What are captains made of?

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  • And why Sarfaraz doesn’t cut it

 

By all accounts, Sarfaraz Ahmed is a good human being. A nice, humble, down-to-earth guy, whom any decent man would wish well. That said, I am unaware of any examples of nice, humble individuals who made decent, let alone great, cricket captains. In fact, these qualities militate against the chances of any cricketer becoming an effective captain. All good captains in cricket history have had one thing in common: they were hardly the epitome of pleasantness; in fact, quite the contrary.

Sarfaraz is not captaincy material, and this has nothing to do with the team’s abysmal performance in the ongoing World Cup so far; although the tournament has already provided plenty of evidence to support the claim.

Against India, as he had done against Australia, Sarfaraz chose to put the opposition in– always a dicey thing to do considering how bad the team is when it comes to chasing down targets. This time, it was especially silly since he was playing five regular bowlers, making bowling the strength. Mind you, Pakistan would probably have lost batting first too. That’s indicative of the great gulf between the two sides. However, batting first would have somewhat decreased those odds; and that’s all one wants from one’s captain: to play smart percentage cricket with the available resources. Just one game earlier (against Australia) Sarfaraz had demonstrated that he wasn’t particularly good at this sort of math when, batting with the last man he had gotten himself run out attempting a risky single, with five overs still to go; when getting caught at the boundary attempting a six would have made much more sense than that.

What, then, are some characteristics of good captains? They are authoritative, often to the point of being autocratic; they don’t suffer fools; they are opinionated, often eloquent; they possess good judgment; they play percentages better; they are mentally strong; they are not insecure

The by-now infamous yawns have been the subject of innumerable memes, but there’s an important point to be made here. It’s understandable if a competitive captain oversteps the bounds of enthusiasm, even anger. But yawns induced by boredom and listlessness, that too in a high-voltage India-Pakistan match watched by billions around the globe, can only mean that your mind is elsewhere.

The match against India also demonstrated classic doublethink on the part of Sarfaraz. The ‘rationale’ behind putting the Indians in was that it could rain, bringing D-L into the picture; in which case the batsmen needed to know how many runs were needed at any given moment. Which makes a certain kind of sense (although knowing the Pakistan team, chasing is never the sensible option). But at no point in the chase (from the first over to the last of the rain-curtailed match) Pakistan was ahead on the D-L charts! So, what was the point again?

Defying all sense, Sarfaraz also persisted with Shoaib Malik, who hasn’t won Pakistan any match in living memory. The reason: his ‘experience’ of course; but in Malik’s case it’s experience of losing, which works against the team. It’s true that Malik should never have been in the touring party, but Sarfaraz was guilty of selecting him in the playing eleven.

There are two types of cricketers. Those whose performances get dragged down by captaincy; and those who thrive as captains. Sarfaraz obviously doesn’t belong to the second category. Putting him out of his misery will probably be good for his game as well. As a non-captain, he has played some good innings up the order – something he hasn’t been able to replicate as captain.

The signs were there all along. When your captain, in frustration, describes an opposition batsman as ‘black’– even if he is being half-facetious– not two metres away from the stump mike, it should be a loud enough signal that he isn’t exactly captaincy material. If he does it in South Africa to a South African, it raises even more fundamental questions regarding what he is doing in the team. Because then it’s obvious that he has no clue about what goes on in the world, let alone the most rudimentary details of recent history; and how sensitive certain people can be on certain subjects. We know that Sarfaraz is no racist, of course; but he clearly lacks judgment and good sense. One learns many things with experience, but it’s unlikely that one can make up for these qualities.

If reports from the camp after the loss to India are believed, Sarfaraz told his team-mates that they were mistaken if they thought he alone will be fired. Instead of what to do in subsequent matches, his foremost thought (or fear) was of being fired! Well, what else could one expect?

What, then, are some characteristics of good captains? They are authoritative, often to the point of being autocratic; they don’t suffer fools; they are opinionated, often eloquent; they possess good judgment; they play percentages better; they are mentally strong; they are not insecure. They may not be scholars, but they know a thing or two about the world outside the cricket ground. And they never yawn during international matches. As for what sort of personalities don’t make good captains, you don’t need to look any farther than Sarfaraz.