Mirror-mirror on the wall, can I be the best captain of them all? By Harshad Nabar

Mirror-mirror on the wall, can I be the best captain of them all?
“Win the toss and like a boss opt to chase or entrust the end overs to an X bowler for guaranteed positive outcomes”. Wish international cricket games were so predictable and success so easily replicable. But then wouldn’t sporting team mentors or high-performance leadership coaches become redundant? Also, I reckon this unpredictability not just raises adrenaline levels of the participants and presents unlimited challenges to the cricket captain steering the ship but also adds some spice to the daily mundane existence of passive consumers. It is not for nothing that the job of the Indian cricket captain is touted to be the next most high profile/visible/pressured job after that of the Indian PM.
So what really makes the role so daunting, let’s try to imagine this as casual bystanders.
For starters, cricket is a “team” sport just in disguise. In reality it comprises of 11 individual gladiators stretching their ultra-high potential to the max, each delivery being an isolated, one on one event. When a bowler bowls to a batsman the roles of the non-striker & fielders is solely supportive in nature.
Also, to rise and get noticed in an unimaginably dense country like India requires an unquestionable inner drive and a ruthlessly competitive streak. Thus, an international cricket team comprises of a team of highly driven and egoistic individuals each with their own dreams and aspirations. The biggest task before an international team captain then is to manage this group of highly talented, ego-centric & individualistic athletes and get them to run together as a team. From another part of the globe, the reason why the leadership skills of a Clive Lloyd are appreciated more is because the West Indies were just a team in theory – in reality it was a group of talented individuals from disparate countries cobbled together.
The cricket captain also needs to wear multiple hats with ease and expected to do justice to each (compartmentalisation). A team leader, statesman of the country on overseas tours, media spokesman and most importantly as an individual contributor too (the functional specialisation).
Yes, there have been instances of the captain failing miserably as batsmen/bowlers yet performing creditably in leadership roles and retaining their places. However, that makes it much harder for the person to put his chin up and motivate the team when he himself is struggling through a prolonged lean patch. There have been the rare exceptions too like a Mike Brearley who merited a place in the team merely basis his people management skills (it was said that he had a ‘degree in people’).
Thirdly, the skipper needs to have a rhino’s skin to be unfazed even when doom stares them in the face. In a high stakes international event, when your players are already experiencing the Mt. Everest of stress, the job of a captain is to uncomplicate things and not raise the temperature anymore. It is the leader who sets the temperature in the room and the best ones like our very own MSD or Vaughan of England were like the proverbial ducks in water – calm on the surface but furiously paddling underneath. A calm mind gives them the extra bandwidth to appropriately replace & execute plans during the heat of battle. Like they also say in boxing – “your original plan flies out of the window as soon as the first punch lands on your face”.
The best captains also spend time understanding their players as distinctive individuals at a deep level. This helps them to instinctively push the right buttons during the run of play when reflexes need precedence over deep, reflective thinking.
While there are too many other challenges which may not be visible to bystanders, an equally important ability is to retain your originality and yet be detached enough to take objective decisions in the best interest of the team. The players are smart enough to know when someone is faking it (and lacks authenticity) just because they are now the captain.
We have also seen the best players (maybe geniuses) failing as captains, maybe because the specialised skill comes so instinctively to them. Hence decoding and explaining it to others may not come easy as also the understanding that not everyone is as evolved/talented as them.
So the next time we are tempted to criticise our cricket team captain for an apparently silly lapse, lets chillax and raise a toast for the person marshalling his troops on the field.
Sirf ek aadmi captain banta hain, rest of the junta can at-least be a good Santa !


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