This week, England announced Joe Root as the new cricket captain. Hours after the appointment the question was raised. Will he have to change his behaviour from being ‘just one of the boys?’
To avoid accusations of gender-blindness, I will note that the general question is whether anyone from within a group has to change behaviour on becoming the group’s appointed leader, regardless of gender
The question applies to any leader who has not been ‘parachuted in’ to a position. As I thought about , I realised I am not sure whether most leaders are insiders or outsiders [I don’t know of any statistics, and informed suggestions are welcomed].
Succession processes and planning
Tribal succession has always passed on leadership to the recognised successor. When that is in dispute, claimants (‘pretenders’) have to sort out who gets the top job. It is a process that can lead to the bloodiest of conflicts.
In these enlightened times of rational management, succession planning is guided by experts in the field, and is followed by results that are sometimes bad, sometimes not so bad.
It is here that I see the succession process justifies the maxim that we get the leaders we deserve. In America, a long and bruising selection process resulted in the appointment of President Trump, about which I have written far too much already for my own state of mental equilibrium. It is in the succession process that I see justified the maxim that we get the leaders we deserve
It is in the succession process that I see justified the maxim that we get the leaders we deserve
The born leader
Within hours, the appointment was hailed as the inevitable one, with Joe Root being ‘a born leader’according to Yorkshire director of cricket Martyn Moxon.
Root, 26, takes over from Alastair Cook despite having led in only four first-class matches – three for Yorkshire and one for England Lions.
“He has always studied the game and different tactics throughout his career,” Moxon told BBC Radio 5 live.
“It’s not something that he is going to have to learn before his first Test. I’m sure he will do a good job.”
This harks back to a fifty-year-old angels on a pinhead debate on whether leaders are born or made. After a lot of huffing and puffing, discussion has died down. There is a consensus that leaders who are appointed have no ‘necessary and sufficient’ characteristics, and that various patterns of effective leader behaviors suggest a mix of inherited and acquired (situational) traits.
On the other hand
Within hours, discussion began on whether Root’s chirpy young man style would be appropriate for the job as captain.
A subtler point was whether the team’s best batsman should be entrusted the captain’s job. Examples were for found of appointments which were followed by a higher rate of accumulation of runs per innings, sometimes by a lower one. To my surprise, the stats show that the majority of England captains performed better after receiving the captaincy. [Yes, I leave the deeper analysis of this to my readers]
On balance, the issue of leadership style seems a minor consideration. Captains in recent decades have varied from the introverted and predictable (Hussain, Atherton, and arguably Cook) to the impulsive (Petersen) and the obsessive (Boycott).
It will be interesting to see what reports leak out about Cook’s leadership style as England’s cricket fortunes ebb and flow, as they probably will over the next few years of his captaincy. (Unlike football managers, England Cricket captains with one or two exceptions have been given a ‘decent innings’ before being retired.
This week two leaders and their possible successors were tested. Alistair Cook opened the batting for England in Cardiff, and David Cameron started for the Government at Westminster
Here are my notes made at the time, [8th July 2015] which have been slightly edited for clarity purposes.
Great individual talent sometimes requires great talent management. Kevin Pietersen’s international cricket career is a prime example.
The English cricket establishment has since his arrival on the scene struggled with the challenge of harnessing the exceptional talent of Kevin Pietersen and dealing with assorted off-field controversies.
As he matured, his walnut-brown crumbled face to camera resembled an extension of the baggy-green cap as a symbol of Australian cricket.
Obituaries this week made comparisons with other cricketers and commentators.
He is ranked with his compatriot Bradman for influencing the success of Australian cricket. Similarities have been notedwith Mike Brearley for his astute captaincy, with John Arlott as a warm and empathic commentator, and with Geoff Boycott, (without the spiky narcissism) as a reader of the game.
Comparisons may help a little in our understanding of his achievements and facets of his personality. They can do little more. Richie Benaud the man remains incomparable.
A day before the start of the Cricket World Cup in Australia and New Zealand Geoffrey Boycott provides a typically dismissive critique of the competence of the recently appointed England captain Eoin Morgan
Morgan, according to Boycott is “not as good a batsman as he thinks he is”, adding that maybe he is not even as good a batsman as other people think he is (excluding the prescient Boycott, naturally).
It is not difficult to come up with an explanation for Boycott’s remarks. Since retiring from Cricket, he has become a successful commentator known for his portrayal of a stereotype forthright Yorkshire man, never slow to articulate his opinions on the stupidity of others who might be tempted to offer alternative views.
This is probably a matter of calculated style, honed on the sports after-dinner circuit, where a certain kind of blokeish humour is almost obligatory. The exceptions are those with the languidness of the privileged classes who dominate Cricket’s elite, and who remain among Geoffrey’s bitterest targets for scorn and abuse.
I don’t think Boycott chooses a target just in order to be controversial. He is often making an intelligent point in his well-crafted remarks. He is more than intelligent enough to realize that he himself is now patronized in a tokenistic and school-boyish way by his fellow-commentators who tend to refer to him as ‘Sir’ Geoffrey.
The run maker
Geoffrey Boycott broke countless records as an England opening batsman. His self-obsession also explains why is ranked among the most inept of captains, although there is much competition for that title.
As a batsman, Boycott was seen as a consummate accumulator of runs, placing his own average above any other consideration. He was tolerated by players and public rather than liked, grudgingly accepted for the occasions when his self-obsession worked to the team’s advantage.
Unsurprisingly, Boycott thought he would make a jolly good captain of the England cricket team, better than the public school oiks who always got the nod over him. Unfortunately, the temperament that helped him accumulate all those runs did not serve him well as captain.
