Saturday, June 24, 2006

Mr. Anecdote once again: the delicate art of captaincy

During the morning session of 2nd day’s play in the St. Kitts Test Rahul Dravid took the new ball as soon as it was due. Sreesanth, during his short Test career so far, has looked the part of a seamer far more often than not. But there was little doubt that Rahul’s decision to override any inclination to grant extended spells to 750-plus scalps of spin wizardry adorning his ranks was his other fast bowler Munaf Patel, one that India has turned to on a number of occasions during this series and the last.

Contrary to Dravid’s plan Sarwan took Munaf apart during that spell with the new cherry. The hammering included 6 boundaries in six balls off one seven ball over. Rahul kept standing in the slips all through that over without once approaching the amused-looking bowler. Instead the skipper preferred an alternate show of solidarity, by giving Munaf another over from that end, and a change of ends thereafter. Munaf promptly got back his lost plot to Dravid’s relief, dismissing a centurion and a 32-time centurion in quick succession.

All of it set up an interesting session review by the experts’ panel during lunch break. Three gentlemen duly appeared wearing the right smiles at the right hour. They were Desmond Haynes, Ian Chappell and anchorman Sanjay Manjrekar. Expectedly the reactions centred on the skipper, the bowler and that one over. Those included question marks on Dravid’s non-reaction in changing field placements after the first few balls of that over as well as his non-communication with Munaf, while generous praise also flowed Dravid’s way for his silent show of faith in continuing the quick bowler even as another expensive over came from him after that massacre.

The discussion up to this point made something clear: like cricket followers, most commentators and ex-cricketers believe that there is only ONE way of doing a thing – their way. I recalled when Ganguly used to walk up to the bowler and bombard him with advices galore. On days that method refused to work, Dada came across as the perfect irritating pest overdoing his leadership and making his bowler look like a mindless idiot.
Now that his successor Dravid exhibits a contrasting approach and prefers to do most of his discussions with bowlers away from the public eye, the ‘inaction’ of it once again gets to us. ‘He is just a new bowler and needed a talk up at the time.’ And why do we react like that? Because neither Ganguly's overtalking nor Dravid's sitting back complies with the way WE think it right to handle the situation!
Perhaps both of the skippers discussed could do better at the times mentioned, and maybe they had some good things to learn from each other. There is another point, though, that we miss. ‘We’, in this case, are the game’s followers, commentators and (surprise) ex-cricketers that would not make great skippers. Fortunately the panel had at least one ex-cricketer today that could demonstrate the missing point in his inimitably anecdotal style: essentially that the methods employed in such situations need not be one and the same for all skippers and all bowlers.

“Well there are a few different ways to do it [a skipper reacting to a situation when a bowler messes it up]. Maybe Dravid wanted to let the young bowler do his stuff and then chat with him during the luncheon interval saying ‘Hey I think there were some lessons you could learn from that’.”

Pardon me that inability to quote Ian Chappell in toto but his opening words were along those lines. As is his wont, Chappell then went on to illustrate his observation by narrating one of those famous little incidents of his from the past when his WMD#1 Dennis Lillee decided to blast Alvin Kallicharan off with a plethora of short balls and got adequately hammered in the process.

“I was inclined to walk up to him in the ground but then thought of letting him go through it all by himself at the time. I went to him later and just said, ‘Hey mate, next time you think of throwing the kitchen sink at anyone would you kindly bother to mention it to me so that I can set fields accordingly?”

Again I may be alzheimering out Ian’s exact words but the above words represent them without twisting their message beyond recognition. Without ever negating his co-commentators’ observations on the specific case in point the tactful man and able commentator in Ian Chappell could effortlessly make it clear that skippers need to weigh their options while handling such situations and the choice is best made in view of its possible impact on the person in question. In the end captaincy is not about handling machines but humans.

Even a viewer who had never seen or heard of the three wise gentlemen on show could have told which one made a grand team leader in his glory days.

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