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     Volume 8 Issue 76 | July 3, 2009 |

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Professional Captaincy

Nader Rahman
Mohammad Ashraful

This week the enfant terrible of Bangladeshi cricket was sacked as captain and Mashrafee Mortaza was handed what surely seems like a poisoned chalice. His elevation to captain was not a real surprise, Ashraful had consistently underperformed both as captain and as the team's leading batsmen and it was only a matter of time till the axe fell on him. Interestingly the handing of the captaincy to Mashrafee highlights the leadership problems the cricket team has faced for some time.

In no other sport is the role of a captain more important and central to the game than in cricket. In football, he wears an armband and carries out the coach's orders, he is rarely, if ever in charge of the tactics behind the game. While the captain's role may largely be ceremonial in football, in cricket he singlehandedly controls the game. He places the field, tells the bowler where to bowl and how, plans out tailor made strategies for each and every opposing batsmen and generally is nothing short of the pulse of the game. When Ashraful took over the captaincy from Habibul Basher, he was the only person who stood out for the job. He had been in the team for longer than most other players, was outrageously talented and at least from his batting it seemed like he had an innovative mind.

His two year tenure as captain was the perfect example of what not to do as the leader of a team and offered great insight into the mind of a confused individual who never really rose to the challenge. Essentially captaining a team like Bangladesh needs an innovative mind, one has to understand how to make do with limited resources, but Ashraful never really grasped the concept of innovation. Soon his captaincy started to mirror his batting, the innovations came in dribs and drabs while his propensity to give away his wicket led him to give matches away as well. For the longest time he had been touted as the best batsmen in the team, but even that charade started to fade. He was always talked of as a 'potential' match winner and as a batsman with a wealth of talent, yet both his batsmenship and his captaincy left a lot to be desired. His predecessor Basher was essentially forced out of the team and the captaincy because he could no longer justify his place in a starting 11, the runs dried up and eventually so did his place in the team. The board made a clear decision that no matter how good a captain was in the end he needed to earn his keep as a player first and then as a captain. Seemingly when they stripped Ashraful of the captaincy, his lack of form had nothing to do with the matter, it seemed as if they just viewed him as a poor captain, as well as a poor player who still deserved to be in the team.

This is where the cricket board really messed the situation up, when they sacked Basher they created one set of rules and yet when they sacked Ashraful they created a whole new set of rules. With so much confusion at the top it is easy to understand why the team itself has lacked genuinely insightful leadership. It is about time that the board realises that the captain is the single most important person in a team and he need not be the most gifted or the most charismatic man in the team. He actually needs to be the keenest thinker of the game, one who can both handle pressure and apply it.

Mike Brearley

When people think of cricket captaincy one name more than others comes to mind and that is Mike Brearley. The famed England captain of the late 70s and early 80s was a mediocre batsmen, averaging 22 from 39 tests, yet he earned his place in the team almost singlehandedly because of his outstanding captaincy. His below average batting was accepted only because he knew how to handle a team and that is the sort of example Bangladesh can learn from. Ashraful's batting or for that matter anyone's substandard form should be accepted by the Bangladesh Cricket Board if he is a good enough captain to warrant his place in the team. For Bangladesh we must also alter the parameters of successful captaincy for this idea to work. A successful captain for Bangladesh would be one who knows the limitations of his side, yet who is willing to use them to his advantage. A successful captain would be a man who brings a level of consistency to our test cricket, stretching games into the fifth day and such. A good captain for Bangladesh would be one who can outthink and out manoeuvre a superior team, if not to win the war, but at least to win a few battles. We have batting coaches, fielding coaches, bowling coaches, physios and manager's, it's time we found a professional captain.


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