Leading from the front

Published : Aug 04, 2001 00:00 IST


IN any cricket series the captains play a key role in deciding the tenor and the tempo of the proceedings. Their approach will not only decide the outcome of the matches itself, but also have a major effect on the mood that develops between the players and the fans of both sides.

We have already seen Steve Waugh take leadership in cricket to a different plane. He has not only proven that he is a leader of men on the field but also the type of role model that has inspired all sportsmen into serving society through sports. Old values and history have been given pride of place by him and the rest of the Australians have joined the skipper in bringing these into focus for the greater good of the game. As a result Australian cricket has taken an entirely new image and risen to great heights, proving what strong principled and steady leadership could do. Cheap popularity has been thrown out of the window and the man has been able to inspire everyone around.

When Mark Taylor, who was such a success, left the scene, doubts were cast as to whether the momentum could be maintained and the new man who gets the job could live up to his predecessor. Waugh, whose choice was a toss up with Warne, had other ideas, and brought an entirely new dimension to the task of captaining his country. It was more than leading a bunch of cricketers. He realised that he was probably the most well known Australian after the Prime Minister and had to be seen to be playing a role which every Australian would be proud of, and this he has performed in great style. His performances with the bat puts him amongst the best in the business, but the fighting quality he exemplifies is what appeals to all. He has touched the hearts of millions by his commitment to the less fortunate in India and the visit to Gallipoli by the Australian team initiated by him, to pay respects to the Australian soldiers who fought for their country is another example of the manner in which he has motivated himself, the team and more importantly the whole of Australia.

Sanath Jayasuriya and Sourav Ganguly on the other hand are different. Both have rather similar temperaments when it comes to their approach to batting and the game in general. There is aggression written all over what they do and you get the feeling that their leadership is more about intuition than design.

While it was known that Ganguly was in line for the job sooner than later, Jayasuriya found the responsibility thrust upon him rather suddenly and much earlier than he expected. He has had to absorb plenty, both on and off the field, rather quickly and the manner in which he has developed speaks a lot for him. Sanath has always been willing to learn and has picked up many facets of leadership and those associated with it from those around him. There is no doubt that both these skippers have a great deal more to learn and that is not surprising. It must be accepted that a country's cricket depends a great deal on its captain and as such it is imperative that the BCCI and BCCSL expose Ganguly and Jayasuriya to as much formal leadership training as possible.

When one sees the extent to which the commercial world trains its senior and junior managers, you wonder why cricket administrators do not subject their most vital resources to this.

When India met Australia recently, Ganguly had his share of confrontations with the seasoned Steve Waugh. It is hard to say whether these were stage-managed or not, but the fact is that in the final analysis the Indian seemed to have got the better of his counterpart by coming out on top in the series. That experience would have given him some confidence, but Ganguly must realise that he will be judged on the long term and will require a far more composed manner to succeed consistently.

Both Sanath and Sourav no doubt know that they have been given a great opportunity to make a difference and it is up to them to set the standards and these must be pitched at very high ebb. Start with simple things like punctuality, dress codes etc. I may be old fashioned, but I have no place for bare bodies in a cricket net. This must be banned, as it is appalling to see batsmen and bowlers without their shirts practicing cricket. If this goes unabated, we might find players in underwear only, before long. If you are prepared to adhere to the rules at Lord's, why cannot we set our own high norms? In India and Sri Lanka, where the national cricket captains are high profile individuals, this is of great importance to keep the game in good health. Anything below the best will not be good enough. The captains must look into a high degree of ethics and standards that even extend to outside the playing fields.

With all the ugly happenings of match-fixing and everything connected with it, the responsibility attached is immense and they will be expected to restore the tarnished image of South Asian cricket which has taken a severe beating in recent times. An approach similar to that of Steve Waugh's is essential and you will soon see how the others will follow suit and the game will change for the better.

Encounters between Sri Lanka and India in the past have not been associated with a great deal of gamesmanship and aggression due to the high respect the senior players of both teams had for each other. The scene is no longer the same and I have a gut feeling that the atmosphere will be different this time round. It will be up to the skippers to keep a close watch on things or we might see some tempers frayed.

Some of the newer players appear to believe that it is fashionable, or a sign of manliness, to be verbal. They must remember that the great cricketers hardly resorted to this and even if they were subjected to it, were wise enough to ignore it and countered it with their performances with bat and ball. The aggressors soon left them alone.

My advice to the youngsters is: avoid falling into the trap of being drawn into a confrontation, as that is the best way to lose concentration and is exactly what the opposition wants.

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