History & Odds Against a ’Keeper as Captain
By H Natarajan
A school of thought in cricket believes that bowlers do not make good captains. And one of the reasons for advancing that theory is that a bowler leading the side either tends to over-bowl or under-bowl himself.
That’s one reason why very few bowlers have been given charge of leading their respective countries - the likes of Bishan Bedi, Courtney Walsh and Waqar Younis being exceptions to the unwritten rule. Of course, we are discounting players like Richie Benaud, Garry Sobers, Imran Khan, Ian Botham, Kapil Dev, Wasim Akram, Shaun Pollock and Sanath Jayasuriya from this equation because they come under the all-rounders’ category. And if one goes through the list of all-time great captains in Test history, barring Benaud and Imran, I doubt if any of the above mentioned would find their names.
It’s that much harder for a fast bowler to be a captain because they are expending greater energy than the others on the field. And physical exhaustion is bound to affect the mental faculties. A fresh mind is critical to the plotting and execution of on-field strategies.
I would like to believe that elevating a wicket-keeper as captain also has its share of disadvantages. The thought crosses the mind with the appointment of Mahendra Singh Dhoni as captain of the Indian team for the Twenty20 World Championship in South Africa.
The job of a ‘keeper requires a very high degree of unwavering focus and quick shift in adjustments – standing back to fast bowler to standing up to spinners of varying skills. He knows that the chances of the ball coming to him are more than anyone else in the field. And that means, the concentration levels have to be at its optimum at all times. Mind you, the ‘keeper is in the best position on the field to advice a captain, but not-so-good a position to take the mantle of the captaincy.
The reason is simple: Because of the high demands of the job, he is best not thrust with another crucial responsibility that could affect his primary and crucial role as a ‘keeper. Most captains prefer to closer to the bowling end to make communication with the bowlers much easier. As opposed to that, a wicketkeeper who also dons the captaincy hat has to run to the other end of the ground to offer a quick word of advice. Of course, he could delegate that job to somebody in the slips, but it’s different from having a direct dialogue.
The percentage of ‘keeper doubling up as captain as well is very low. In fact, Gerry Alexander’s 18 Tests is the record for the most Tests captained by a player who also kept wickets. Alexander is followed by Andy Flower (16 Tests), Moin Khan and PW Sherwell (13 each), Alec Stewart, Lee Germon, Khaled Mashud, (12 each), and Tatenda Taibu. That’s just eight keepers who have captained over 10 Tests. The fact that Allan Border captained Australia in 93 Tests, Stephen Fleming led New Zealand in 80 Tests and Clive Lloyd skippered the West Indies in 74 Tests indicate that not only captains have enjoyed very long runs but also that they are more likely to be pure batsmen rather than pure bowlers or all-rounders.
The appointment of Dhoni is not exactly expected. His choice over that of the more experienced Yuvraj Singh could only mean that the Punjab all-rounder’s temperament as a leader is under question, even if the selectors may not openly like to admit it. Sehwag’s poor form, his inability to hold his place in the side and his run-ins with authorities, virtually ruled out his chances of leading the side. And with a plethora of young and inexperienced players, Dhoni’s elevation is more due to lack of options than proven conviction about his captaincy.
Also, the Twenty20 is an abridged version of the abridged version and thus relatively much, much shorter compared to a five-day Test. Having said that, Twenty20 is a very dynamic and fast-paced game where thinking will have to be that much sharper and quicker. Whether Dhoni’s captaincy is a case of a hidden talent or a case of hidden talent best remained hidden needs to be seen. But what can be said with a degree of certainty is that he will be under greater pressure than he has ever been in his career so far which, more so considering his struggle behind the wickets.
Dhoni will have to defy cricketing thought and history to beat the odds of a wicket-keeper turning out to be a long-term captain of substance. And that looks a tough ask.