Steve Smith- One of the best batsmen ever and a very influential captain and leader. (Photo: Peter Smith)
The Selection of a Captain is one of the most important and critical decisions that can be made as the impact and influence is deep felt across all layers within a team, club and community. A poor process and little thought invites risk and disaster, while a well-considered and inviting process can establish a foundation for progress and success.
The eventual choice of a captain, the ultimate decision, is the most important position of influence for the subsequent outputs of the role. The direction to players. The development of strategy and plans. The relationship with coach and management. The caring and motivation of players. The setting of example and standards at practice. The social binding off the field. The celebration of progress and success. The recognition as a figurehead within the community.
Described by Gideon Haigh, “Captaincy is the most mythologised of cricket’s faculties. Its required skills compound of tactical acumen, interpersonal skill and public diplomacy not to mention individual excellence is also unique to the game. Historically, captaincy has been learned at lower levels. Australian skippers have come to the job with prior experience at junior, grade and state levels.”
The selection method of a captain, how should it be done? A mixture of art, science, logic and hope. Or are there steps available that have proven to deliver the expected and desired standards and outcomes?
This Cricket Mentoring article carries the intention of providing a framework and practical steps that can be adapted to the needs of a club or organisation while reflecting on masters and experts of this position from cricket and sport.
Drawing from a combination of theory, research, experience and observation, we shall offer a method of purpose, guidance, process, engagement, ranking and evaluation as a practical tool for consideration and implementation.
As an initial reflection and for further and deeper background, we draw upon a story where the influence of leadership can flow into unexpected areas. Sam Mendes, English stage and film director, born in Reading, Berkshire, was having problems on his film American Beauty.
Brearley, regarded as one of Test cricket’s most astute captains, from 1977 to 1981, led in 31 of the 39 Tests that he played with a record of 18 wins and only 4 losses. His impact on players who were able to fully release their natural talents in Botham, Gower and Willis. He may have carried the weight that “his batting record for England was inadequate” yet he earned his place with a glowing reference from the fierce fast bowler in Rodney Hogg that “he has a degree in people”.
An extract from an interview in 2007 by Siddhartha Vaidyanathan with Brearley about the essentials of good captaincy can be viewed here with per below interactions and reflections around the qualities of technical, man-management, intuitive, resourceful, sympathetic and clear thinking:
What are the broad segments you can divide captaincy into?
There are so many different qualities involved. You might divide them for convenience’s sake into two – technical aspects and man-management.
Technically, you need to know the game completely. You need to have a great pleasure and interest in tactics. You need to be both inventive and cautious, and move between attack and defence without too much of a radical shift.
With respect to man-management, you need to get the whole group playing as a team, you need to get the best out of individuals. You can’t do it with everyone but you can expect some to perform better than they would otherwise.
The late journalist John Thicknesse described you as intuitive, resourceful, sympathetic and clear-thinking. Could you elaborate on those qualities?
Although you can use logic, you also have to go by hunches. A person who can trust his hunch is one who knows his game thoroughly.
Nobody knows what’s going to happen next. You can change the bowling and the new bowler may bowl leg stump half-volleys, go for 15 runs, and you lose control of the game. Or he may bowl just outside off, you get two wickets, and you’ve won the game. You need to work by hunches, but intelligent hunches.
It means having a range of options in your mind which you can turn to in times of need. Like England saw India get 664 in this match at The Oval. And they only had three bowlers for most of the day. That’s when you’ve got to eke out the most out of your resources, have an alternate plan, propose something different. You’ve got to keep trying and you’ve got to keep it going. Sometimes all you’ve got is keeping it going. Bowlers are tired, batsmen are on top, all you can do is think, “It could be even worse, it could be slightly better.”
Some of the great players haven’t been great captains because they haven’t been able to understand the struggle. You have to have an empathy for other players, and at the same time you have to say, “If this is the way you’re going to go, you won’t succeed.” You’ve got to be tough, sometimes hard. The example that comes to mind is Geoffrey Boycott, especially in Australia in 1978-79, when he wasn’t in very good form – he’d just been sacked from Yorkshire captaincy, his mother had just died. A combination of things made a great player look like ordinary. I didn’t do that much but it was Doug Insole, the manager, who took hours of time talking to Geoffrey, sympathising with him – telling him that you can’t really speak to umpires like that etc. Botham also helped him. Geoffrey, uncharacteristically kept getting hit off the short-pitched ball, and Botham said, “You’re getting very rigid on the crease, standing stump to stump. You’re not moving like a boxer. And he tried to get him a bit light on his feet.” That was an example of sympathy.
