We all watch the cricket captain in action on TV and at the ground but what exactly makes up their job description?
There’s no sport where the importance of the captain is as great as that in cricket. In Australia it’s considered the toughest job in the country, bar being Prime Minister.
Whether it’s the captain in charge of the local cricket tragics turning out every Saturday, the county skipper or the international cricket captain, you barely get a moment’s peace whether it’s on or off the field.
Looking just at the international cricket captains just for a second, these are some of the tasks on their job description.
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Calling heads or tails
You pick one of the two at random and have a 50% chance of calling it right. Right? Well, try telling that to Nasser Hussain, who famously lost 12 tosses in a row- it’s odds of 4,000/1 on that happening. The best thing you can be as a captain is lucky but things can turn pretty miserable pretty quickly if tosses keep going against you.
Bat or field
You don’t get to be a cricket captain of any sort, let alone an international one, by not being able to read a pitch, in addition to interpreting all the other factors and conditions, such as when the rain will come, whether it’s overcast when the match starts and when the sun might come out, whether it’s a track best suited to batting or chasing.
Not so hard, eh? This may sound like a witch hunt (it’s not) but once again try telling that to Nasser Hussain. In 2002 the former England captain won the toss at Brisbane and on a ground where everyone had always batted first when winning the toss, he decided to…field. Each boundary must have felt like a drawing pin being stuck into his leg, each Australian century (two in the first innings, one in the second) like a dagger to the heart as the Aussies made 492 first up. Mind you, Ricky Ponting’s decision to field first at the Second Ashes Test at Edgbaston in 2005 was almost as bad.
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How much of an input the skipper has in terms of the XI he takes to the field varies from one country to another. For example, Indian skipper Virat Kohli does have a say alongside the panel of Selectors, Joe Root, less so. It’s all well and good when the pool of players is made up of those you know pretty well from having captained them in the past but it’s a tougher job when it’s domestic players you haven’t seen so much of that you’re asked whether to include, or not.
A key element. Knowing which two bowlers should open and at which end is of paramount importance in terms of setting the tempo of the game. As is knowing when they’re starting to tire, who the golden arm is who can break the pesky partnership that’s forming, when the spinner should come on, who’s best at mopping up the tail and whether your champion bowler should be given one more or over or saved for later. In limited-overs you also need to decide how to divide up each bowlers’ allocation of four/ten overs and who should bowl at the death.
Choosing how many slips you want in place is probably the easiest task in this category. Keep three slips and a gully in place and you’ll always have your chances of taking wickets but if those edges aren’t being found, you could be going for plenty.
The skipper needs to know when to stick or twist in terms of having more or less aggressive fields depending on how well his bowlers are bowling, what type of bowlers they are, what the wicket is doing and how ell the batsmen are playing.
It’s also his job to post fielders in more unusual positions such as leg slip, leg gully, silly mid-on or short mid-off when the situation demands it.
It should be remembered that only the skipper from the fielding side can request a review. It’s up to him to decide how close an LBW or catch looked and who in the side to listen to (never the bowler himself!). DRS is a huge part of the game now and how good you are at referring can have a mammoth impact on your team’s fortunes.
This only applies to limited-overs matches and more of an issue for the cricket captain fielding second. As the rain comes (or doesn’t) it’s up to the skipper to make the decisions as to whether it’s worth desperately trying to take wickets to affect the DLS score or protect runs instead.
With each delivery that is bowled, wicket taken or boundary scored, the DLS score changes so they need to be aware of that. The most famous case of all of a skipper getting this wrong was when Shaun Pollock famously thought his side only needed one more run to be ahead of Sri Lanka in his home World Cup back in 2003. He read the sheet wrong, Mark Boucher didn’t make much of an effort to score off the last ball he faced before the rain came and the Proteas crashed out of their own World Cup at the Group Stages, because of a single run.
Again, more a job for the limited-overs game but the promotion of an aggressive batsman up the order can win you a game. It can also backfire if the ambitious batsman tries hard enough to find the boundary but ends up wasting too many deliveries by swinging and missing or constantly finding the fielders rather than rotating the strike.
In test matches the skipper also decides whether to employ a Nightwatchman as the day’s play approaches its conclusion or whether to just stick with the original batting line up.
How many is enough? It’s all well and good piling on the runs with the bat but you can’t win a Test match without taking 20 wickets. Declaring in your first innings isn’t so complicated but knowing when to do so in your second innings requires an expert understanding of how many runs you’re comfortable defending and how many overs you need to bowl the opposition out. Leave it too long and you’re left frustrated that you didn’t have enough time while copping it for being too conservative a captain but be too aggressive and don’t set them enough- as Adam Gilchrist did as stand-in skipper in 2001 at Headingley– and you live to regret it.
In Test cricket, if the side batting first scores at least 200 runs more than the side batting second, the captain of the side who batted first can enforce the follow-on. Essentially, you’re asking the side who batted second to go out and bat again as soon as they’ve been bowled out the first time. Get it right and you’ll either win the match by an innings or have a low fourth innings total to chase. Get it wrong and all of a sudden, you’re the one under threat of being bowled out in the fourth innings on a tricky fourth or fifth day pitch.
Because you’re in control of so much, it’s hardly surprising that as the cricket captain you’re the man who the press want to talk to more than anyone else. Whether it’s in pre-match press conferences, post-match pitch-side interviews or with the papers at any time, it’s an easy job to do when you’re winning and a horrible one when you’re not, with each decision you made being scrutinised to death.
Yeah, there’s that, too. The cricket captain has to play as well. To make matters worse, unless you’re the Mike Brearley sort, the captain tends to be one of the team’s star players – think Root, Kohli, Williamson, Holder from among the current crop- so once they’ve done all of the above there’s also the small matter of going out there and score centuries, take catches, bowl overs and do everything else like every other member of the troops.