Our Imran and Lloyd

IN the middle of rapid commercialisation of cricket, the institution of captaincy is, perhaps, the last vestige of the ideological formation of the sport in the nineteenth century English public school. Despite Hansie Cronje's self-flagellation at the close of the twentieth century — the reference here is to ear-pieces and not to leather jackets and greenbacks — the game has, so far, survived the intrusive vision of the coach from beyond the boundary, a practice so much entrenched now in other `English' team sports such as football and rugby which, like cricket, were given its modern form in Eton, Harrow, Rugby and their ilk.

Cricket, no doubt, is trying hard to emulate football with coaches now beginning to control a lot of decisions including selection of teams, fixing the batting order and identifying fields to specific bowlers in specific situations. However, in the absence of `sideline coaching', the captain can still take an emergency decision on the field (which has a bearing on ten other people) all of his own in addition to motivating and rallying his men, which are sanctuaries of privilege from a bygone era when, as Sir Henry Newbolt's memorable poem Vitai Lampada (The Torch of Life) succinctly states, captaincy resembled more the institution of the army general in his military quest than that of the manager in a firm.

This being the structural situation, what Mike Brearley speaks of as the ideal attributes of a captain in his book The Art of Captaincy — persuasive skills, confidence in oneself and ten others, knowledge of the workings of other minds and intuitive insight — might hold good still. Brearley's own position with respect to a captain's tactical awareness is interesting to note. The former England captain has always foregrounded what he calls intuitive insight over theoretical awareness. The Oxonian, who has a degree in philosophy, has a reason too — the captain's tactical response to a situation, he points out, is only one out of a basket of different tactical approaches that will work in any given situation in a world of multiple possibilities.

It is not surprising that all English captains (Michael Atherton onwards) have read Brearley's book, and have made a mention of it in their autobiographies more as a work that understands the role and responsibilities of a captain than as Brearley's vindication of his own way as the ideal way to captain England.

England is a key word here. For, what holds good for cricket in England does not for captains in other societies. In 1981, the year Brearley won The Ashes, sport academic and political philosopher Lincoln Allison discussed the relationship between sporting competition, commercialism and national cultures in a paper titled `Condition of England'. According to Allison, England — a country whose writers, philosophers and social scientists are taught the world over and where a working class sport is the carrier of national identity — is not under constant pressure from the media and the public domain to assert its national identity on the cricket field as opposed to post-colonial cricketing teams such as Australia, the West Indies, India and Pakistan.

Hence, the scope and nature of sporting leadership in these countries have to be altered keeping in mind the game's higher stakes and an intensely representative function served by cricket. There is so much of complexity and diversity in these countries, especially the Subcontinent and the Caribbean, and cricket captains — as West Indian social historian Hilary Beckles writes — often have to play a sociological role as well. Imran Khan and Clive Lloyd, two successful captains from these regions, have written about this in their autobiographies — they often had to transform themselves to different selves to be successful as leaders.

If Lloyd's captaincy had all the attributes spelt out by Brearley, it also went one step ahead in reminding his teammates that they are serving a political mission of putting their nations on the world stage and asserting their racial equality in technical terms. Imran's captaincy, in contrast, had very little outward similarities with the calm, measured and scholarly approach of Brearley. The charismatic all-rounder, also an Oxonian, unashamedly used emotion as a weapon — anger to discipline teammates and paternal love and care as support. Imran often arrogated himself the sole responsibility to give Pakistan its pride of place on the world stage, which made him resort to measures far removed from systems and practices such as democracy and consensus.

Coming to India, Sourav Ganguly may not have had as good a bowling attack as Imran at his disposal, yet posterity might well remember him as the man with attitude, passion and supreme confidence who took India to a new route of cricketing excellence. Rahul Dravid, who now takes charge with a mission to rebuild the one-day team, may be as different from Ganguly and Imran as chalk and cheese but he certainly has the potential to be remembered as India's Clive Lloyd years from now.