Talent alone should count

THE sackings have started and not surprisingly, it's the captains who have borne the brunt.

SUNIL GAVBASKAR

THE sackings have started and not surprisingly, it's the captains who have borne the brunt. Any high-profile tournament or series invokes a lot of expectations and if those are not met then a scapegoat has to be found and invariably it's the captain. Some are smart enough to go on their own, but some can be stubborn and they get the boot as Shaun Pollock and Waqar Younis have found out. They paid the price for the bad game that the rest of the team played and though they may have had good performances individually, the captains are the ones with whom the buck stops. Is it fair? Perhaps not, for the buck should stop even higher up with the selection committee and those that elect this committee, but it never does, does it? At least, not as immediately as the buck stops with the skipper. It's the selectors who choose the squad and so are more responsible than the captain who has to make do with what he is given, even though he may have been part of the selection process with or without a vote to choose the rest of the team.

The new South African captain, Graeme Smith, may have all the qualities of a leader, but he is yet to establish himself . — Pic. AP-

In South Africa, they have gone the other way bringing in a player who wasn't good enough to be in the squad a month earlier as the captain. What does that tell you about the selectors who could get it so wrong that they didn't think the player good for the squad and then with no outstanding performances in the interim, suddenly found him good enough to be the captain? South Africa is going through a period of transition and transfer of authority and there's no doubt that it is now the turn of the oppressed to be the oppressor. The boot is well and truly on the other foot. But will that be good for the sport there? That's an answer we will have to wait for sometime, for there are no easy solutions to this and any change will have its own speed and take time to have effect. The fact remains that in sport more than anything else, talent alone should count and that is what South Africa is struggling to come to terms with. Graeme Smith may have all the leadership qualities but he is still not established at the international level and in a team game, a person who is not established himself will find it hard to get the respect of the others, who will not give him the backing that he needs. England have made that mistake in the past when they have appointed skippers who were not in the team and apart from Brearley, no other captain has been able to get the best out of his players, Keith Fletcher being the prime example. He was not even in the England team for a few years when suddenly he was made captain to India of a team which had established players like Boycott, Botham, Gower, Willis and company. He just didn't have the respect of these players who rightly wondered why they had been overlooked and someone who wasn't even in the periphery of the team brought in as skipper. No wonder he wasn't able to get players to obey him, especially when he wanted to accelerate the scoring. Boycott and Tavare did pretty much as they pleased and hardly ever looked towards the pavilion or the dressing room for whatever the captain Fletcher might have wanted. Since it was a tour to India and that too after the famous series at home where England had beaten Australia with Botham's heroics, it was thought that India would be a cakewalk and when that didn't happen, instead of looking inwards, it was easy to point a finger at the opposition. Peter May, that tremendous batsman of the 50s was the England chairman of selectors and he wasn't fooled by what a pliant and biased media had written and he promptly sacked the captain.

Hussain is lucky that he decided to call it quits in one-day cricket for this format does not allow a team to carry a player since it's such a fast-paced game. In Tests, a good team can carry a player who may not be pulling his weight and cover for him, but it's extremely tough to do so in one-dayers. Hussain is a fine player, but a bit set in his batting methods and cannot improvise as is needed in this format, though he did try the reverse sweep against India last season with some success. His decision will no doubt prolong his Test career and if England do well at the Test level, then the game will get a boost there for sure.

Waqar Younis may well have retained his post if Pakistan had beaten India and still not qualified for the Super Six, but to lose to them and not qualify was the ultimate mistake in the eyes of the people and so he had to go. If there are stories that there was dissension in the Pakistani team, then these are not new and were there even before this event began, so why didn't the selectors take the required steps to scotch the problems? Shouldn't they be held as responsible as the skipper for not stepping in and telling all the players what was the need of the hour? To hold him solely responsible is the classic case of the buck being passed around and this is a game the administrators of the world are champions at. Pakistan have gone back to Rashid Latif who had earlier indicated that he would quit after the World Cup, but in true opportunistic style that is so much a part of the sub-continent, he has stayed on to now land the prize of the cricket captaincy of his country.

Sourav Ganguly will have no such problem, for he took India into the finals and so there will be no calls for his head. Inspite of being an outstanding captain, he has had his critics and whenever the team has done well the individuals have been praised, but when the team has fared badly he is the one they point a finger at. It takes something special to get the team up from the floor as he has done after that horrid loss to Australia in the early stages of the World Cup, but Ganguly has got little credit for it. That is a pity, for Indian cricket is full of likes and dislikes and because he wears his passion for his team on his sleeves, he is not your goody-goody captain and so has more detractors than admirers. In the modern game which calls for a great deal of ruthlessness, he has provided it as also the steel and spine that wasn't always there. Whatever may be his personal shortcomings as a batsman, there is not the slightest doubt that he is the toughest captain India has had and no longer do opponents look at India as pushovers if pressured, and for that all credit has to go to the captain and the coach who have brought about the transformation in the team's thinking and outlook. India needs both of them to capitalise on the gains from the World Cup.