This is especially required when you’re under pressure. If the bowlers are going for runs, they’re tired, maybe someone’s arguing with you, there’s pressure on you for not scoring runs … that’s when you need clear-headedness.
I was in Perth in 1978-79 and there was Peter Toohey at the crease. He was a good hooker and puller. Botham tried to bounce him with the old ball and he kept hooking. And the new ball was due. Bob Willis was saying to me, “Whatever you do, take Botham off. We’re losing control.” John Lever was feeling aggrieved because he hadn’t been given the ball, but that was only because I didn’t think he was the most dangerous bowler. Mike Hendrick was reliable but hadn’t done much in the match.
So Lever was fuming because he wasn’t bowling, Willis was fuming because of the way Botham was bowling, Botham was fuming because I’d taken him off. The new ball came and I gave it to Hendrick because I thought he would come with the most control for an over. Then the umpires came and said, “We won’t allow you to bowl bouncers at Geoff Dymock [the tailender]”. That was ridiculous. He’d been in for an hour and a half, they’d added 60 or 70 runs. Absolutely ridiculous. And I said, “I’m afraid I can’t guarantee that we won’t.” Luckily Hendrick took a wicket straightaway – bowled Dymock without any controversy – but that was a moment where I felt it was hard to hold on to clear-thinking. You have all this anxiety in your way.
It’s often said a captain is only as good as his team. Is that just a cliché?
It’s a partial truth. Obviously if you’ve got second-grade players you wouldn’t get the same result as with first-grade players. With a good captain a company, orchestra, any group, can be made to work – a good leader who makes them the best they can be under the circumstances they find themselves in.
Some captains are good when they’re up against it, some are good when they’re on top of things. Winston Churchill was a great war leader, but I don’t think he was a good prime minister during peace. So you’ve got different situations.
You can’t transform mediocre players into great players but you can transform them into good ones. Which makes a difference. In many Tests, even if the margin of victory is large, there can be phases where it can go either way. Like if England had got Sachin Tendulkar out for 21 and had a bit of luck, India might have been 150 for 5. And then England would have been on top.
Brearley has also recently offered a balanced viewpoint from the current series between England and India with admiration and respect for the challenges that face Virat Kohli.
Kohli has pushed the team to be his mirror image, be it fitness or aggression, but the batting unit has struggled. “Everyone has his style, I like (Kohli); he is keen, hawk-eyed,” Brearley said in an informal chat during the match.
But he added: “I suppose the one thing you wonder about Kohli is whether he is going to become too dominant a figure in Indian cricket? Great respect is shown to great Indian cricketers but, especially him at the moment, he is a deity in India; will that be good for him and Indian cricket in the long run?”
Brearley saw shades of Kohli in the intensity of Ishant Sharma and Ashwin, who shared 13 wickets. “Some of that comes from Kohli too. There is an intensity about his cricket. Occasionally, I daresay, it makes people nervous. But on the whole I think it animates them, dynamises people.”
Arriving at the point where a club or organisation is confronted with the need to properly decide upon a captain. The reason for the why already worked through, how is it done?
Developing a methodology framework and having this agreed to by the parties involved establishes a base. This should consist of:
- Purpose – clear thinking around the need
- Guiding Principle – key focus areas
- Process – steps involved
- Assessment – meaningful questions
- Scoring – ranking mechanism
- Responsibilities – clarity of expectations
- Reflection – space and time
How this can be implemented with a series of logical steps and involvement are contained in the following actual example. Specific aspects can be adapted to suit needs. For the purpose of context, most of this content is as per the situation where it was actually applied to identify a captain who in his first year was able to lead his team and club to a One Day Premiership and Two Day Final where the majority of the players involved were stepping into First Grade level from junior levels.
To provide a considered and thorough framework to identify candidates for the role of captain and complete an assessment process for recommendation to the Cricket Committee / Management.
Identify a leader whose main focus is the club with the ability to manage aspirations accordingly so that they do not become distractions to the position.
- Select management / personnel to conduct process as a “Selection Panel.”
- Receive from Cricket Committee / Management confirmation of guiding principles (as above),
- Identify potential candidates within and outside playing list.
- Initial direct personal interview by one of the “Selection Panel” with identified candidates to confirm interest.
- Schedule interviews for candidates with “Selection Panel.”
- Agreed series of assessment questions to be determined by panel (refer section below, “Assessment Questions”)
- Assessment questions to be made available beforehand to candidates in preparation.
