Captaincy is about motivating the players

I REMEMBER the team meeting prior to India's opening World Cup duel against Clive Lloyd's formidable West Indians, at Old Trafford. The year was, of course, 1983.

Skipper Kapil Dev spoke, and his words had a magical effect. He said: "If we can beat them once, why can't we do it again?"

India had beaten the West Indies in Berbice only days earlier in the Caribbean and Kapil reminded us of that famous win. Along with the memory, came a surge of confidence.

Indeed, 'why couldn't we do it again!'

India went on to defeat the West Indies at Old Trafford and repeated the feat in that unforgettable final at Lord's. It was also a tournament where Kapil led the side from the front.

Kapil, like he did before the Old Trafford match, often reminded the team about its own ability. In that World Cup campaign, Kapil was an inspirational figure.

The fact that India humbled Clive Lloyd's all-conquering side with its destructive batsmen and a battery of pace bowlers on three occasions in under two months, twice in the World Cup, should shut the mouths of those who consider India's triumph a fluke. We played to win, did not bother about reputations, and won.

Captaincy is about motivating cricketers, making the super-talented perform to their potential and getting the best out of the ordinary players.

It is not about routine field placements and bowling changes. Anybody, who is picked to represent the country can do that. It is principally about man-management skills.

Captaincy is also result oriented. Invariably we will see that the difference between a good captain and a successful one is how much he can lift his men, taking into account the resources under his command.

Importantly, he makes a player feel 'wanted.' Talk to him during moments of frustration and failure and get him back into a positive frame of mind.

When I captained the Indian side in '89, I was going through a poor run with the bat, but made sure that did not affect my handling of the team. I talked to the younger lot, told them "Look, you go out there and play your natural game. You will not be dropped if you fail."

That worked wonders for the side. The youngsters delivered with someone like Sanjay Manjrekar shouldering a great amount of responsibility. India drew the four-match series and considering how tough Pakistan was at home those days it was as good as a victory.

Different players have to be handled differently. Mohammed Azharuddin was finding runs difficult to come by on that tour. He was a God-fearing young man, someone who would seldom miss his namaz and I told him before the second Test: "You have so much faith in God. Play your natural game. God will come to your aid."

Azhar started making runs again. It so happened that he replaced me as skipper after that tour. That's life!

A captain should not be predictable and there are times when he has to take calculated risks. It was a gamble when I sent Chetan Sharma at No. 4 during the MRF Nehru Cup.

India was chasing a big total against England and Chetan went in with the specific instructions of getting a quick-fire 30 or 40. He ended up getting a blazing unbeaten hundred, winning the match for us.

Let me tell you here that this was not an unanimous decision of the team-management. In fact, manager Chandu Borde was against the move. Yet, I stuck to my guns. I was willing to take the flak in case the decision ended in a failure.

At the end of the day, everyone was raving about how brilliant a ploy that was. However, had Chetan got out early, the same critics would have savaged me.

Similarly, when Dipak Patel opened the attack in World Cup '92, the whole cricketing world was taken aback. How could the off-spinner take the new ball, in the first fifteen overs, when the field restrictions were at place, many asked.

Yet, New Zealand captain Martin Crowe was right on the mark strategically. He realised that on the New Zealand pitches, that were playing on the slower side, Patel would be hard to get away. In the end, the Kiwis almost made the final.

A captain has to know specific requirements for specific campaigns. Sunil Gavaskar placed his faith on experienced cricketers like Mohinder Amarnath and Roger Binny - they were not regulars in the one-day series at home against England - for the World Championship of Cricket tournament in Australia, '85, but these players performed their roles well. Gavaskar had got his team right.

During my time, Arjuna Ranatunga, Imran Khan and Allan Border were all great captains. Ranatunga made the most of a limited bunch of bowlers, motivated his men and was quite brilliant in his field settings.

He was also willing to innovate. The Lankans' tactic of treating the first 15 overs like the last 15 worked magic for them in the '96 World Cup. One could easily see that Ranatunga's shrewd mind was at work.

Imran Khan will be remembered for the amount of faith he put in the youngsters. Men like Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Inzamam-ul-Haq blossomed under Imran and the captain always had words of praise for these youngsters when he addressed the media.

Crucially, he took away the fear of being 'dropped' from the minds of the players and when a cricketer realises that he would be persisted with despite some failures, the positive effect it can have on his cricket can be quite dramatic. Imran stood by his men, made them believe in themselves - a critical attribute in a skipper.

Australian cricket was in a wretched state when Allan Border took over and his was an inspiring presence as Australia rose from the dumps. Border led by personal example and his men took the cue. He was a brave captain and if Australia is at the top of the chart today, a large share of the credit has to go to Border.

Like Border, Steve, a born fighter, reserves his best for adverse situations and leads by example. Among the modern captains, he is easily the best for his strength of mind, reading of a game and that ability to remain calm even during the most testing periods.

This is what Sourav Ganguly lacks. Otherwise his captaincy cannot be faulted. He is aggressive in his approach, which is nice, and positive with his attitude, whether or not he makes runs. However, when things begin to go wrong, he loses his cool.

Now, this is not a good quality in a captain for that can rub off on the others as well. Ganguly would do well to keep his emotions under check. Finally, a captain shouldn't enter the field with set rules. There are no set rules or patterns here. He has to be innovative, flexible, with the ability to pull an ace out of his sleeve when the game is in the balance. He has to be decisive.

And he should be willing to bring about the required changes in the side, irrespective of the past reputation of a cricketer. Horses for courses should be the policy.