Of great captains and their successes

So what is the difference between a great captain and a successful one. Rare ability, obviously, of the kind that, say, differentiates a great batsman from a good one.

SANJAY RAJAN

ALL great truths are obvious truths, but not all obvious truths are great truths. In much the same way, all great captains are invariably successful and successful ones need not necessarily be great.

So what is the difference between a great captain and a successful one. Rare ability, obviously, of the kind that, say, differentiates a great batsman from a good one.

In no other sport does captaincy have such a decisive role to play.

This is probably why captaincy is one of the most discussed topics in cricket.

So what is the difference between a great captain and a successful one. Rare ability, obviously, of the kind that, say, differentiates a great batsman from a good one.

Ravi Shastri, considered by many as one of the better thinkers of the game in the country, explained his yardstick of differentiating a great batsman from a good one as thus, "A good batsman is one who defends good deliveries and gets runs off the loose ones. A great batsman is one who can get runs off good deliveries too."

It is a logic that can be applied to captaincy also. An oft-asked question on captaincy has been: Is a captain as good as his team? And therein lies the answer.

Great captains are ones who make a difference with ordinary sides using tactics and inspiring ordinary players play beyond their abilities. For the others, success depends on the strength of the team they command.

A great captain who never led in a World Cup was England's Raymond llingworth. And specially so, that his first class career continued till he was 50 years old. In 1975, he should have been England's automatic choice as captain. And who knows what difference it would have made to his country's fortunes. The rather fortunate Mike Denness thus gained the distinction of being England's first World Cup captain.

Illingworth's calibre as a captain in the period after the War is comparable only to Australia's Richie Benaud and West Indian Frank Worrell.

From those who have led their countries in major overs-limit championships, the ones like Sunil Gavaskar, Imran Khan, Martin Crowe, Ian Chappell, the late Hansie Cronje and Arjuna Ranatunga fall under the category `great captains' while the ones like Clive Lloyd, Kapil Dev, Allan Border and Steve Waugh come under the cluster of `successful captains'. Lloyd led the West Indies to back-and-back World Cup titles in '75 and '79 before Kapil's underrated team halted Lloyd's run in '83. Allan Border put Australia's cricketing fortunes on the ascent when he guided the side to the highest accolade in the sub-continent's first World Cup and Steve Waugh led Australia in the come-from-behind triumph in the last edition, in England '99, when the side won six games straight and tied the next for a slot in the semifinals. Amazing performances, each one of them, undoubtedly, but then how much of a role does a captain play when he has abundant talent at his disposal.

Like, for example, does it need a tactician to lead a talented squad like the West Indies in '75 & '79. The line-up in 1979 read Gordon Greenidge, Des Haynes, Viv Richards, A. L. Kallicharran, Lloyd himself, Collis King, Dereyk Murray, Andy Roberts, Joel Garner, Michael Holding and Colin Croft.

Kapil's side turned out to be perfectly balanced, with almost seven all-rounders, while Steve Waugh couldn't have asked for a better bunch. Though Lloyd and Waugh had phenomenal talent at their disposal, they possessed the ability to guide their teams.

Border's triumph in '87 had a quirk of fate to it. Remember Mike Gatting's reverse sweep in the final, which changed the course of the match. But then, hats off to Border, who backed his instincts as a bowler to come on at that crucial moment.

On the other hand, men like Gavaskar made things happen, took decisions that eventually changed the course of destiny. Gavaskar's batting might not have been suited for the shorter version of the game maybe he chose it not to be so _ but in the B&H World Series Cricket in Australia in '85, which India won, he led masterfully.

It was Gavaskar who was instrumental in the selection of Laxman Sivaramakrishnan, saying that the young man's flighty leg-spin would make big impact considering the length of the boundaries out there. It was Gavaskar who backed K. Srikkanth, as he wanted a partner who could bat with the freedom that he couldn't play with. Though he didn't make many runs in that tournament, he got the others to deliver. He had the ability to provoke Kapil to perform. In short, he could bring out the best in the worst situations.