- Scoring to be applied by panel to assess candidate during interview (refer section below “Scoring Mechanism”)
- Reference check any knowledge that comes from the interview for further consideration.
- Selection Panel finalise recommendation and submit to Cricket Committee for approval.
- Candidates notified in person with feedback from process.
- Announcement made internally throughout club.
- Announcement made public to community, competition, sponsors, partners and media.
To consist of the following but not limited to:
- What three (3) things is the captain totally responsible for?
- What values, do you believe, does our captain stand for?
- Describe your philosophy around captaincy?
- What are your expectations for the season and beyond?
- What personal behaviours do you believe are strengths and what need to be improved or worked on?
- Describe your communication style and methods?
- What do you expect from the coaches by way of development and support?
- Scenario1: A player is regularly behaving in a manner that suggests disconnect from the group at practice and game day. How do you handle this?
- Scenario 2: The team has lost three matches in a row, two were close results but one was a disappointing loss. What would you do to shift this trend?
- Scenario 3: Our team structure is likely to be exposed to regular disruption with the availability of personnel. What role do you play in managing this?
- Why do you want to captain this Cricket Club / Team?
- What are the things that you, the coaches, your teammates are doing when things are going well?
Each candidate is independently scored by the following assessment method to their answers by each member of the Selection Panel:
- 5 = Strong
- 4 = Good
- 3 = Average
- 2 = Needs Help
- 1 = Poor
Further weighting on the performance of the candidate can be applied as Bonus Points out of 5 for each of the following character behaviours by each member of the Selection Panel:
- Eye contact
- Calmness & emotional control
- Understanding of question
Best possible overall score = 80 (16 assessment scores from 12 Questions + Bonus x 5 points).
Andrew Walton in a selection meeting with assistant coaches during a Victoria blind cricket match
Overall score to be the total tally of points from each member of the Selection Panel, an overall figure out of 240 (if 3 members on Selection Panel). The results can then be communicated around the preferred option for captain to be recommended to the Cricket Committee / Management for final consideration.
The method also allows the identified candidate an experience under pressure for the testing of decision making, intuition, communication style and clear thinking. If handled well this step releases the base of confidence in self and peers to flow into the environment of responsibility.
Once the selection, decision and communication is completed, a gathering of leaders from the playing group and management is suggested to be arranged and work through which of the following aspects is agreed as important so the captain can then start to put things into order and care for which they are responsible and accountable as they strive to be the best captain possible.
- Encourage teammates to aspire to goals and behaviours
- Listens carefully to direct the thinking of teammates toward positive goals
- Care to acknowledge the contributions of those outside the team
- Never shows favoritism or promotes cliques
- Be at his or her best in the tough times
- Shares the credit
- Demonstrate optimism and inspire hope no matter the circumstance
- Link between coach and team
- Understands that a leader is still a team player
- Works as hard as anyone on the team
- Conveys a belief in oneself and all teammates
- Makes the effort to bond with every team member and those with whom the captain has little in common
- Trustworthy, consistently doing the right thing, regardless of the circumstances, to create an environment of trust and respect
- Disciplined thinking in that an environment of trust and respect does not mean acceptance of improper actions or behaviors by team members
- Observes all team rules
- Conveys the message that bullying or humiliating teammates is unacceptable and damages team harmony trust
- Selfless ambition, an ability to direct ambition and passion toward the success of the team, more than toward personal success
- Sets aside personal problems to show genuine concern for teammates in need of support
- Adherence to the highest standards of behaviour
- Sets the goal of doing such an excellent job that his or her captaincy serves as a model for future captains to follow
At Cricket Mentoring, we hope that this article has been of value and please feel free to contact us if we can assist further.
About the writer: Andrew Walton has a unique depth of experience from a coaching career that has involvements across the spectrum of cricket in Australia, India and England.
Currently in the Cricket Australia Level 3 HP Program, Andrew has been the Head Coach in Premier Cricket Men’s clubs Melbourne (3), Prahran (4), Fitzroy Doncaster (2) and Hawthorn Monash University (2), and a season of Premier Cricket Women’s with Plenty Valley.
International experience has been gained from regular visits (6) to the Karnataka Institute of Cricket (KIOC) in Bangalore and involvement at Middlesex County Cricket Club as a guest coach in 2014. In 2018, Andrew was appointed by Cricket Victoria as Head Coach of the Blind Cricket team for the NCIC and has since been appointed by Cricket Australia as the Assistant Coach of the National Blind Cricket team.