy, failed because of inclement weather. Nevertheless, it’s to be hoped their positive endeavours have acted as a sharp reminder to the administrators.
In Test cricket, the captain is allowed free reign. We’ve seen in the case of Clarke and Sammy what’s possible when two captains use a bit of imagination and have a desire to produce a result. It’s impossible to legislate for captaincy imagination. In the fifty-over game, which is highly regulated — a variety of powerplays, bowling and field restrictions — there is less real captaincy involved.
Wherever possible, the captaincy should be left to the skippers and those with imagination will prosper. Hopefully, those who lack inspiration will be quickly replaced by the selectors.