Captaincy Playbooks: Part I
Vish was telling me that he reads my columns; except when I write about cricket. When he realizes that is where I am going, he says, “Eh-eh, you not catching me in that.”
I was going to argue that I don’t really write on cricket; that I use the game as a medium to talk about broad issues. But then I thought about how specific I can get and I figured that although that is my intent, it would be a stretch to try to hold ‘uncricketing’ interest.
I guess I’ve just lost Vish, but he can take my word that even if I am walking through backrooms of the game, this is not simply about cricket.
I look forward to the contest between England and New Zealand in tomorrow’s ICC World Cup final. As hosts, England will be hyper-pumped, but New Zealand has been a quiet force throughout, and it will be riveting. I bring this up because it was said that when England lost to New Zealand in the 2015 World Cup, it triggered a reform to their game under Eoin Morgan. For the record, England were all out for 123 in 33.2 overs and New Zealand got to 125/2 in 12.2 overs. It was the kind of beating that England put on Australia on Thursday.
At this point, team West Indies is a shadowy memory in the event, but looking at them this past year, I feel there is more to bring hope than despair. I’ve said that it seems the team learns in hindsight and does not have the capacity for foresight, so planning seems bereft of strategy (when I say team, I mean everyone at Cricket West Indies from president right up to players).
But other teams have floundered and risen. West Indies have malingered in the state of “potential” because we continue to talk without action, and I think we also miss the little details that make a difference. For this reason, I want to pull out what I am calling the playbooks of three captains who managed to turn around teams dramatically and leave enduring legacies as well.
I went back in time, studying the leadership of Sir Frank Worrell, West Indian captain; Richie Benaud, Australian captain, and Michael Brearley, English captain; all considered all-rounders.
There were several commonalities in their general philosophy. If I could summarise it into points, it would be something like this: Play hard, play fair, study your opponents, strategize, enjoy the game; build a team and nurture it. Many descriptions of the three refer to their skills at “man-management” (a term I do not care for, but that’s how they said it). I think it would be simplest to take a look at them as individuals, within the constraints of this medium.
Richie Benaud was born in 1930, six years after Frank Worrell. They were contemporaries, with the special link of the historic tour of Australia in the season of 1960-61.
Benaud had come into the captaincy in 1958 and until 1964, his team played 28 Tests, won 12, drew 11, lost four and had that tied match at Brisbane. The world of cricket had grown duller and its entertainment value was low. The Australian team was not immune to the doldrums, but Benaud came in with his childhood code.
“Cricket was talked breakfast, lunch and dinner in the Benaud household, every day I can remember,” he said. “It was drilled into me over meal tables at home when I was a child that cricketers who do not set about trying to win the game from the start of the match would never be successful, but don’t forget the game must be played in the right spirit.”
In one of countless similar eulogies after his death in 2015, Malcolm Knox wrote the following.
“Benaud’s captaincy was energetic and often inspired, engendering total loyalty from his men for his practice of sharing all benefits equally.”
Knox described how his nursing of a “hypochondriac” teammate through fatigue and injury earned him a name for “sensitive man-management.”
The world came to associate him and Frank Worrell with the revival of exciting cricket because they played to win, and they built a team spirit that was supportive.
When Benaud turned to commentary, he shared much of his philosophical outlook on the air. He gained such a reputation for his distinctive style that he is said to have been asked if he had ever played cricket since he knew so much about it!
Former England captain Michael Atherton, who turned commentator too, offered this tribute to Benaud in the book, “Remembering Richie.”
“Richie never morphed into an old-school bore. He rarely talked about his playing days, or his considerable achievements as a player. He never began a commentary stint or a sentence with “in my day”…He admired the modern player; he loved Twenty20 and all the technological advances, especially his beloved Snicko… He recognized that times change and comparisons are pointless. Because of that, the modern players loved him.”
Another obituary ascribed his success to his “pro-active approach” to the game and his “conviction that Test cricket needed to renew itself or fail in the post-war “sportainment” industry.
This is Benaud in brief; he played his cricket with passion and confidence and he supported his team.
NEXT: Mike Brearley