To borrow from his own words, Geoffrey was not as good a captain as he thought he would be, and maybe not even as good a captain as other people thought he would be.
American Football is shaken to the core by the discovery that match balls during a National Football League Game appeared to have been tampered with.
Shock horror. Accusations are made that The New England Patriots had deliberate deflated the balls. This gives more grip for a star quarterback like Tom Brady to make a winning throw. Cries of Deflate Gate are heard, followed by denials of wrong-doing from Robert Kraft, owner of the Patriot, Coach Belickick and players.
“It’s not Cricket”
On hearing the news, my first thought was the parallel with that most traditional sport of Cricket. Tales of ball-tampering to gain an advantage have periodically outraged the authorities, as bowlers are caught out doctoring the ball. “It’s not Cricket” is a cry which is used in England as a cultural short-hand for cheating in any walk of life. Playing cricket embodies a set of ancient and noble amateur values that are even more fiercely guarded as professionalism invades the sport.
The dilemma might be expressed as this: cheating in professional sport is unacceptable but necessary.
Staying with cricket, I can remember the various ways, some creative some crude, in which the bowler helps the cricket ball to spin, swerve, bounce so as to deceive the batsman. The captain of the England cricket team is regarded as the epitome of fair play, but one struggled once in recent times with accusations that he had led his team into play with a pocketful of dirt to scuff up the ball.
Dishing the dirt
A brilliant report for Hutchinson News [URL not available] starting with the NFL, goes on to dish more dirt on foul play in cricket (‘zipper gate’) rugby union, (‘Wilkigate’), Tennis (‘fluffigate’), and Baseball (‘spittigate’).
Does it matter?
Obviously it matters to those outraged or ostracized by a cheating scandal. And beyond the often pompous and self-righteous outbursts lurkc a cultural truth. Sport embodies ancient values of honestly and fairness that are tested by equally ancient human needs to win at all costs.
In my research, I found the splendid image of W G Grace, an early heroic figure and superstar shown above. Gloucestershire archives tell of his blatant bad sportsmanship which seems to have been condoned.
See also the continued story of the NFL deflategate as Sunday’s Superbowl approaches.
Tennis has followed cricket by introducing a short format of the game using technology to support it. Football appears to be struggling to do the same
‘It will ruin the game…It will never catch on….’ Listen to the inevitable cries against sporting innovations which have echoed down the ages.
Cricket’s Big Bash
Cricket’s short form is bringing in new audiences to the format of twenty overs per team, with additional rules to permit more control of time, and so better advertising breaks. Technology reduces human errors by umpires. Gambling is promoted as heavily as the cricket. That’s the heady mix given another boost with The Big Bash competition invented in Australia. Brilliant name isn’t it?
Now for tennis, the Fast4 event
Now another Ozzie-inspired sporting innovation in marketing the fast form of tennis. One advertisement for Fast 4 tennis had Federer and Lleyton Hewett bashing tennis balls between to two fast-moving speedboats. Another great marketing image.
Here come the curmudgeons
The innovations bring out the curmudgeonly spirit.
Oliver Brown of The Telegraph was at his most elegant and nostalgic in defense of the slow.
Hitting balls from a speedboat in Sydney Harbour, Federer has been proselytising the message of his friend Lleyton Hewitt’s ‘Fast4’ tennis idea, a format where the first to four wins the set, where deuce games are resolved not by an advantage system but by sudden-death points, and where players are banned from sitting down at a change of ends.
There is much to admire about defenders of tradition. In more optimistic spirit, it might be argued that the new format offer survival chances for cricket which has already moved from timeless test matches to a not very fast five day format. Tennis has abandoned play to a finish five set matches.
Football and Fifa
FIFA is gallantly retaining its traditional administrative format, with Sepp Blatter seeking re-election as President for the fifth time. The forces of modernization are backing young pretenders with creative plans of amber cards and sin bins.
A bookmaker is sponsoring the celebrity footballer David Ginola to stand for election. But will a fighting fund of a few million euros be enough to prevent the long form of the Presidental game being played by the wily Blatter?
Graeme Smith is rarely mentioned among lists of the great cricket captains. This is mostly a matter of style over substance
Graeme Smith announced his immediate retirement from international cricket this week [6th March 2014]. The timing of the announcement was curious,and appears to have been a shock to his closest colleagues. I want to return to this, but my main interest is why he has not received far more recognition for his achievements.
His track record as captain starting as a 22 year old is outstanding with numerous achievements. His 109 tests as captain far exceeds that of second player Alan Border, and his batting average of nearly 50 is only surpassed as an opening bat in Test Cricket by the great Sunil Gavaskar.
He has been a particular success over England with team and personal displays that have contributed to several retirements of his English counterparts.
His curious departure
There have been rumours over the last few years that he was becoming disenchanted with his lengthy time as captain. Changes in his personal life contributed recently. Even so, to announce his retirement as his team were struggling in series-determining match against Australia goes against the principles of a leader putting his team above personal considerations. It suggests considerable internal conflict or a cranky individualism of another controversial South African, Kevin Pietersen whose defections to the ranks of the England team and then out of it are infamous to English and South African cricket lovers alike.
Why is he rarely hailed as an all-time great captain?
The only explanation I can think of is that he is the antithesis of a stylish player. His personality verges on the dour and anti-charismatic. Cricket is a game that loves the effortless style and flamboyance of players such as David Gower and Ian Botham. You can see more psycho-analytical ramblings on leadership style, Geoffrey Boycott and Kevin Pietersen in an earlier blog post