With three versions of the game now deeply embedded, it’s worth considering how captaincy has evolved and what’s being done to prepare cricket’s future leaders.
There’s no doubt there are more hurdles in the path of the modern captain, compared to those who tackled the task when there was one major version (Tests) with occasional forays into the limited-overs game.
The obstacles vary from increased regulation, including fielding restrictions and power-plays, to a plethora of coaches and advisors, and the limited opportunities to hone captaincy skills prior to reaching international level.
The fact that prospective captains play very little club and first-class cricket because of the cluttered international schedule, means vital steps are now missing in a player’s leadership education. Club cricket was an opportunity to hone tactics and strategy, while the first-class game tested man management skills and the ability to handle pressure situations.
Someone like Virat Kohli can go from successfully captaining the under-19 India side and then gain very little further leadership experience before being awarded the job at Test level. That’s akin to completing a couple of years at secondary school and then skipping off to university.
This is one reason put forward for the rise in popularity and presence of international coaches. That theory would have more validity if the bulk of those coaches had some previous success as a captain --- preferably at international level --- but this is rarely the case. With player earnings rising rapidly since the inception of IPL, former captains are going to be even less inclined to take on a time consuming coaching role in future.
Therefore, it makes sense to utilise former captains in a part-time mentoring capacity and have the coach’s role revert to a managerial job, whereby he relieves the skipper of any peripheral tasks. As captain, all the W’s (wins) and L’s (losses) are going against my name; I’m not interested in delegating any task that will influence those results.
The problem with the mentoring role is where to utilise a former captain’s expertise.
The advice is most effective before the prospective skipper reaches international level. However, the best players are often also captain of their underage teams and this can mean they miss a golden opportunity to lead the A-side because they’re quickly elevated to national duty.
In this case the only opportunity for mentoring would come at the underage level. The best way to improve as a captain is to do the job and learn from your errors. From the age of about 16-17 a captain should be left to his own devices and after play a mentor could then discuss with him, the reasons behind his tactics and strategy.
If young skippers are influenced by coaches with limited leadership knowledge, it won’t elevate the standard of captaincy. When I was a golfer, I resolved not to take too much notice of advice given by players with a handicap; I’d adopt a similar principle with captaincy.
The current system requires the captain to be even more strong minded than usual to ward off well-meaning advice from coaches and other advisors who now proliferate in the game. However in this environment, if he is single minded, he’s in danger of being labelled “hard to handle”, which places him in danger of unfairly losing captaincy if he suffers a few setbacks.
When it comes to laws and playing conditions, my preference has always been for legislation that encourages captains to be imaginative, so the good ones prosper and the plodders are exposed. In the limited-overs versions, stifling regulations too often lead to ‘formulated’ captaincy, which can in turn provide mindless periods of play.
A good captain backs his own judgement, while also relying on advice from his senior bowlers and team-mates. His development can be enhanced if he’s exposed to a valuable mentor or two while he’s learning the role.