Over-loaded captains

Another example of the man who was chairman of selectors, coach, manager and almost everything else was Ray Illingworth, a Yorkshireman who watched every penny.-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

To be a keeper-batsman as well as a captain is a tough job. By Ted Corbett.

There are four cricketers in the Champions Trophy who may be asked to keep wicket, make a hefty contribution to their side’s total and act as captain. Believe me they will not have a lot of time for their favourite hobby. They will be busy.

They are Mahendra Singh Dhoni of India, AB de Villiers of South Africa, Brendon McCullum the New Zealander and — although he is not formally announced as skipper — Kumar Sangakkara who will have to step in if Angelo Matthews is injured. Between them they have the toughest job in sport at the moment, even though they are men who have multi-tasked before.

My guess is that sometime this spring they sat down quietly and added up their commitment to their team.

‘As a batsman I have to make runs, give my lads a pep talk before I go in to bat and seek out the younger batsmen and tell them how I expect them to play. I must be seen to praise those who make decent scores and be diplomatic with those who get out for less than their average.

‘I know they say that keeping wicket in one-day matches is not hard because the ball rarely passes the bat but that can be a problem. In a Test you get used to taking the ball regularly and so you rarely lose concentration. A one-dayer is completely different.

‘Then there is the captaincy; the greatest post in cricket. I will be expected to set the fields, and believe me there are international bowlers who need that to be done for them. Off the field I — and the coach, although they don’t always like that side of the job — will be responsible for discipline.

‘You might think it is a small part of a job in a tournament lasting only three to four weeks but don’t you believe it. There was a great West Indies side 30 years ago so badly behaved that they were grounded each night at nine o’clock. The captain became suspicious and lay in wait. He found they had been sneaking out — led by the assistant manager!

‘The coach and I will also have to plan the nets, the travel, tactics, announce the teams, meet the press, probably hold separate conferences for various sections of the media, and talk the backroom staff through their duties.

‘It can be a simple job if there are not too many injuries but if one or two of the guys cannot play you may have to send them home and work out who will make replacements. It is not easy because often many of the officials are at the tournament on what you might call a busman’s holiday. The ICC will have to be persuaded the changes are essential.

‘If things go well you will be a hero, praised for bringing back the trophy and given credit for the good performances. If things go wrong, perhaps if you are knocked out in the preliminary rounds, you had better watch out. Remember, your local press and the TV pundits and the experts on the radio will have named you as likely winners.

‘The idea of being wrong does not appeal, perhaps their editor will want to know why they were wrong and so they will take revenge on the captain who has let them down.

‘Batsman in chief, wicket-keeper expected to finish with an impeccable record and captain who ought to win every match by a wide margin . . . it can give you the biggest headache of your career. To sum up — there’s not going to be a lot of time for yawning.”

Of course there is the opposite point of view. The captain is paid better than his troops, although I have never heard of a wicket-keeper with a bigger wage packet than his team-mates.

I once asked Alec Stewart how he felt about opening the innings and keeping wicket in a Test. “I am going to ask for two wages,” he grinned. His coach — another example of the man who was chairman of selectors, coach, manager and almost everything else was Ray Illingworth, a Yorkshireman who watched every penny.

It was said that when he was bowling he “knew his average to three decimal places after every ball.” He was canny was Illy although I always found him generous with his time and his wish to explain. He was a fine captain, one of the best England ever had and he picked up Leicestershire by the whitened laces of their cricket boots when he took charge there after Yorkshire refused to give him a two-year contract at what they thought must be the end of his career.

He desperately wanted to be England boss — we cricket writers called him El Supremo — but when the day came he found the jobs difficult.

I think life in general had passed him by. He could not understand some of the young cricketers — “do you know one wants to retire shortly and he’s only 29. I’d still be bowling now at 60 if I could get my shoulder put right” he told me — and the players found him old-fashioned.

“Great captain, not a great coach and manager,” said one of his former Yorkshire team-mates and I think that sums up the man who ought to have been ideal for the complex job he was given selecting teams and managing England.

It must have been the difficulties he encountered in his own multi-tasking — but I doubt if he ever considered over-loading captains as Dhoni, De Villiers, McCullum and Sangakkara may be in the Champions Trophy.