Ian Chappell did come out second best in the inaugural World Cup final against the West Indies. But on reflection, he'd have blamed the run-outs in his team's chase and not Lloyd's brilliant batting for his defeat. If there was an instance of a slip between the cup and the lip, the first World Cup final would be it for Chappell.

The most inspirational captain after Benaud, Chappell vowed to himself that he would never be sacked as captain after the shoddy treatment meted out to his predecessor, William Morris (Bill) Lawry.

In some ways, Chappell was like Benaud. Batsman rated by the Indian spinners as being better than his brother Greg, a leg-spinner who did not bowl enough and an excellent communicator, a quality that has stood him in good stead in his career as writer and commentator after his retirement from playing.

If Benaud was basically a cajoler and in his own way an establishment man, Chappell was a task master, and at times turbulently anti-establishment.

But then, Chappell, who had shared a dressing room, as the 12th man in 1963-64 in South Africa, must have been a secret fan. One of the most perceptive observers of men and matters on a cricket field, Chappell brandished the image of the `ugly Australian' so that his players became more competitive. In dealing with the establishment, he was not averse to walking in to the committee room with a cigar stuck in his mouth or when provoked, even willing to drop his pants. Eventually, he inevitably got his way, created the duo of Lillee and Thomson and restored Australia's slip catching to its pristine glory. Who else could have thought of calling his autobiography Chappelli. Few know the reasons why. On all Australian Test scoreboards it was always shown as Chappell, I. Imran Khan's style was that of a feudal leader or tribal chief, he gave the orders and the others obeyed. He possessed the charisma to carry it off. He was a superb man manager, especially the way he handled Javed Miandad. In the 1992 World Cup in Australia/New Zealand, Imran led by example. He made the right moves to orchestrate a turn-around. Playing in the edition more as a batsman owing to a nagging shoulder injury, Imran walked in at No. 3 in the final against Graham Gooch's England and put on a century-plus partnership with Miandad after the side, batting first, lost Aamir Sohail and Rameez Raja to Pringle early.

At the right moment, he promoted Wasim Akram at No. 6, ahead of Salim Malik and Ijaz Ahmed and Akram clicked. Captaincy is about intuition, about taking responsibility.

Another man in Imran's class was New Zealand's Martin Crowe. He too led from the front, making runs by the ton in the '92 edition. In fact, both Wasim and Waqar rate him as the best batsman they have bowled to. It was Crowe who introduced the concept of pinch-hitters in the World Cup stage in the form of Mark Greatbatch, who was a great success, not to forget Crowe opening the bowling with off-spinner Dipak Patel, a masterstroke.

Arjuna Ranatunga improved on the concept of pinch-hitters, when he got the left-right combination of Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana to go hell for leather in the first 15 overs in the '96 edition, jointly hosted by India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Ranatunga displayed his keen mind when he backed himself in the slow wickets of the sub-continent with spinners. He had only one seamer in left-arm Chaminda Vaas, but a host of all-rounders for the balance. So much so that he used the off-spin of his star batsmen Aravinda de Silva and Sanath Jayasuriya, and both lived up to the occasion.

He embraced the Australian influence on the importance of fielding introduced by coach Dav Whatmore. In fact, the Lankan Lions were the best allround fielding side in the competition. Another captain to work closely with the coach was Cronje. Bob Woolmer was a big factor in the improvement of South Africa. The Proteas play the game much the same way as the Australians. Cricket is more about method for them, and both can be beaten by flair. Woolmer introduced science and innovations. Cronje understood these. And his boys, who looked up to him as a father figure, took to his style. South Africa lost in the last World Cup owing to just two mistakes: Herschelle Gibbs dropping Steve Waugh in the crucial super-six contest and Allan Donald's run out in the semifinal against Australia.

And that only goes to show that experience does not necessarily provide one with a cool head while a cool head can make the most of experience. Ask Shastri, who had the presence of mind to tie the score in the famous second tied Test in Madras. Otherwise, it might have been another Test lost by India. Captaincy, as they say, is about presence of mind.