The art of captaincy

CAPTAINCY is a double-edged sword. It can give you a great feeling of satisfaction during moments of triumph, but when things begin to go wrong, it is not the easiest of jobs.


Two of the finest captains in one-day cricket today are Stephen Fleming and Ricky Ponting. -- Pic. AFP-

CAPTAINCY is a double-edged sword. It can give you a great feeling of satisfaction during moments of triumph, but when things begin to go wrong, it is not the easiest of jobs.

A captain has to take his team with him. In times of distress that can be demanding. In the TVS tri-series we have had enough evidence as to what makes Ricky Ponting tick.

It is his positive frame of mind. He is seldom on the defensive either while batting or leading the team on the field of play.

It must have been tough for him to step into the shoes of a legend like Steve Waugh as the Australian captain for the ODIs, but Ponting has adapted to the demands wonderfully well.

At the crease, he tries to seize the initiative from the bowlers and it is the same story with his captaincy — he is at the opposition all the time.

It must have been difficult for Ponting in the TVS series with his side being stunned by India at Gwalior. The Australian response has been typical of a world champion team.

I have especially been impressed with the manner Ponting has made use of his young pacemen Nathan Bracken and Brad Williams.

Travelling to India without key pacemen such as Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee and Jason Gillespie, Ponting must have known he had a tough job on hand.

To make matters worse, the pacemen were not really on target in the first match, but the manner in which they have regrouped also presents the captain in favourable light. I am sure Ponting must have had a chat with his young pacemen and made them believe in their own ability.

A captain's job is not restricted to the field alone. It travels way beyond that. He has to constantly communicate with his men, and if anyone has a problem, help him find a way out, along with the coach.

The sense of camaraderie is high among the Aussies and they do help each other out during times of distress. This is why we often see the juniors in the Australian ranks blending so quickly with the seniors.

On the field, Ponting is the kind of captain who would not hesitate to take a chance if the occasion warranted it. He shuffles his bowlers around well, and does not allow the opposing batsmen to settle down fast.

Ponting's methods suit his team and it dishes out hard, aggressive cricket. The Australian performance in the league stage of the TVS tri-series shows that the side has a great amount of depth not just in batting, but also in bowling.

These are early days yet in Ponting's captaincy career and his real test will come if the Australian selectors decide that he should also take over from Steve Waugh in Tests.

Rahul Dravid (second from left) had a taste of captaincy in the tri-series owing to Sourav Ganguly's indisposition. Here he is at the toss of the Chennai match against New Zealand. -- Pic. N. SRIDHARAN-

But he is a cricketer with the right kind of attitude and it should not take him too long to lead the Australians to victories in Test cricket as well. He had his fair share of problems as a youngster, was once involved in a drunken brawl in a nightclub, but is a different kind of person now. One, who is clearly aware of his responsibilites as a Test captain.

Much credit is due to the authorities concerned in Australia, who believing in Ponting's potenital both as a batsman and a captain, persisted with him when there were calls for his removal from the Australian team on grounds of indiscipline.

Stephen Fleming, the New Zealand captain, has also had his share of problems off the field and was once pulled up for drug abuse during his early days in the Kiwi side. Like Ponting, Fleming is a transformed person now.

Fleming is now among the most respected captains in contemporary cricket, although we saw that even such a highly rated skipper can make a terrible mistake as in the Faridabad match of the TVS tri-series when Fleming opted to bat in a day game in northern India.

There was bound to be moisture on the surface, and New Zealand paid the price with a crushing defeat. I am sure that match will stay in Fleming's memory for a long time. However, good captains do not repeat their mistakes and I am sure Fleming will not be different.

Like Ponting, Fleming shuffles his bowlers around, uses them in short spells, and tries every legitimate trick to break the concentration of the batsmen. There are times when this works and times when it does not. But a captain has to keep trying and not be predictable.

The away record of the Kiwis has improved considerably under Fleming and the captain deserves a pat on the back for this. While New Zealand has always been a handy side at home, it is the display away from home that has earned them the respect of the cricketing community. Another noteworthy feature of Fleming's captaincy is his field placing. It can look out of place but a lot of thinking goes behind it, and, as we have seen so often, the Kiwis have been successful with their ideas.

Rahul Dravid, getting a chance to lead India following Sourav Ganguly's surgery, showed he was willing to try out a few ideas. He rung in the changes well in Gwalior and did make use of the part-time bowlers.

The promotion of Yuvraj Singh in the batting order at Gwalior worked, but the move to open with the off-spin of Virender Sehwag at Mumbai didn't. I am sure Dravid would have learnt from the experience.