In his first Wednesday column for Cricket World, John Pryor assesses the importance of grooming players for captaincy at the highest level.
In no sport is the captain more important than cricket; he is the puppet master and the chess player moving his pieces into place. It is the captain who takes the plaudits when the team wins and must answer questions when they lose. Not only is the captain involved in important decisions on the field, he is also part of the selection panel and the public face of the team.
The importance of this role is in no way a mystery to international cricket boards; it has become clear that captaincy is not an area which they are prepared to gamble on. Potential leaders are increasingly being identified early in their international careers and are groomed for the role of team captain.
Michael Clarke is one of these leaders; in 2007, still a relatively junior player in the Australian team compared to the likes of Gilchrist, Michael Clarke was named as Australia's captain for the Twenty20 International versus New Zealand. It was not a secret that this was the beginning of a grooming process which would see Michael Clarke step into Ricky Ponting's shoes as captain of Australia in all forms of the game.
Cricket Australia’s then chairman of selectors Andrew Hilditch explained the selection by stating, "We have taken the opportunity to enhance the leadership skills of Michael Clarke, to assure the long history of strong leadership in Australian cricket is continued into the future." As expected, Clarke did follow in Ponting's footsteps becoming captain of Australia in both Test and One-Day International (ODI) formats in 2011. In a recent interview with Sky Sports Michael Clarke spoke openly about his experiences of this grooming process stating that, while it may have looked like he was groomed for captaincy from very early on, as much as it is an honour to captain Australia, he never had an open desire to be captain and would have been content with vice-captaincy.
It is not just Cricket Australia who have used this 'grooming' process; in the current England team it is clear who will be the captains of the future. Undoubtedly Alistair Cook, who has acted as vice-captain for the England Test team and was installed as ODI captain in 2011, will succeed Andrew Strauss as test captain. It also appears that Cook's successor is being groomed for the role of Test and ODI captain; Stuart Broad was appointed T20 captain in May 2011 taking over from Paul Collingwood while, as in the case of Michael Clarke, more seasoned internationals were overlooked.
Likewise, in July 2011, Pakistani coach Waqar Younis in his report to the board on players abilities called for the grooming of a young captain for the 2015 ODI World Cup campaign. He recognised the fact that Misbah-ul-Haq may be too old to lead the team in 2015 and consequently stated that "This is the right time for the board to appoint a young successor so that he is groomed properly and is ready to take over when the time comes."
Clearly the grooming of a young captain is becoming uniform practice throughout the world of international cricket. Should we be concerned about the effect of this process? The process of grooming arguably highlights which format of the game is the priority of each international cricket board; while Australia and England are using the T20 and ODI format to groom future test captains, Pakistan in 2011 were basing their preparations on the 2015 ODI world cup. This begs the question, should cricket boards be prioritising in such ways and using certain forms of the game to experiment with new leaders?
To a certain extent, the T20 and ODI formats are the only testing ground for young captains since the volume of international cricket prevents them from gaining leadership experience in the county game. The choice of T20 and ODI formats as practice grounds makes sense as there is arguably less pressure on the captain than in Test cricket and Test captains coming to the end of their careers tend to retire from the shorter form of the game first, leaving a gap in the captaincy. Although of late, the likes of England and Australia have been extremely successful in the shortened forms of the game under young captaincy, it is a process which bring with it a number of risks and cricket boards could find themselves culpable if the experiment fails.
The effect of this grooming process on the current Test captain should also be considered; the installation of a new captain in the shortened forms of the game has the potential to encourage an early retirement from the current Test captain. In addition, the appointment could affect the team dynamic in all forms of the game. Though these are concerns which boards must be prepared to deal with, these are not issues which are currently prominent.
Speaking to Michael Atherton last week Michael Clarke spoke of the benefits of having Ricky Ponting in his side at the beginning of his captaincy, likewise the presence of Andrew Strauss on the team balcony at the first ODI of the Australia series did not appear to have a negative effect on team dynamics.
The grooming process of young captains appears to be the right direction for cricket teams to proceed with if they are to rise to the pinnacle of the sport and maintain that position. However, the careful management of this process is crucial as it has the potential to cause problems for cricket’s governing bodies.
© Cricket World 2012
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