Why Cricket Captaincy Is Harder Than It Looks, Case In Point Chennai Super Kings
Cricket is different from many other sports when it comes to the role of the captain.
In football, the captain may be the leader on the pitch and a representative of the club off it, but the tactics, the style of play, and the decisions taken during the course of a game are very much dictated by the head coach. Meanwhile, in rugby, there may be mini-captains, somebody taking charge of the forwards, and somebody else leading the backs.
Cricket is different because it is very much the responsibility of the captain to lead. They make all the decisions on the pitch – who has to bowl and when, where to place the fielders, who should bat when – and is part of the formal leadership of the team off the field as well.
It can be a lonely job. Whilst the role can reward them with influence and standing within the team, there can be a social cost as well, because, by definition, they cannot be just one of the boys and enjoy the normal banter and camaraderie. They need to maintain a certain distance and objectivity. When somebody has the power to drop a player from a team, then it can often come at the cost of a friendship.
And being a captain also can mean having to make sacrifices, and putting others first. That can mean promoting somebody up the batting order ahead of them or choosing another player to bowl their overs.
And, it transpires that not everybody is cut out to be a skipper. There are many fine players who have tried it only to fail abjectly at the job. On the other hand, there is that rare breed of natural skipper, somebody whose individual ability would not merit a place in the team, but who transcends that because they are able to lead and inspire others.
All this can be seen with what happened to the Chennai Super Kings (CSK) this season. Ravindra Jadeja knew as early as last year that he would be taking over the captaincy of CSK from MS Dhoni, and had all winter to prepare for it.
Dhoni mentored him for the first two games of the new campaign, but then let him get on with the job as he saw fit. However, after CSK lost six out of their first eight games, Jadeja was realistic enough to realize that the game was up.
Not only had he failed to inspire his new charges, but the all-rounder’s form suffered and his batting, bowling, and fielding all suffered.
Jadeja stepped down, Dhoni took over once more, and the team started winning again. That does not mean that Jadeja has become a bad player overnight. Far from it. But the transition to the captain’s role in his case proved a step too far.
Andrew Flintoff, Brain Lara, Sachin Tendulkar, and Chris Gayle are all examples of great cricketers who turned out to be poor captains. That does not diminish their legacy, but it acknowledges that there were certain characteristics that they lacked.