Spare capacity

Michael Vaughan... had all the qualities of a natural leader.-AP

Ted Corbett takes a look at three success stories fuelled by inherent ability.

Whenever I see that someone is being asked to take a step upward in his sporting — or journalistic career for that matter — I ask myself: “Has this chap got spare capacity?” In other words: will he find promotion easy?

Some do. Michael Vaughan was a better batsman after being made captain and took charge with such assurance — wearing that big hat and attracting the attention of his team by raising his right arm until they simply had to look at him — that the crowd soon realised where the power lay and that they could rely on this new leader to make the right decisions.

As a result the fans got behind the team and England went on to a period of unprecedented success.

Recently Roy Hodgson, the England football team manager, has astonished many by making Wayne Rooney captain and winning an improved performance from him. “What, made Rooney, that daft lad from the back streets of Liverpool, England captain? What the lad who gets sent off, who keeps the wrong company and who mutters when he is interviewed? It’s a joke, isn’t it?”

No, it is not. Rooney who had come back from the summer break overweight, been benched by Manchester United which led to talk he might leave the club of his dreams, popped up with two goals that made him sixth highest scorer in England history. I reckon that was one of the shrewdest moves by a clever manager. Hodgson realised Rooney had spare capacity, that if he was captain he would inspire other players and that if he spotted a weakness in the opposition defence he would feel empowered to find an answer.

So it turned out. Now that John Terry has stepped down — more to demonstrate his disquiet at the way he has been treated over his taunting of an opposition player than because he has now entered his thirties — Rooney may be the man for the job permanently.

In cricket the selectors tried to make Kevin Pietersen captain but I guess there were doubts about the decision and when the opportunity came along he had to resign. I thought that was a pity because it could only annoy Pietersen who had all the qualifications. Instead they turned to Andrew Strauss, a great success until his batting began to let him down. No one has the spare capacity to overcome the loss of their essential skill and Strauss sensibly quit.

What is good news is that Pietersen’s many fans in India will almost certainly see him this winter playing with the England Test side. If there is a last minute change of plan I am sorry but the time lag between my writing and you reading sometimes plays strange tricks.

Do not miss the opportunity to watch KP; in full flight he is worth every rupee, the bus journey, the queues, the nastiness of the cops, the pushing, the shoving, the heat and the endurance trial that is the tribulation of the Indian fan at cricket.

Go to the match and be astonished that you will see more than you can ever see on television. Whenever I am unable to attend a match and am forced to watch from my armchair I miss the atmosphere of the big ground. You may think you see more through those electronic cameras, but no. At the ground you have the chance to watch the way the field spreads, the bits of bye-play the producer misses, the bowler telling the batsman that the next ball will be so fast he will miss it altogether and rather than depending on the editing ability of the director and producer you can put together your own programme.

Yes, I know you have seen Pietersen play in the IPL, cheered his colossal sixes, delighted in the way he has toyed with the bowlers but please go to see his batsmanship in the Test series.

He is a giant among modern batsmen. Now that Rahul Dravid and V. V. S. Laxman and Ricky Ponting have slipped away and Jacques Kallis is getting older there is no Test batter to match Pietersen. Watch him line up the bowler, wait until the right ball comes along and punish anything that is less than perfect.

“How dare you bowl such stuff to me?” he seems to say. “Full tosses and long hops and half trackers and all that wretched, curious bowling may bring you wickets against lesser batsmen but I am KP, the great KP and you cannot get away with it. Go back to square leg and leave the bowling to your betters.”

So in this series we hope he will produce one of his masterpieces like the 150s — these are his supreme scores whether it is against Australia to win the Ashes or against South Africa or any other country — and you will not be happy unless, at the end of your life, you are able to tell your children, grandchildren and their pals, that you saw the colossus Pietersen at his best.

Beg, borrow or steal the cost of the ticket, walk to the nearest ground, and cheer him — for that is what he relishes more than his millions — until you are hoarse.

England have a fine team, all worth watching, some of whom you will remember forever, but Pietersen is the icing on the cake, the peppery sauce on the steak; fine wine compared with lemonade; and worth a major effort on your part before you can appreciate his genius.

Spare capacity? He has a treasure trove of the stuff.