Thursday, 26 February 2009

Captaincy and the art of batting

I write at lunchtime on day one of the fourth Test at Barbados and the Test Match Special team is busy admiring the change in Andrew Strauss’ batting. The consensus that the captaincy has brought a new dynamism to his strokeplay is hard to disagree with, which again poses the question of how captaincy affects the form of batsmen.

This issue is topical given the recent runscoring feats of skippers Mahela Jayawardene and Younis Khan (although the conditions they encountered at the Karachi National Stadium means their high scores can hardly be attributed to the responsibility of captaincy).

The sustained good form of Ricky Ponting and Graeme Smith since taking on their respective captaincy roles is more telling. Of course both are top class batsmen, but there is little doubt leadership brings the best out of their batting.

Indeed, most current international skippers seemed to have improved their output since taking charge, but statistics tell only part of the story.

Strauss’ transformation from shot-restricted accumulator to fluent stroke-maker is the most marked change of style, perhaps along with MS Dhoni and Chris Gayle’s transformation in the other direction.

Full analysis of Strauss’ new dominating approach when in charge should be delayed until he faces tougher attacks on spicier pitches, but his productivity when he stood-in as skipper in 2006 suggests he likes to lead from the front.

That wish to set an example is what unites all captains, which means the responsibility of leadership often exaggerates players’ individual traits. Mike Atherton and Steve Waugh became more stubborn; Ponting seeks to dominate even more; Jayawardene is fuller of concentration.

It doesn’t always work out that way. The responsibility of captaincy can often weigh heavily, with the implications of bad form exacerbated by the duty of leadership. Atherton at times appeared consumed by his status as most prized wicket by the opposition, whilst Nasser Hussain and Mark Taylor, who generally revelled as their teams’ figureheads, endured horror runs that brought their place in the team into question.

All England supporters hope Strauss stays in the productive captaincy category. He has just lofted Sulieman Benn for six to reach a century in consecutive Tests, suggesting we might have to wait for the introspective spell that threatens most batting captains.

Written by Philip Oliver, an online sports writer who blogs about Test match cricket.


Richard Lake said...

One of the chief beneficiaries from Strauss's more posittive approach should be Alistair Cook. Cook and the negative version of Strauss are too similar at the top of the order. However, if Strauss continues in the fluent manner he has played this series, then Cook can get on with his natural game and hopefully regain his form of 2-3 years back.

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