January 7, 2022: Captaining one’s country side is an honour that every cricketer dreams of. The injuries to Virat Kohli and earlier to Rohit Sharma have given KL Rahul the golden moment to become one. He became the 36th Indian Test captain and his name has now been etched in the history of Indian cricket, forever. In the elite list of Indian captains, there are many who have had a short stint, some have been successful and some not.
The pressure of leading one’s country is enormous. As much as one may say that the captain is as good as his team, the onus and responsibility solely seems to fall, especially in defeat, on the one who is the leader. In the earlier days, when the coach was just looked at as a manager and the captain controlled every cricketing aspect of the game, captaincy was another ball game.
The final playing eleven, the batting order and even the field placement was the domain of the one at the helm. There were some extraordinary leaders who in the days of no video analysis could detect weaknesses and plan strategies on the spot. This was then a mandatory requirement of a captain as every other member of the side looked up to them.
Captaining a side in the present days has become a completely different kettle of fish. The captains, from several recent press reports, seem to indicate that they have very little say in choosing the touring side. Apart from that, a captain has a professional coach and a team of support staff, each a specialist in their domain to listen to. The plans and strategies are now worked out more in the conference rooms rather than on the playing field. One truly feels sorry for the modern-day captain whose main importance seems to come from the off-the-field commercial activities.
One wonders as to how the likes of Tiger Pataudi, Chandu Borde, Ajit Wadekar, Bishan Bedi, S. Venkataraghavan, Sunil Gavaskar and many such brilliant Indian cricket captains would have stood up to the way a modern captain is perceived. All of them had an astute cricket mind and were ready to discuss and debate. However, once on the field they were the whole and sole of every movement that took place there.
Leadership cannot be assessed by how many matches one has won or lost or led. One needs to asses every parameter of a side to understand it. Believe me, it is not a simple case of addition or subtraction.
Watching Test cricket captaincy in the present times seems like a standard pattern being followed. There is very little thought process and innovation that one comes across. Most of the teams come to the field with a concrete plan, which when it goes awry, completely disintegrates. The captain looks as much at sea as the players around him.
The present digital and multimedia influences and intensive analysis by one and all has made the captain’s job unpardonable in defeat and so, rather than thinking out of the box, one becomes defensive in one’s approach.
The most effective influence that has brought the downfall in the art of Test cricket captaincy has been the advent of limited-overs cricket. One does not have to take 20 wickets to win a match. The bowling and field restrictions has initiated a standard format of how to captain a side. In the limited-overs version, one does not need to plan a downfall of a batsman but restrict one in every respect. The result of this has impacted Test cricket immensely.
The short format of the game may be of great interest to millions who want excitement and a definite result. One understands this in the fast-moving world that we all live in at present. However, the skill and art of patiently demolishing a bowling attack or getting a batsman out needs time. This is where captains in the modern times are failing, as batters need to be thought out and bowlers need to be used vigorously, to get teams out.
This new concept of giving bowlers a four-over spell or batters the luxury of playing in their own way is quite ridiculous. When one went into the field as a captain, the only thought process was to get the opponents out as quickly as possible. One never thought of preserving bowlers for later or for the next match or series.
In the late 70s and 80s, Kapil Dev was India’s only destructive fast bowler. The team depended on him in foreign conditions to get wickets. He bowled his heart out whenever called for and when on a song, to get the ball out of his hand, was impossible even though it led to his exhaustion.
The great spinners of India, Bishan Bedi, EAS Prasanna, Venkataraghavan and Chandrashekar would have been livid if given a short stint to bowl. All of them were intelligent bowlers who strategised batters’ downfall by teasing them till they entrapped them into their net. For them it was a cat-and-mouse game in which none of them even thought of how many overs they had bowled. That’s precisely why they were referred to as the “Indian Rope Trick”.
Captaincy in modern cricket seems to be becoming a dying art. How else can one think differently, especially when at times at the toss the captains are asked for the changes in the side and they stutter to reply. The IPL is a perfect example of it.
The men off the field seem to be controlling the wheel rather than the ones on the field. That is why one blames a Ravi Shastri for an Indian defeat and at present looks up at Rahul Dravid to take India to victory.
(Yajurvindra Singh is a former Test cricketer. Views expressed are personal.)