Picking England’s new cricket captain: How not to do it

August 3, 2008

The principles of leader succession are rather straightforward. We examine the search for a successor for Michael Vaughan as England’s cricket captain

Something had to be done. The wilting English cricket team had lost its first series against South Africa since 1965.

The team’s batting had failed yet again. The contribution from Captain Michael Vaughan, recovering from serious injuries, remained unacceptable.

That being said, his critical captaincy decisions (who to bowl when, what field placings to set) were widely rated as excellent

The axe fell [August 3rd 2008] . Vaughan proffered his resignation less than a day after the series defeat.

It seems that he had reached the decision without selectorial nudge. Nevertheless, the unspeakable was being spoken in the run-up to the defeat, from the former England Captains now in the press corps. He saved the selectors from making a difficult decision.

What the selectors rent asunder they now seek to put together

Some while ago, the selectors, worried about Vaughan’s form, split the roles of one-day and five-day captains, presumably hoping the decision would take some pressure off Vaughan. The one-day results of the team was (and remains) worse than the five-day results. Vaughan’s five-day form remained poor.

Traditional wisdom is that such an arrangement brings with it more problems than it solves. Under the new one-day Captain Paul Collingwood, results remained underwhelming. To add to the selectors’ difficulties Collingwood’s form dropped off. He is currently serving a ban for some recent captaincy misdemenours.

The selectors now seem to want to put back together the roles of one-day and five-day captain. Unfortunate that Collingwood was nearly omitted from this last game for poor form. (His century may or may not have bought him a respite in the team). Fortunate that he decided to resign as well today…

The form of most of the five-day batsmen remains patchy enough to exclude them from consideration. The one resident team member whose batting would be considered adequate to retain him a place in the team is the controversial figure of Kevin Pietersen.

Pietersen has the selfishness of many great individual sportsmen. His triumphs are personal, and his interview claims of commitment to the team unconvincing. To make it worse, Pieterson demonstrated his ability scoring 94 in the crucial second innings of this latest match, and then attempted to reach his century with a mighty blow. For some, it captured why he was too ego-driven to be considered as captain.

Pietersen for captain

But Pietersen retains his advocates. His ability to dominate a bowling attack is taken as a prime consideration for leading from the front. In an earlier post we explored why Geoffrey Boycott, a hapless captain himself, has recently argued the case for Pietersen.

Another more reflective former captain, Michael Atherton, today reached the same conclusion. But Atherton reached his conclusion by eliminating the other candidates within the team for batting inadequacies.

If you’re talking about someone to take on both jobs then Kevin Pietersen becomes the number one candidate,” said former England skipper Atherton.
“He’s one of the few people who can be guaranteed their place in both teams.”

What’s a captain for?

I can’t help wondering whether there is a consensus on just what a Cricket captain is for.

To many influential figures in the game, the answer is to be found in the game’s cultural heritage. The captain came from the ranks of the gentlemen amateurs, whose privileged position was established by breeding and education. The related romantic theme was that of the captain as natural gentleman. Clive Lloyd and Garfield Sobers of the West Indies come to mind. Arguably, Don Bradman of Australia. Hardly surprising they went on to become knights of the realm.

A captain is there (according to this view) to uphold the traditions of the great game. Oh, and losing from time to time is OK, as long as it’s done gloriously.

Ah yes, a man’s grasp must exceed his reach, or what’s a captain for?

Meanwhile, we await the next set of decisions from the selectors.

‘Arise Sir Kevin.’ Doesn’t seem quite right, does it?