One of the biggest criticisms of England in the loss to Sri Lanka has been the weak captaincy of
Alastair Cook: "He's just not a natural captain," the sages bemoan.
But what does that really mean?
And, can you learn to be a good captain at your level, even if you are not a "natural leader" like
Setting the field
When you move a fielder and the ball goes straight down his throat you are called a tactical genius.
Similarly, if you put a fielder in an unusual position you are labelled attacking and creative.
On the other hand, if you move someone to where the ball has just gone, the senior players quietly
mutter about "chasing the ball".
The truth is more prosaic.
Good field setting is about putting fielders where the ball is most likely to go. Sometimes that looks
like a template from the manual, sometimes it's chasing the ball, sometimes it's putting a fielder in
an unusual place.
The point is this; as long as you are mindful of the bowler, the match situation and the batsman
facing, you don't need to be a natural captain. You just put fielders where the ball is going.
This leads on to the next skill: the ability to make a swift, decisive move.
Good captains, according to Mike Brearley, are flexible. They attack a little longer than they think
they should, and defend a little later than they think they should. In other words, if you feel a short
leg might get you a wicket, throw him in the moment you think it. That's because if you take a ball to
decide and the ball pops there, you have lost your chance.
On the other hand, if you want to take him out after it has not worked, leave him there for a few more balls. When it does pop you are a genius (again).
This ability to think of options on a hunch and act on them at the right moment is what makes you
decisive as a skipper.
Yet again, this can be learned just be being mindful of the situation.
And it's not just about the field. Decisive captains are able to change teams in selection and
rearrange the batting order with equal confidence.
Have good bowlers
Finally, the real secret of good captaincy is to have bowlers who can get you 10 (or 20) wickets.
Great captains always have great bowlers. It means your plans are more likely to work because you
create more chances. Yes, that's more about luck than captaincy skill, but there is only so much the skipper can do. So the best thing Cooky, or you, can do is find that match-winning spinner.
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