Nasser carries forward a tradition

SANJAY RAJAN

IF you are going to climb, you've got to grab the branches, not the blossoms. Nothing great was ever done without decisiveness.

Nasser Hussain, the Chennai-born Englishman's captaincy in the Test series against India highlighted his high cricketing acumen and his ability to take on-the-spot decisions.

It does seem though that England Test captains with antecedents outside of that country have led with distinction, accentuated by their hard-as-nails approach, so much so that they seem to have wanted to prove a point.

Nasser, as we know, spent the early part of his childhood in Madras, now Chennai. His father Jawad has, in fact, represented Madras in Ranji Trophy.

Nasser's England might have lost the three-Test showdown in India 0-1. But the side, after losing the opener in Mohali, improved in the subsequent encounters. The Ahmedabad game ended in a draw while rain saved India the blushes in Bangalore. All this making one believe that the tale might well have been different had it been a five-Test series!

Sticking to the basics, Nasser simplified the very concept of the game at the highest level. His logic was clear, that in the end analysis it was about each batsman making 30 runs and each of his five bowlers getting two wickets. In a side without stars, Nasser encouraged heroism, not stardom.

Nasser's captaincy was very much like that of Tony Lewis, with even scantier resources, especially in batting. Lewis, who is Welsh, led England on the 1972-73 tour of India, which even men like Ray Illingworth declined to undertake.

Armed only with his smile (which, it was said, would charm even a statue), Lewis arrived here (tour of the sub-continent) with his England team the underdog to Ajit Wadekar's all-conquering India (which had beaten the West Indies and England away just the previous year).

England won the opening Test in Delhi that saw heads roll in the host's line-up, Dilip Sardesai being among them. Lewis maintained a remarkable tempo throughout. India came from behind to win the series, largely due to M.A.K. Pataudi and Salim Durani, who were recalled for the second and third Tests.

Mike Denness was a Scot. He was deputy to Lewis on the '72-73 tour of India, and captain in '74 at home when England defeated India 3-0, Denness making two of his four career Test centuries in that series.

Not exactly a natural man manager, Denness, nevertheless, was a generally sound, orthodox and enthusiastic captain. He led England in 19 of the 28 Tests that he played in. He batted with circumspection or aggression as the situation demanded.

Tony Greig was by far the most magnetic of them all. An outsized man, he was born in South Africa, the son of a Scottish father and a South African mother, and lived there till he was 20.

As captain, he was always looking to put it past his opponents while being extremely active on the field. He would either attack or defend with no policy in between. His ability to endear himself to the crowds made him a big hit, though controversies seemed to follow him.

He led England brilliantly on the 1976-77 tour of India, winning the series 3-1, and according to Christopher Martin-Jenkins "had the world of cricket at his feet when he decided to accept Kerry Packer's offer to become the catalyst for the cricket revolution of 1977 (the World Series Cricket). He was soon dismissed as captain of England for what was regarded as his betrayal of trust in the Packer matter, but played successfully for the country under Mike Brearley in 1977," before the Packer Series began.

Douglas Jardine, the protagonist of the famously infamous Bodyline series, was a Scot. He was born in Bombay and earned the nickname 'Iron Duke' for, as Martin-Jenkins puts it, "his austere character of iron will and an inflexible self-discipline, which extended to his captaincy."

It is said that, "as captain of England he was a cold, authoritarian figure who yet inspired the loyalty of his team and the grudging admiration of most opponents, excluding the 1932-33 Australians that is, who thought his leg-theory tactic to curb the menace of Bradman and regain the Ashes was unsportsmanlike." He was also captain of England on its first Test tour of India in 1933-34.

Interestingly, each of the above-mentioned have captained against India. For that matter, another England captain, 'Gubby' Allen, was born in Australia, which probably explains his reluctance to fall in line with his captain Jardine in the matter of Bodyline. In fact, he had an uncle, R.C. Allen, who played for Australia.

It does seem you have to be very special, if you are Scottish, Welsh, Australian and Indian, to 'belong', let alone lead.